`A unique opportunity' to perform and learn

In classes with master musicians, corrections are main attraction

March 09, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

As the trio of piano, violin and cello played a piece by Johannes Brahms for a small audience at Howard Community College, one man listening attentively, alone in the second row, interjected with a comment for the violinist.

"Sometimes I think you're jumping ahead a little bit," he said.

It is usually poor concert etiquette to interrupt while instrumentalists are playing, but in a new series of master classes organized by Candlelight Concert Society and Howard Community College, the comments and corrections are the main attraction.

Prominent violinist and violist Michael Tree went on to make suggestions Sunday about the dynamics, tempo and coordination among the players. He suggested the trio's members listen carefully because "what looks perfectly correct on paper has no connection to reality. ... We have to deal with what we hear around us."

Holly Thomas, president of Candlelight, said such advice is very valuable.

The musicians her group has lined up to teach "are world-renowned master musicians," she said. "To do master classes with them is a unique opportunity."

This season's classes will conclude with bass-baritone singer John Shirley-Quirk at 2 p.m. April 29 at the college's Montebaro Recital Hall. The series began with a class led by the Miami String Quartet in November.

Four more master classes are being planned for the 2007-2008 academic year.

Master-class participants, who are students or alumni of HCC's academic program or its Musical Arts Center, clearly benefit from the teaching.

At the same time, "the audience gets to see a whole new perspective," said Benjamin Myers, an associate professor of music. "A master class is really a very special concept because it allows the students to perform, but it still is a lesson, so you can see the transformation occur."

He added: "A general audience may not realize what goes into a performance. ... You can get an insight into how [the master teachers] think and also insight into how a performance is put together."

Some master teachers choose to demonstrate how they believe a section of music should sound while others prefer to stick to verbal comments, Myers said.

Tree has performed as a soloist on violin and viola with numerous orchestras and appears on more than 80 recordings. He plays around the world with the renowned Guarneri String Quartet.

He preferred to talk about the works he heard Sunday from three groups, offering suggestions and then asking the musicians to play sections again.

Tree said that in a master class the conversation is centered on one piece of music, but "when we get into technical matters, many of those suggestions are applicable in a great deal of other music. ... If a composer has certain stylistic similarities with other composers of his period, we might discuss that."

Tree also said that "any act of teaching is equally an act of learning because we are forced to articulate our thoughts and zero in on the problems we face. In helping to solve other people's technical or musical questions, we come with answers to our own."

Violinist Carol Benjamin of Columbia said it is important for the students to really learn a piece of music well before going into a master-class setting.

"Then you gain a new perspective from someone who is really a master," she said. "... It brings new ways of looking at a piece, the little nuances, techniques, phrasing."

She and trio member Mary Ratcliffe, who play with cellist Fay Rozinsky, agreed that having someone of Tree's caliber available at Howard Community College is very exciting.

"You would expect to have master class with him at a major conservatory," said Ratcliffe, who lives in Columbia.

"It is incredible to have him coach us," Benjamin said. "It's a real privilege."

Thomas said the classes are also an opportunity for Candlelight to share its mission with more people.

"This program, I think, is not only good to expose Candlelight, but also will bring greater recognition to the Howard Community College fine arts and humanities and music department, and give people a view into what opportunities are available," she said.

Tree said the idea of a master class is an old one, but still very useful.

"I think it's a credit to any school or university to have guest artists come and not only play," he said, "but make themselves known on a personal level to members of the public."


Information on master classes is available from Myers at 410-772-4801. Information on Candlelight's activities is at www.candlelightconcerts.org.

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