photo by John Kish IV

Lisa Toth '07, right, receives vocal instruction from Angela Brown during the soproano's 2006 visit to Moravian College.

“She told me to drop my jaw down to my ovaries.”

It was critically-acclaimed soprano Ruth Ann Swenson who offered that unconventionally-worded wisdom to vocal performance music major Lisa Toth (’07). “I must not have been dropping my jaw enough for the sound to come out while I was singing,” Toth explains. “I was surprised at first, but then I lightened up and dropped my jaw. And it definitely helped my sound.”

For ten years now, Moravian students have been receiving guidance from distinguished, big-name performers like Swenson, Yo-Yo Ma, Marilyn Horne and Wynton Marsalis, thanks to the College’s Great Artist Series. “The goal was to bring great artists to the campus to teach a master class and perform a recital,” says Nancy Clark, assistant dean of music. “We wanted to give students contact with top-level performing artists.” The recitals and the ticketed private receptions that follow also generate funding for the John H. Reimers Music Scholarship Fund.

Over the years the visiting performers have provided some memorable moments, like the time mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves brought her dog to the master class. “He made himself comfortable under the piano,” Clark recalls, “and at once point decided to join in by howling.” And early in the series, some of the teachers’ well-intentioned critiques were a bit harsher than they needed to be. “We had some of the kids in tears, which made me feel really bad,” Clark says. She remembers one student who was left shaking after a session with the first artist in the series, Marilyn Horne. “I said to her, part of why she spent so much time with you was because she really heard something in you and wanted to bring it out.” These days Clark makes sure the performers’ expectations of the students are in synch with the students’ musical backgrounds.
            A yowling dog, a strict instructor, or the fact that the class is open to anyone who wants to come and watch, might be off-putting to some students, says Clark. But she believes such challenges add to the value of the experience. “If you’re a performer, you have develop the courage to get in front of people and perform,” she says. Toth, who's also sung for soprano Angela Brown, will be attending her third master class this semester, agrees that the tough moments are worth it. “They’re opera singers and they’re famous, and you want to be the best you can be,” she says. “I’m always excited to sing for them.”

This year’s Great Artist Series performer is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who will perform a recital at Foy Hall at 7:30 p.m. His master class will be held the following morning. More details.