Visiting Oberlin professor teaches master class

Oberlin College and Conservatory
Oberlin College and Conservatory

Last week the Townsend School of Music welcomed nationally acclaimed baritone player Timothy Lefebvre onto Mercer University’s campus.  Dr. Lefebvre is currently an Associate Professor of Singing at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio.  He has performed with various opera companies, symphonies and music festivals across the nation, even appearing in concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall.  Shortly after his arrival on campus, Lefebvre conducted a master class for the vocal students of the Townsend School of Music.  Tuesday, Sept. 17th Lefebvre gave a solo recital, part of Townsend’s Guest Artist program, accompanied by Townsend’s own Dr. Carol Goff on piano.

A master class is a constructive, interactive workshop in which music students perform songs for a guest teacher and are given critiques and advice in front of their peers.  Lefebvre’s master class took place on Monday, September 16th and featured eight vocalists, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.  Each vocalist, after performing their piece, was given specific advice and exercises to help with the issues Lefebvre observed during their performance.  Master classes are constructive for the observing students as well as the performing students, as the varying advice can be applied to their own vocal repertoire.

Lefebvre focused on a few specific pieces of advice, applying them to many of the vocalists who sang in the master class.  Although there were many technical aspects critiqued within the two-hour class, Lefebvre focused distinctly on the emotional portrayal of the songs.  He emphasized the importance of knowing how the musical accompaniment drives the performer’s character and their actions.  He stated that you must be intentional in your explanation of a song, encouraging the use of “active words” to describe emotions when portraying a character or singing a song.  He explained that it can be hard to portray words like “sad” or “angry” without becoming inactive in movements and performance.  However, when put with a verb, such as “crying” or an action such as “slapping him out of anger,” it becomes easier for the audience to see the emotion of the character.  Lefebvre explained, “You should never perform an aria the same way twice.”

Possibly the most compelling and honest piece of advice was to ask the questions, “What is your character’s driving motivation? What do you want in this song?” Lefebvre emphasized the importance of truly knowing a character and developing a backstory that can connect with and honestly convey to the audience. The ability to form a connection between the music, the performer, and the audience is one of the differences that make a good performer into a great performer.  Kate Kasmier, a junior vocalist who performed in Lefebvre’s master class, said, “I really enjoyed working with Dr. Lefebvre.  It is truly a pleasure to receive feedback from someone who is so passionate and skilled in the art of singing.”

Lefebvre’s recital cemented the validity of his advice to the master class participants. McKinley Starks, a junior who performed in Lefebvre’s master class, summed his reaction to the concert into three words, “Inspired. Terrified. Awestruck.”  The concert contained 18 pieces of repertoire of varying styles in English, German and Italian.  The concert lasted roughly 90 minutes and featured the works of 5 different composers.  Lefebvre’s expertise in the portrayal of his characters was evident through the variety of expression in each performance.  He took a moment before each piece to collect himself and adopt the new character.  The audience genuinely enjoyed not only his amazing musical ability but also his beautiful and fun representations of his characters and their stories.  The students of the Townsend School of Music, as well as all those who attended the recital Tuesday night, greatly appreciated Dr. Lefebvre’s expertise and passion for singing.