Distinguished musical theater performer and educator Byron Grant will visit the Townsend School of Music at Mercer University to teach a three-part masterclass.
As a returning guest to Townsend, he will guide students through techniques on how to sing the story and “sell the song.” The first class took place on Sept. 27 and the two upcoming masterclasses will take place at the McCorkle Music Building on Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 from 4-6 p.m. These workshops are free to attend and open to the public.
“[Grant] will bring musical theater experience to opera and art song,” said associate professor of music and director of graduate studies Richard Kosowski.
The vocal department at Townsend primarily focuses on building vocal technique in opera and classical styles, although musical theater is often incorporated into the students’ repertoire.
Kosowski said that these masterclasses will serve as a tool to help “students act for the stage.”
The goal of the masterclasses is to have the student singers learn how to clearly communicate what is written on the page of the song.
“[Grant] really has a storied career,” Kosowski said.
Grant was the former head of Webster University’s theater department in Saint Louis, Missouri, a school known for its excellence in theater training. He has worked professionally in New York and across the country as a performer, theatrical director and music director.
For the upcoming masterclasses, some students were asked to bring in song selections from the 1930s and 1940s from the likes of Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Lorenzo Hart and Cole Porter. Kosowski said that this is “because there is generally a story in these songs, both by components and during the era.”
This year there will be 11 students participating in the masterclass series, two of which — juniors Joy Mote and Peter Schultz — have been selected to perform on all three days.
Mote and Schultz will be workshopping one song each from start to finish.
Usually in a masterclass, singers bring in a well-rehearsed piece to perform and receive feedback from the coach to make the performance better. However, both Mote and Schultz will be going through the progression of learning a song in its entirety.
Although both of the students have spent some time learning their song selections ahead of time, they have been specifically directed to learn the notes of the music separate from the song lyrics.
In a telephone interview, Mote said, “We are trying to approach [the song] unbiased.”
Mote, who is a vocal performance major, has selected “Simple Little Things” by composer Harvey Schmidt from the musical “110 in the Shade” as her song of choice. Mote said that in the first week, the focus will be on exploring the text and finding out which words are the most important.
According to Kosowski, both Mote and Schultz will be workshopping the lyrics as a monologue and then incorporating them into the song as the masterclasses progress.
“I think that, a lot of times, people think opera performers sing very well, but [do not] act as well,” said Mote, who has sung all her life.
She explained that a musical theater perspective will help to enhance the “actability” of the song.
Mote said that musical theater performers are often known as great actors who may not necessarily need the greatest singing voice. This combination of musical theater acting and classical training will be one of the highlights during the masterclasses.
In an email, Schultz said, “I am hoping to be able to learn how to better pair expressing the song’s emotion and character with musicality.”
Schultz is working on his bachelor of science in psychology and bachelor of arts in music degrees.
He selected “I Chose Right” from the musical “Baby” with music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.
“This passage is very rich in introspective acting, which contrasts [with] my regular comedic roles,” he said
Schultz said that normally he can cover up an inability to emotionally connect to a particular passage with musical phrasing, but now he will be exposed.
“Performing is a very vulnerable thing to do. With this workshop every aspect of my performance will be focused on,” he said. “Grant will be guiding me to accurately represent the piece.”
Both students are a bit nervous for the upcoming masterclass, but they are looking forward to the experience.
“[Grant] is really great at what he does,” said Mote. “He teaches in a different style than what I am used to . . . He does bring great results from people.”
For more information regarding location and times of the Byron Grant masterclasses, refer to the calendar page on the Townsend School of Music website at music.mercer.edu.