From a Singer’s Perspective: Masterclasses!

Karianne Pasma, soprano with masterclass technician Suzie leBlanc; Greg Myra at the piano with Janika Welihinda as page turner
Hi Friends!

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Just a note on masterclasses. Now that they’re all done, that is. 🙂

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For those of you following who might not be singers, let me take a moment to explain just what a masterclass is. It’s a public lesson. A singer gets up in front of a large group of people, generally peers, performs an aria or art song, and then the masterclass teacher gives their opinion and works with the singer, usually in such a way that everyone in attendance can learn something.

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We at HSOW have had the generous opportunity to work with several different teachers, and almost all of us have gotten to sing in a masterclass. Masterclass teachers included: Lorna MacDonald, Paula Rockewell, Jessica McCormack, Nina Scott-Stoddart and Tara Scott, Tony Radford and Suzie leBlanc.

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Each masterclass has had a different focus, depending on what the teacher likes to focus on, or what their specialty is. Lorna MacDonald and Jessica McCormack were very much about technique, for example, while Nina focused a lot on performance.

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I had the opportunity to sing for Mozart specialist, Suzie leBlanc. Now, you might think that, since I am singing Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, that I would choose to sing “Ach ich fühl’s” (Pamina’s aria) for her. But you’d be wrong. 🙂 I was very torn, and I really wanted to sing some Mozart, but in the end I chose not to. As a singer, I knew that if I got many technical details from the masterclass, when I performed the aria in the opera, I would start thinking more about those technical details than about simply performing. That’s just me, but I know I can get in my head too much, and I wanted to avoid giving myself the opportunity to do so.

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In the end, I sang Bizet’s “Comme autrefois” from The PearlFishers. Suzie had never encountered the aria before, but she was excited about that, seeing it as an opportunity to come at the aria with compeletely fresh perspective. We mostly worked on dynamic choices, and the idea of singing high notes quietly. She also helped me work on standing still, something I have difficulty with. Actually, that’s not quite right. I can stand still just fine. I lean. As a singer, I want so desperately to communicate to my audience that I end up tilting myself forwards in an effort to give them everything. Suzie pointed out moments where I repeatedly leant forward, trying to convey my emotional state. While it feels to me like I’m doing a lot, it doesn’t read that way to the audience. Instead, standing still draws the audience in.

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Our final masterclass was just this morning, and it was an audition masterclass. We had fun making people do pretend auditions, and Tony Radford, Greg Myra and Tara Scott did a fantastic job sharing their knowledge and opinions. We messed with some people, creating situations singers sometimes face in actual auditions, when the pianist might not know the music, or plays too slowly, or the auditioners take phone calls or chat with each other. It was a good time, but also helpful since auditions are something no singer can escape.

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Masterclasses are done for HSOW 2011, but we had an amazing group of teachers passing on their knowledge. And also, bravo to every singer who stood up in front of their friends, peers and castmates, and had the guts to perform and then be critiqued on the performance. There’s something very terrifying about getting up in front of a group of singers that is very different than a general audience, or even an audition panel, and every single singer at HSOW who got to sing did a fabulous, fantastic job.

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And finally, we start doing runs today!! Tales of Hoffmann is in the theatre already, while we Flute people wait until tomorrow to try the stage. Our first dress rehearsal is in less than a week, and our first performance is in a week and a day away, and I can’t believe it! Time is passing by crazy fast. Things are really starting to come together, and we can’t wait to show our audiences what we’ve been working on.

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