Vocal Master Class with pianist Dalton Baldwin

An accomplished singer has conducted every vocal master class I have ever attended, save this one. To be honest, I do not think the idea of a collaborative pianist (more on this later) teaching a class for singers ever entered my mind. This is not because I do not think it is a good idea, quite the contrary, in fact. But, rather, when I think of a master class for singers I think of, well, singers. My evening with Mr. Baldwin reminded me of something I already knew, but often choose not to remember: singers do not perform solo. The music does not magically appear beneath your voice, ready, willing, and able to read your mind. Of course, I know I must be the only singer with that complex… Indeed, there is one person in particular to whom the singer owes a great debt: the collaborative pianist. Thanks to Mr. Baldwin, I posses a slightly new-found animosity toward the term accompanist. Why? I am glad you asked. The pianist is the singer’s colleague. It is the duty of the two of them to work in tandem, sense the music together, and create the intended result of the composer.

 

The question I asked upon entering the class was what perspective does a collaborative pianist offer that differs from a singer? The result I found was two-fold. One, the pianist is connected to the music differently than the singer. Singers feel the music internally. We produce the music from within the depths of our being (aka diaphragm), and it emanates out of our body into the room. The pianist’s instrument is an extension of himself. While he too feels the music from within, he manipulates a secondary instrument outside his body to create the desired effect. While both tasks are equally demanding in regards to physical activity, the pianist’s role, I believe, is more external than the singer’s.

 

Two, when Dalton Baldwin speaks, I listen. He speaks with over fifty years of experience in the business, he has played in the greatest venues in the world, and he calls Marilyn Horne his good friend. The end. Well, I will say one more thing. It is not enough to be an expert. One has to be passionate. The experts who love their field of expertise are the best teachers. Dalton Baldwin is an expert and a lover; it is in his demeanor; it is in the way he guides singers; it is in the way he directs pianists; it is part of his essence; and it is the reason he succeeds at the art of creating music. Author Donald Miller expressed it best when he wrote, "Sometimes you have to watch someone love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way." Dalton Baldwin showed me the way.

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Comment by Jonathon Hampton on March 8, 2013 at 10:45am

This is some great perspective on the importance of working well with your pianist. It really is a collaborative process, and we singers rely on them much more than we often remember. Thanks for sharing.

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