An old family connection to Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., opened the door for Tanteliniaina Fitahiana (Fitah) Rasendrahasina to study vocal performance at Calvin College.
Rasendrahasina’s family had spent a year worshiping with Woodlawn while his father studied at Calvin Theological Seminary. The family returned to Michigan after escaping a military coup in Madagascar in early 2009, during which his father had been abducted.
Verlyn Schultz, an organist for Woodlawn, was practicing with Rasendrahasina prior to the young man’s solo in a worship service. “From the first sound,” he said, “I knew there was something special about that voice.”
Tanteliniaina Fitahiana (Fitah) Rasendrahasina
They practiced over the summer, and on the eve of Rasendrahasina’s return to Madagascar, the two gave a recital that made many other church members aware of Fitah’s talent.
Over the next year members of the congregation arranged a fund drive to support his tuition and provide him a place to stay and transportation during his first year at Calvin. Others helped him to develop the website fitah.org, which features video clips of his performances.
Joel Navarro, a professor of music at Calvin, said, “Once in a hundred years a voice like this comes to Calvin.”
“[The music department] is good but small,” Fitah said. “The liberal arts help to construct and shape my personality in personal faith and understanding how I am supposed to do music.
“I have a gift, but my voice is just a brush. The real gift is the empathy to reach people’s soul and heart that makes the world a better place. My core classes contribute to that.” Then he adds with a grin, “Except maybe for math.”
Rasendrahasina hopes to continue his studies in the United States or Europe so that he can compete, perform, teach, and conduct, returning home periodically.
“Many young people [in Madagascar] are making music, but lack the resources and academics,” he said. He would like to “train and guide them in developing their God-given gifts.”