Soprano Sharon Cheng of New York earned degrees in management and public administration but came to realize that her real — and irresistible — passion was for music.
“I love classical music,” said Cheng. “All the great classical musicians inspired me — I decided to go on this path.”
Cheng will performing a recital program of songs written for children by classical composers on Sunday at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel.
Accompanying her on piano will be musicologist Will Crutchfield, who is also the opera director at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, N.Y.
The recital is free, but donations are welcome.
The program includes songs from the 1800s and 1900s by composers Charles Ives, Robert Schumann, Modest Mussorgsky and Francis Poulenc.
Cheng, who grew up in Taiwan, will also be singing a collection of children’s folk songs from Taiwan, China and Japan. They will complement an exhibit of reproductions of drawings, called the “Hiroshima Schoolyard Exhibition,” on view at Montpelier to Dec. 1.
The drawings were made by children as a way to thank the All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C., for sending half a ton of school supplies as the city struggled to survive and rebuild after the atomic explosion on Aug. 6, 1945.
The drawings are also the subject of a documentary, “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” by filmmaker Bryan Reichhardt and Shizumi Shigeto Manale, both of Silver Spring, which will screen at Montpelier on Nov. 24.
“I think it’s an incredible project that they’re doing, that they found the authors of those paintings,” said Cheng, who had seen the trailer for the film along with Crutchfield.
“I think the poems [in the songs] are the same reflection [of a child’s world] that the paintings represented,” said Cheng, who was inspired by the exhibit to add the folk songs from Asia to the recital program.
“These are famous songs that people would have known,” she said about the familiar childhood tunes.
Cheng is a winner in Montpelier’s 2013-2014 Classical Recital Competition, in which applicants are invited to submit samples of their work, which are reviewed by the U.S. Army Field Band at Fort Meade.
Winners in different categories receive an honorarium for performing at the Montpelier Arts Center.
“It’s a way to get some exposure,” said Cheng, who performed in Baltimore in March 2012 in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” but has never performed at Montpelier.
Included in the “The Voices of Children” recital are two songs by American composer Ives.
“Two Memories” (1897) includes a pleasant tune, as a boy remembers his excitement at going to the opera, and a sad tune about an uncle and his “old red shawl,” according to the lyrics.
“Two Little Flowers” (1921) is a poem and song that Ives and his wife wrote while watching their daughter play outside with a friend.
Also in the program are seven songs from Mussorgsky’s “The Nursery” song cycle, which he composed from 1868 to 1872.
“He wrote the poetry himself as gifts to his own kids,” Cheng said.
Among the songs is a child singing a lullaby to her doll, a song about an imaginary journey on a stick horse and another about an encounter with a big beetle.
German composer Robert Schumann set to music poetry written by others for his “Album of Songs for the Young,” which Cheng will also perform.
Among those songs is “Käuzlein” (Little Owl) and “Marienwürmchen” (Ladybird) from the “Boy’s Magic Horn,” a collection of traditional German folk songs and poems.
Also included is “Die wandelnde Glocke” (The Moving Bell) with words by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and “Des Sennen Abschied” (The Herdsman’s Farewell) with words by Friedrich von Schiller.
Cheng will also be singing songs from the La Courte Paille collection of songs by French composer Francis Poulenc.
The songs, using the words of Belgian poet Maurice Carême, were initially written for a performer in Poulenc’s operas, Denise Duval, to sing to her 6-year-old son.
In “Le sommeil” (Sleep), a parent tries to comfort a restless child who has been crying since noon.
“Quelle Aventure!” paints a whimsical picture of a flea in a carriage who pulls along an elephant who is absentmindedly sucking up a pot of jam.
“Lune d’Avril” (April Moon) is a dream-like song about war and violence, about “the bird who ... gently awakens the dead,” about “the land where there is joy ... sunny with primroses, all the guns have been destroyed,” wrote Carême.
A choral conductor in high school, Cheng earned a bachelor’s degree in administrative management from the College of Law at Chinese Culture University in Taiwan and a master’s degree in public administration from Pennsylvania State University.
Realizing that she wanted to pursue singing as a career, she earned a master’s degree in music performance from Syracuse University, and an artist diploma from Queens College, The City University of New York.
“When art is calling me, I turn my way here,” she said.