Mastering their Craft: WSC music students take voice class from opera maestro Keith Miller
Aug. 4, 2010 -- Last week, four Western State College of Colorado (WSC) students shared the stage with one of opera’s top talents for a one-on-one critique of their vocal technique.
WSC music student Jade Rudolph (left) works on projecting his vocals during a voice master class with Keith Miller, who is a bass-baritone with the Metropolitan Opera and this year’s opera director for the Crested Butte Music Festival.
Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Keith Miller conducted a voice master class at the invitation of Heather Roberson, Western’s choral conductor, who reached out to him after seeing his performance as Figaro in the “Marriage of Figaro” at last year’s Crested Butte Music Festival. Miller returned to Crested Butte this year as the festival’s opera director and opera young artist program director. A former pro-football player, Miller is renowned for his powerful vocals and commanding stage presence. He performed on a 2009 Grammy-nominated recording and was recently featured on the cover of “Classical Singer” magazine.
“I’m humbled and honored that he came and took this time for the students,” Roberson said. “When I saw him perform last year, I was extremely impressed with his singing and acting skills, to say the least.”
Roberson tapped three of her baritone singers – Dakota Brown, Jeremy Kroeker and Jade Rudolph -- and soprano Enid Holden to participate in the master class.
“I specifically wanted Keith to come because he is a bass-baritone and I am a soprano -- those two voice types are very different. Watching him work with my baritones helps me to become a better teacher and to know how to better help my students,” Roberson noted.
During the master voice class, Miller spent about a half-hour with each student on a selected aria. Miller’s teaching style was more like that of a coach than a critic as he worked with them on building confidence and tapping into personal emotion to fuel their voices. The lessons focused on strengthening vocal technique rather than finding perfect pitch or hitting the high notes. He also reminded students of the physical demands of singing – especially opera – in controlling air flow for their “instruments” to project volume and breathe emotion into the words.
Following the class, Miller commented on the students’ potential as professional performers and encouraged them to master their craft and pursue careers in music, including opera.
“Opera is not looked up as real as it should be. It’s your responsibility to show people there’s a reason it’s been kept around for centuries,” Miller said. “Use music for what it gives you and give it back. It’s the most exposed thing you can do. It’s our job as performers to give continuously without any expectation.”
For Rudolph, a junior music education major at Western, working side-by-side with Miller was a “humbling and inspiring” experience. Miller himself seemed impressed by Rudolph’s performance of the aria “O Isis und Osiris” from the German opera “The Magic Flute” and advised the young baritone to consider a professional opera career. Although opera was not among Rudolph’s life goals, he has added it to his “bucket list” per Miller’s advice.
“The raw talent that Mr. Miller possesses is beyond fascinating. He made me feel like I had the potential to do something I had rarely endeavored in until recently. The main thing that I took from this experience was that I need to explore every musical possibility to my fullest potential in order to find what field of music I can make the biggest impact in,” Rudolph said.
The transformation in the students’ performances after spending just a half-hour with Miller also was an enlightening experience for Roberson.
“I am thrilled that my students experienced such an immediate and dramatic change in their singing,” she said. “I think everything we do in the music department, like the master class, enhances and enriches the students' academic experience. The more opportunities they have to perform and to get feedback from different people, the better musicians and performers it makes them.”
Two of the WSC students from the master class – Brown and Holden – and recent WSC music graduate Randi Andersen also are participating in the chorus of this year’s Crested Butte Music Festival opera selection, “La bohème”, which has its final performance on Aug. 5.