Master talents at work

Carl Brooks

Last Thursday saw the advent of an exciting new Vocal Master Class here at UMass, taught by voice teacher Marilyn Bulli. Part of an ongoing push by the Performing Arts department to expand and flex its wings a little, the class will culminate in an end-of-semester recital where students who were make the cut can show off their pipes.

It’s not exactly American Idol, and the UMass community is heartily grateful for that, but it’s not easy to make the grade in this class. Professor Bulli explains that all the students in the Master Class are enrolled in private voice lessons with UMB faculty, and “The Master Class is an opportunity for each of the singers to perform in front of their peers and get feedback from one of the voice teachers in the Music Department. It’s also a chance for the students to sing on the stage in Snowden Auditorium in preparation for their ‘final exam,’ a recital performance in Snowden at the end of the semester.”

The other voices who will be working with performers are Suzanne Ehly and David Giessow. Nobody will be voted off the stage, though. The students are going to take this opportunity to get used to singing on a stage, with other voices around them, and ease into the experience of performance. At the class last Friday, seventeen students huddled around a grand piano and tried to ignore the flash from Photo Editor Dereck Mangus’ camera as they warmed up.

Singing requires a good deal of care, preparation, and exercise of the vocal muscles. Nobody just wakes up one day and belts out a hot one, a la Grammy surprise Michelle Branch. It takes years of practice to get your voice in shape, even if you are lucky enough to be able to carry a tune, and what comes out of a good singer’s mouth before they make music would floor the uninitiated. Yaps, howls, ululations, rolling squeaks and barks in every pitch filled Snowden under the guidance of Professor Bulli. “Lets try from the chest!” ordered Bulli, before the entire class let loose a nearly (but not quite!) operatic warm-up exercise. The warm ups work the vocal cords and loosen up a performer, just like stretches for a runner. From alien howls to angelic singing was the order of the night, and several students showed obvious experience and craft.

The class progressed to simple exercises and singing along with ivories tickled by accompanist Geoff Weiting, and while it’s clear that these are talented voice students, they are going to enjoy learning as the class progresses, and the program will be a smash hit; though maybe not on Broadway; not yet.