Internationally renowned performer visits Mercer's Townsend School of Music


Guest performer and pedagogue Cliff Forbis instructs junior voice major Clay Mote during the master class. Mote sang Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Silent Moon.”

Clifton Forbis, Chair of Voice at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas and renowned international performer, gave a recital followed by a master class at Mercer’s Townsend School of Music. Forbis is a heldentenor who has been a leading artist with the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra National de Paris, Canadian Opera Company and Teatro alla Scala. As a heldentenor, Forbis’ voice is a powerful dramatic instrument that is capable of singing larger German works, including works of Wagner. According to the recital program, Forbis sings “the most demanding tenor repertoire around the world.” His performance at Mercer gave the audience an impressive glimpse of his abilities. The recital included pieces from the title roles of “Samson et Dalila,” “Otello” and “Tristan und Isolde.” Forbis exhibited incredible control over his voice, which was demonstrated by the contrasting repertoire he presented. Following his beautiful performance, Forbis held a Q&A session, engaging the audience and maintaining interest. He was approachable and casual as he answered questions from listeners and made numerous jokes. When asked at what point he realized his voice wasn’t like most voices, Forbis said, “It was always one of those things where you were getting called out in class. You know…’Cliff, you’re talking to loud.’ No, I was just talking.” He went on to mock his own quirky performing habits, including crossing his eyes while singing a high b-flat. “You know, I do…and it’s ever so slight. I’m doing it right now, and you can’t tell…” said Forbis. He continued by explaining the difficulty of correcting habits that would not be noticed in a regular auditorium, but one would clearly see them during a MET Broadcast on a 30-foot movie theater screen.
Forbis was personable to audience members and students alike, and his humor was consistent even through the master class. Six Mercer voice students sang solo pieces for Forbis and received 20 minutes of individual instruction. The students sang beautifully and the amazement was audible throughout the audience as Forbis’ advice resulted in even further improvement.
His methods were fascinating as he made students plug their ears and poke their sternums. “As you start to incorporate the body into the sound, the sound will change. It will not become something that holds. It will become more of what it naturally is,” said Forbis.
He used imagery when conveying his advice, and inspired the singers through examples.
“Don’t sing to the size of the room. Sing to the size of your voice,” he said; advice which was demonstrated by Forbis’ incredible performance the night before.
Forbis used his expertise and talent to help teach students about their own talent and potential, and he made clear the capability of each student he worked with by using a few simple tricks to help them as they performed.