World-class vocalist works with North Central College music students in master class

Feb 06, 2015

Music students appreciate having a fresh pair of ears critique their performances, especially when they are the ears of a world-class artist.

North Central College voice students experienced hands-on instruction from lyric soprano Sarah Wolfson during a master class on the stage of the College’s acoustically magnificent Wentz Concert Hall. The 90-minute session Feb. 5 covered topics ranging from physical techniques that improve sound to using facial expressions to advance narratives created by composers.

“When you apprentice with a vocal teacher you get to know that person,” said Marlena Pierzchala, a junior double-majoring in music and French. “But when you work with someone who doesn’t know you, you don’t know what to expect. It’s very exciting, but challenging.”

Wolfson is a first-place winner of a Concert Artists Guild international competition who teaches voice at New York’s Columbia University, in addition to performing regularly. She was featured guest soloist when North Central College’s Concert Choir and Women’s Chorale performed Poulenc's “Gloria” with the DuPage Symphony Orchestra at two presentations of “Gallic Glory” Feb. 6-7 in the College’s Wentz Concert Hall.

At the master class four North Central voice students were chosen to perform classical pieces by Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn and Schubert before an audience of several dozen other music students (170 students are enrolled in studio voice lessons at North Central). Wolfson then worked individually with the four to show how their vocal performances could be improved.

“Singing is a process. The voice is an instrument that needs to be nurtured and respected,” Wolfson told the class.

She covered techniques such as releasing the jaw hinge, which allows for more in-depth exploration of tones. She encouraged one student to visualize a movie projecting onto a screen behind her, and told another how her facial expressions during a short musical interlude could help the audience understand the story told by the lyrics.

Other areas covered included the relationship between vowel and consonant sounds and to appropriately distribute vocal energy during a phrase.

“When you’re singing a phrase, just because a word like ‘with’ may have less significance poetically that doesn’t mean it should be delivered with any less energy,” Wolfson told one student.

Wolfson said she was impressed with the Wentz’s beautiful sound and by the caliber of North Central’s music students.

“Music education is very important in the development of a whole person, someone who is part of a larger world community,” she said.

Ramona M. Wis, who holds the Mimi Rolland Professor in the Fine Arts endowed chair at North Central College and is Professor and Chair of Music, said opportunities such as the master class help students achieve their full potential.

“North Central College has exceptional facilities and all the opportunities to perform with vocal and instrumental ensembles that a larger university would have, but is small enough where professors come to know and work with individual students in a deeper way,” Wis said. “Our students continue to explore new musical ground during all four years of their studies. They’ll have no problem keeping productively busy during their time as musicians at North Central College.”

North Central College offers majors in music, choral and instrumental music education, and jazz studies. Students receive a strong liberal arts grounding and opportunities to perform in more than 20 instrumental and vocal groups, including large and small ensembles, opera, musical theatre and jazz combos. They also perform on varied stages, from a grand concert hall to intimate theatre settings.

Watch a recording from the master class below.