Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Brother Arrives With Renée Fleming Skype Voice Lessons

Watch the video of Renée Fleming's first "cyber" master class, by clicking here.
"Like every young marriage, that of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago's Merit School of Music has a few kinks to be worked out before it can deepen and develop. Last weekend, Internet gremlins did their best to quite literally crash soprano Renee Fleming's first master class with selected voice students of Merit's advanced program, the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory, a brave new venture facilitated by the Web video service Skype. Six talented local teens who are among the participants in Merit's new opera-musical theater and jazz solo voice major sang for Fleming, Lyric's creative consultant, with their classmates and teachers cheering them on from the sidelines. The hour-long session originated from
a practice room at the community music school's facility on the Near West Side. Now here's the risky part: Fleming was conducting the voice class via Skype hookup from her New York City apartment, some 700 miles away. There was no time for her to connect with the students in person, they were told, because she was preparing to take on the daunting title role in Handel's "Rodelinda" at the Metropolitan Opera. The production opened Monday night. Sure enough, the screen froze several times and problems with the audio transmission at Fleming's end sometimes caused the piano to overpower the voices. Would the cyber-technology that made the video conference possible also prove its undoing? Fortunately, Fleming and the students took the awkward delays with good grace, and once laptops were rebooted and connections restored, everything proceeded more or less normally. This was the first in a series of three master classes Lyric's creative consultant is scheduled to lead with Merit students during the current school year. And it suggested Fleming is as thorough in her approach to vocal pedagogy as she is in her own performances. One by one, the high schoolers stepped in front of a microphone and Fleming's video visage to sing songs and arias accompanied by faculty pianist Jennifer McCabe. Fleming interrupted them every few minutes to
make comments or to demonstrate points of technique and interpretation. She was careful to temper her remarks with encouragement. Once Fleming had thanked all the participants and waved goodbye, I asked Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director, who also attended the session, his opinion of what had been achieved. Although still in the experimental stage, these Fleming-Merit 'Skype classes' could become the blueprint for 'more advanced forms of video conferencing' involving Lyric and other institutions around the city, he said. 'Our use of technology is something that's potentially very exciting,' Freud observed. 'If we can establish that there is value to remote communication, and that value allows something of real artistic significance to take place, imagine what might be possible. "Imagine putting together a network of music schools around the city, or even further afield, connected electronically, and not only in terms of a teacher-student relationship. Imagine creating a piece of music theater that involves a number of schools or institutions that are not physically connected but are connected through electronic technology.'" [Source]

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