Throughout this section, I will discuss a wide range of educational and performance opportunities. Master classes seem like the perfect first topic because a master class educates through performance. 

A master class is a series of intense, brief public coachings led by an expert teacher or artist. Singers perform selections that have been thoroughly prepared, and the master teacher then works with them on one or more aspects of their performance in front of an audience. The focus of the master class is determined by the specialties of the master teacher – there are master classes that address vocal technique, musical or dramatic interpretation, and specific repertoire categories (e.g. German Lied or Baroque ornamentation). 

This format generates tremendous excitement and intensity, so master classes have great potential to accelerate your progress. You have been given a rare chance to work with a prominent expert, and the audience is rooting for you to transcend your current skill level. A master class thus creates conditions where breakthroughs often occur, and when they do it's thrilling for everyone - the singer, the audience, and the teacher.

This format also creates tremendous pressure, and the quality of your experience depends upon your ability to embrace that. Participating in a master class means a willingness to air your dirty laundry in public. You are there to serve as an example so that the teacher can not only help expand your artistry but also give the audience insight into the vocal preparation process. They will focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths; you must be strong enough to give your most committed interpretation as well as humble enough to allow the teacher to completely disassemble it and put it back together again. Effective participation in a master class requires an open mind, tremendous artistic flexibility, and a willingness to take risks. You will be asked to try new things, with unpredictable results. 

I cannot overstate the importance of exhaustive preparation. Research every aspect of your repertoire as completely as you can. It is highly likely that you will be asked about such details as the precise meaning of a foreign-language word or an orchestral instrument represented in a piano/vocal score. The master teacher usually has a mere 20 to 30 minutes to help take your performance to the next level. If you don’t know the answer to these questions it not only reflects poorly on you but also interrupts the flow of the teacher’s process. 

 

Master classes can be offered as a stand-alone series of opportunities, such as the ones offered at Carnegie Hall through Marilyn Horne’s annual festival The Song Continues and Joyce DiDonato’s Perspectives series. They are also often integrated into the structure of vocal training degree curricula, summer festivals, and young artist programs.

What have your most meaningful master class experiences been like, either as a participant, auditor, or teacher? Post your stories in the comments section, either as a written narrative or video clip.  

 


The Song Continues


Kate Jackman | Brennan Hall | Diana Newman | Natalie Conte | Emma McNairy


The Song Continues is an annual series presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute and led by renowned mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. The series is designed to explore the song repertoire through workshops and concerts with the goal of encouraging, supporting, and preserving the art of the vocal recital. Last January’s program included master classes by Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig and coach/collaborative pianist Martin Katz

I invited several participants from these master classes to share their experiences and offer advice to singers who are interested in pursuing opportunities like these. I am especially grateful for their willingness to share excerpts from the videos they submitted as part of their applications to participate in these master classes. These are useful examples of video performance that resulted in successful applications. As I will discuss in a future post, there are many different ways to go about recording a video demo, and you will see that variety reflected in these submissions. Consider which approach will work best for you. 

Kate Jackman, mezzo-soprano

Kate Jackman performs "La maja dolorosa" by Enrique Granados as part of her audition application for The Song Continues. 

Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne coaches mezzo-soprano Kate Jackman and pianist Mario Antonio Marra on Elgar's "Where Corals Lie," from Sea Pictures, in a master class from The Song Continues series, January 13, 2014. 

“It’s a performance opportunity, but more significantly, it’s an opportunity to learn. You are the vessel through which the master technician is demonstrating their skills and knowledge, creating a learning opportunity not just for you but for everyone there.” 

“When I sing, I tend to choose my vocal colors based on what I think will sound best in my voice rather than what will communicate the song best. With Miss Horne’s guidance, I was able to let go of that and allow my voice to take on the colors that would really express the text.”

Brennan Hall, countertenor

“Thoroughly research the artist presenting the class. Look for someone who can add to your skill set, who you want to emulate – someone whose artistry you admire. The more you know about them, the more you’ll benefit from the resources they have to offer and help them share the best of their knowledge with both you and the audience.” 

“The Q&A session they set up for us with [music industry] professionals was one of the most valuable experiences for me… If you want to be regarded as a professional artist, it’s vital to present yourself as a professional all of the time, not just when you walk out on stage.”

Brennan Hall performs "Le temps des lilas" by Ernest Chausson as part of his audition application for The Song Continues.

Collaborative pianist Martin Katz coaches countertenor Brennan Hall and pianist Marek Ruszczynski on Debussy's "Beau soir."

Diana Newman, soprano

“It’s difficult and time consuming to get together an audition video on short notice, so my advice is to record everything you do. Not all of it will be perfect but when something comes out great, you’ll be able to use it.”

“You never know what someone is going to say, but that is part of the fun of it… You need to be flexible and willing to try anything. Even if I do not end up agreeing with all of the teacher’s opinions, the way she expressed them got me to stretch my limits and take things to extremes in such a valuable way.”

Diana Newman in recital. Part of her audition application for The Song Continues was drawn from this live performance.

Natalie Conte, soprano 

“It was the career planning discussion that stayed with me the most – being true to yourself, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and how to move forward with all that knowledge. So many different opportunities for exposure are available to singers now, but you have to ask yourself, ‘is it the right time?’”

Natalie Conte performs "Stornello" by Giuseppe Verdi as part of her audition application for The Song Continues.

Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne coaches mezzo-soprano Natalie Conte and pianist Nathan Salazar on Strauss's "September," from Vier letzte Lieder.

