Rogers resides in Michigan, where he serves as director of choirs and professor of conducting at the University of Michigan. He started in his role at the Washington Chorus just as the pandemic upended life as we knew it. Rogers had planned to spend the year commuting between D.C. and Michigan; instead, he was (mostly) grounded as things turned virtual.
His first order of business after realizing a year of programming was probably going to be scrapped: commissioning composer Damien Geter to create a new work that would be filmed professionally — “not just the ‘Brady Bunch’ squares,” as Rogers puts it. “What emerged out of that is a covid story [“Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow”] that was inspired by themes from loss to hope, set to a short film about a Black couple separated due to covid-19.”
The chorus also launched a popular Carols on Demand program — think Cameo but for singing holiday telegrams — and has a series of virtual performances planned for the ongoing “Mahogany” series, a focal point of Rogers’s artistic vision.
“ ‘Mahogany’ celebrates the artistic contributions of Black, Latinx and American Indian communities,” Rogers says. “Our June concert, ‘Resilience,’ has the theme of resilience using a Langston Hughes text as the thread that connects a new work by composer Julian Wachner and poet Samiya Bashir, written around the murder of George Floyd. So it’s very visceral and real.”
Rogers, 48, will be new to Washington when he takes up part-time residence, but he grew up in South Boston, Va., and often visited family in D.C., thinking of it like a second home. Soon, he hopes, it actually will be.
Rogers is confident that Washington Chorus performances with audiences will resume later this year. “I’m first and foremost wanting to get the chorus in the same room — we haven’t done that in over a year,” Rogers says. After that, he’ll embark on a day that includes some places he’s discovered during recent travels to the District and more he’s hoping to finally check off his list.
We’re starting with a coffee run to Tatte Bakery and Cafe. I discovered them [while staying] in the West End. It really looks like a French bistro, and I love the atmosphere, the energy and their coffee. I’m a vanilla latte with skim milk, that is my go-to coffee. I prefer iced coffee unless it’s cold outside. It’s my covid discovery when coming to D.C.
The Royal came highly recommended when I was looking up breakfast places, and I love arepas. I would love to go there and have a wonderful breakfast, specifically some egg arepas.
We’re going to the Hirshhorn Museum. I love contemporary art. I have not been there; it was recommended by my colleagues at the Washington Chorus. I love the energy of some of their workshops and events.
Immediately thereafter would be a walk through Union Market. Everybody says this is where I have to go. I think I went to that area 10, maybe 20 years ago. It’s really just to take it all in, because I’m new to the area. That’s what a lot of today is: to take it in and get a feel for the energy of the city.
Then I would have a Washington Chorus staff lunch outdoors on the grounds of the Reach campus at the Kennedy Center. We’d be grabbing lunch from Bluestone Lane, which I hear is spectacular, and enjoy a picnic outside with the entire staff. Part of my interview process was checking out the Reach and all of the areas of the Kennedy Center, of course, due to our collaborations, so I thought that would be a neat way to get everybody together. We haven’t been there all year, it would be a nice way to remind ourselves and dream about what we can do. I’ve got so many thoughts about what could happen at the Reach.
Then I would spend a large chunk of time at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I have tried, since they opened, to get a ticket whenever I was in town. We have an African American museum here in Detroit, which takes you on a smaller-scale journey. For me, it’s not so much about the journey; it’s seeing their perspective on the journey and what additions they’ve added: who are some of the figures, the newer figures, the new perspectives of the African American experience, that’s what I’m really interested in. I think there’s some smaller, lesser-known heroes that can get left out of the traditional story that I’m really interested in learning about. I’m a foodie, and I hear their cafe has cuisine from various parts of the African American cuisine. I would be full from my lunch, but I will definitely be trying to at least taste a little.
Then I’m going to have drinks at the Free State bar on G Street. I love a good old-fashioned, but I’ll be trying a lot of different drinks. I would try the local specialties as well as some of my old standards. I would love to meet some board members from the Washington Chorus and some of our community partners.
The Washington Chorus has a long relationship with the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. And I would go to the Round Robin bar and have some appetizers there. It’s interesting that the architecture of the bar looks older, and that’s a part of the experience. My cousin who’s from D.C., he loves older D.C. architecture, so I would definitely have him join me for appetizers and the dinner that’s coming up afterward because it’s just nice to be celebrating with family.
Then we will go to Oohhs and Aahhs, the soul food restaurant. I’m from Southern Virginia, and there’s nothing like some good soul food. I love fried catfish with macaroni and cheese and collard greens.
Then I would go back to my room. I would have a dirty chai cupcake delivered to me from Baked & Wired. I’m dying to try one of their cupcakes, and I love chai tea, but I’ve heard that this specific cupcake is to die for. Nothing like a good dirty chai.
I would love to go watch the National Symphony Orchestra perform a new work with Maestro Gianandrea Noseda at the Kennedy Center. If I could hop around, I would split my time between that and a concert being hosted by CAAPA, the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts.
At the end of the evening, I would do a monuments by moonlight tour. I’ve never done that, so that’s how I would end my day — to walk off all those calories. The Vietnam [Veterans] Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, all of them are stunning to me. I never imagined I would be working in D.C., but every time I come to the District, there’s something about — I’m a history guy — whenever I enter that area, a sense of pride would come over me. I know that’s an interesting statement as an African American, but this is my country, too. My people helped build this country, I refuse to deny it. So for me, I still feel pride for the beauty and knowing I’m in the space where so much history has happened.