Kendra Colton – Adams Vocal Master Class

Scott Dispensa 7-20-09

Baritone Scott Dispensa & Kendra Colton

The Adams Vocal Master Class is now in its 25th season and going strong. One of the Carmel Bach Festival’s free events, it is one much enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Altogether there are six working noon sessions at Carmel Presbyterian Church, four of them directed by David Gordon and two by guests: baritone Sanford Sylvan and soprano Kendra Colton. All of the sessions rely on the capable assistance of Scott Dettra, Master Class Music Director and keyboardist.

Well, today it was Kendra Colton’s turn at the helm. There were probably some in the audience, who had only observed Ms. Colton at a distance as a festival soloist, formally and beautifully dressed, as she always is on stage. Today they had an opportunity to observe her in action, more informally dressed, and up front and close enough to observe that beneath her charming exterior is a strong and seasoned musician who knoweth what she speaketh.

The first singer of the afternoon’s session was tenor Derek Chester from Denton, Texas, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas, who sang a Largo Aria from Bach’s Cantata, BWV 97. Although Colton was highly complementary about his performance, she questioned his choice of tempo. In her opinion it needed to be slower, for if too fast, some of the harmonic impact was lost. Together they experimented with a slower tempo, and eventually she brought him around to her view. We heard a lot during this session about not singing the beginning of long notes “straight,” but to vibrate them. Colton spoke emphatically about the need to sing the line expressively and with incredible legato. As real estate people are fond of reiterating, “location, location, location,” Colton gave us a musician’s mantra: “line, line, line.” “There is a lot of articulation in Bach,” she said, “but it should be under a long legato line.” Those of us who are non singers were amazed at the subtlety revealed by Colton in how the German word “Nichts” could be enunciated vocally so that it virtually became two syllables instead of one.

Next up was soprano Coleen Hughes from Bloomington Indiana, a member of the Festival Chorale since 2006, who sang Handel’s spectacular “Hallelujah.” Colton’s first words were, “This is a virtuoso piece, and if after singing this aria, I don’t feel like falling down with exhaustion, I know I haven’t been working hard enough.” Hughes agreed. The word “vibrate” was back with us again.  “Energize every note, no matter how fast or difficult,” said Colton, “Every note must vibrate, and every note must have energy.” Back and forth, we heard Colton demonstrate a passage and then Hughes gave it a try. By the end of the session with Hughes, the tempo had increased, and the rhythm was more exciting. Pianist Dettra was superb as he played the orchestra reduction at the speed of light, but kept the texture absolutely precise and clear.

Mezzo Abigail Nims, from Tivoli, New York, blew us away with a lovely rendition of the “Laudamus Te” from Bach’s B Minor Mass. Colton gave her high praise for her stunning performance and asked who was her favorite singer in this aria. When Nims hesitated, Colton volunteered that hers was Rosa Lamoreaux. Colton started off her session with Nims asking, “Why is so often the case that when there is a long note, people want to sing it straight when it can be so much more expressive and intense when it is vibrated?” Non singers are always impressed how precise vocalists have to be about diction and the attention they give to the difference between singing vowels as compared to consonants. It was a delight to see how easily Nims responded to Colton’s suggestions.

Ending the master class was baritone Scott Dispensa, from New York City, singing an aria from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. After telling Dispensa what a nice performance this was, Colton admitted that for a very long time she did not like this aria, although that is not the case now. Dispensa began the aria again, and was stopped by Colton, who said, “Your entry was late! You must never be late! You can always leave early and cut off the duration of a note slightly, but you can’t be late on the beginning attack.” Together they worked on rhythm. Said Colton “The more precise your rhythm is, the better chance you have for clarity and effective expression.”

Colton reminded us that we deal with sound, words and rhythm. If our words become momentarily indistinct, or our pitch softens, there is no lasting and totally destructive consequence, but if our rhythm goes wrong, we can negatively affect the whole ensemble around us. Colton wound up the session with a second mantra, “Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm,” which is perhaps even more important than “Line, line, line.”

Colton, the four singers and pianist Dettra received a big hand from the audience.

End

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