Emma McNairy, soprano

“I loved watching my amazing colleagues sing their hearts out, making swift, significant changes, and taking such courageous chances in public. Christa Ludwig was so demanding of everyone, and they responded by showing us the intensity that art song is really about.”

Emma McNairy performs "Sevillana" by Jules Massenet.

Collaborative pianist Martin Katz coaches Soprano Emma McNairy and pianist Brent Funderburk on Debussy's "Spleen" from Ariettes oubliées.


Here is a representative list of master classes held as stand-alone events or series:

 

Joyce DiDonato Master Class 

Three-day intensive focusing on opera arias

 

The Song Continues 2014 - 2015 

Master classes with Marilyn Horne, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Warren Jones

 

The Song Continues Paris Residency 2014 

Weeklong series of master classes led by Marilyn Horne and Martin Katz

 

The Tallis Scholars: Renaissance Masterworks 

For choral singers

 

Art Song Forward for Singers 

Vocal master class hosted by the Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

New York Chamber Music Festival 

Annual master class with soprano Carole Farley

 

Neue Stimmen Master Classes 

Master classes in opera and German Lied

 

Opera Verona 

Interpretation of opera arias and roles

 

Centro Universale del Bel Canto 

Preparatory master class with Mirella Freni

 

Musica Riva Festival 

Master classes in singing as well as orchestral instruments and conducting

 

Academia Vocalis Masterclasses 

Series of master classes with prominent artists covering a wide range of vocal repertoire

 

Wiener MusikSeminar 

Master classes in singing as well as orchestral instruments, chamber music and conducting

 

Académie Francis Poulenc 

Master classes in French mélodie

 

Austrian Master Classes 

Master classes led by voice teachers and vocal coaches

 

Master classes form a crucial component of many training programs, including:

 

Music Academy of the West 

Summer festival with weekly master classes by both faculty and guest artists

 

CoOPERAtive Program 

Summer program at Westminster Choir College

 

Aspen Opera Theater Center 

Summer festival with frequent vocal master classes and weekly opera scenes master classes

 

Chautauqua Opera Young Artist Program 

Summer young artist program

 

Tanglewood Vocal Arts Program 

Summer festival with frequent master classes by both faculty and guest artists

 

The National Opera Studio of the Royal Opera House 

Young artist training program that includes public master classes

 

AIMS Graz 

Frequent master classes with prominent artists

 

International Vocal Arts Institute 

Frequent master classes with prominent artists

 

If you have had a great experience with a master class, please tell us about it in the comments thread and we’ll be sure to add it to our list! 

Click here for more from the Singer’s Audition Handbook.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you, this is really very valuable. I was in a masterclass 4 years ago and was not singing Je veux vivre very well. The teacher, John Norris, told me to turn back to the wall, pretend I'm in the practice room, and sing again. It was way better. Then he told me to flip everyone off at any point during the aria, so I kept doing it during the cadenzas. Everyone was cracking up, I was way less stressed, and I sang it much better. It taught me to not worry about who's listening and to sing like no one's watching. It was a very valuable lesson for me

Esha, your comment raises another interesting point about how participating in a master class can be a vital performance experience! Some singers are natural stage animals, most at home when they perform for an audience; others, especially those in the early stages of their training, may do their best work in more private settings. A master class is a sort of intermediary situation between a private coaching and a public performance, and it can help bridge that gap between them and help you feel your way to a warmer, more trusting relationship with your audience. It sounds like John Norris helped you feel like you were all in this together. Sounds like the lesson was not just singing like no one's watching sometimes but also allowing the audience to see all of you at other times, even the parts that could be silly or potentially give offense! 

Yes, singing like "no one's watching" for me was to basically let my guard down and have fun with it. It has helped me in other performing situations.

I sang on two master classes this month while participating in a summer program. The first one focused on audition technique. Essentially, I sang my aria and then the critique was more about my presentation, resume, and headshot than my singing. But, I gained valuable insight into how I was being perceived in auditions, and I got a few tips to make me more comfortable choosing and presenting arias for the purpose of auditioning.

The second class,taught by Benita Valente was much more about technique. I presented an aria that was brand new to me. I had coached the aria to prepare it for the class but I had not worked on it with a voice teacher. So, I had very few preconceived notions about how the aria "should" be sung and I was very open minded to her technical ideas. I found that I gained a lot of insight into the aria. I think that when I do bring it to my teacher, I will have a much more solid foundation technically and dramatically than I would have if I had not participated in the class.

I also had the opportunity to watch many of my colleagues sing in these classes and I found that watching others sing taught me a great deal. I found that some singers were anxious to try out what the master class teacher was suggesting because they didn't want to mess up, or they felt that the suggestion went against how they had been taught to sing. However, it seemed that the singers who were willing to risk trying something that might not sound great, or was different to them, got the most out of the class.

Sounds like you had a very valuable experience with these classes, Emily! Would you be willing to post information on the program you attended? 

Of course! I'm at the Russian Opera Workshop in Philadelphia. The program does 2 sessions, each lasting one month and culminating with a concert production of a Russian opera and a performance of Russian songs. This year the operas are Tchaikovsky's Maid of Orleans and Eugene Onegin. There are multiple master classes in which singers perform standard operatic repertoire. Singers receive daily coaching on their roles in the opera and/or their own repertoire both in Russian and other languages. There is also an introductory Russian language course as a part of the program. The faculty is wonderful and I would highly recommend this program.

Thank! Singers who would like more information on the Russian Opera Workshop can find it here. You can also view this video with program founder and Music Director Ghenady Meiron introducing their 2014 season: 

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