Renee Fleming, a world-renowned American opera singer, held a master class for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point students on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
The soprano has done work on Broadway, in operas and with orchestras across the country. A four-time Grammy winner, Fleming performed at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Fleming has also recorded numerous albums of different genres, ranging from from opera classics, indie-rock and pop cover song.
“She is featured on the soundtracks for ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ and ‘Rise of the Guardians,’” an announcement from University Relations and Communication said. “She has also authored ‘The Inner Voice,’ a book about her career and creative process.”
The College of Fine Arts and Communication at UWSP organized Fleming’s visit to campus in collaboration with Sentry Insurance. Fleming gave a performance at Sentry Theater the evening before the master class.
During a master class, a performer presents a prepared piece in front of the person giving the class and an audience. Each student introduced their piece and shared background information about themselves and the piece they had chosen to perform. After each performance, Fleming provided feedback based on what she had witnessed.
Wednesday’s master class featured Fleming working with students on the stage of UWSP’s Michelsen Hall. These students were given the opportunity to participate in the event by being nominated by their voice professors.
Debora Barr, sophomore music education and vocal performance major, has studied voice privately for four years.
“When my professor told me I was going to be singing for Ms. Fleming, I immediately sat down and tears were in my eyes,” Barr said. “I never thought that in my undergraduate career at UWSP I would have gotten this opportunity. Online, you can find Ms. Fleming working with graduate students at Juilliard and Eastman, so learning that I would be working with her after only one year of college under my belt was surreal.”
Aly Evans, senior music education major, has also had a long career in voice. This year marks her sixth year of private voice instruction. She has also participated in both high school and collegiate choir, musicals, operas and recitals.
“This was a valuable experience for me,” Evans said. “She was straightforward and insisted on me getting things right, but at the same time she was warm and I felt safe experimenting on my sound in front of her.”
Though the circumstances of the master class can be intimidating to participants, Fleming created a comfortable environment that fostered a great learning experience.
“It’s a little terrifying, especially because there is an audience, but especially in Ms. Fleming’s case, she is an extremely well-versed professional, and it was an honor just to watch her work with my peers and see what she had to say about breathing, expression and movement,” Barr said.
After the four student performances, Fleming held a question and answer session.
One audience member asked Fleming how she stays inspired in music, to which Fleming responded, “Stay curious.”
“I thought this was beautiful,” Barr said. “Music is such a vast field, and you will never know all of it. Hearing from Ms. Fleming that she is always looking for something new to understand was just brilliant.”
Overall, Fleming provided a meaningful experience for both participants and audiences. While there is much to learn from traditional college courses, master classes provide a unique and memorable experience, especially when administered by a passionate person such as Fleming.
“I really enjoy master classes, as a student,” Evans said. “I feel that master classes open our eyes to holes in our training, remind us why we wanted to be music majors in the first place and give us new ideas that inspire us to become better musicians.”