Throwback Thursday: Eric Owens, Master Class

On October 22, 2015, I attended a master class by bass-baritone Eric Owens, at the Manhattan School of Music.

Some of the pearls of wisdom he offered the students and audience were:

  • When a piece of music is beginning, you the singer know what the character will say, but the character doesn't know (or shouldn't know). So, your stance has to reflect this element of spontaneity and realism - your gaze, your posture, your eyes, your energy should support this angle of freshness of interpretation.
  • Breaths you take should be like a note in the musical phrase.
  • "Step one: When you perform, imagine the theatre is filled with 2,000 of your closest friends."

  • Dynamics build a phrase: if you start out in the middle of the messa di voce, you have nowhere to go.
  • When you present something to the public, you need to introduce both yourself and the pianist. Say, "We will be performing _____." You begin the piece by readying your position (doing your prep); don't nod to the accompanist to signal that you are ready. Just be poised, and begin.
  • Singers have a tendency to make the high notes harder than they actually are. Why?
  • "Legato means many things: vowel color has a lot to do with it."
  • Hearing the orchestra is more important than seeing the conductor, because when you're on the opera stage, you must hear the orchestra. If you can't, tell them to turn the monitors up.
  • Everything that comes out of your mouth has to be something you choose, not something that happens by chance.
  • When you put more /i/ in the u vowels, you brighten them and get a more focused quality.
  • "All the vowels sleep in the same bed."

  • Some notes need to sound more like leading tones. Know where and why the notes you sing are there. Are they leading tones? Are they resolutions?
  • Don't color your voice to "sound" like an opera singer!
  • "Intonation comes before diction any day of the week."
  • The amount of time you sing a syllable puts the accent on it.

  • On the stage, you don't think about phrases and high notes. You're the character. You can't bring your practice mania on stage with you.

  • If you sing Wagner like Mozart you'll be heard over the orchestra: less is more.

  • When you work really hard, you hinder the sound, and you don't get heard as easily.

  • There is a such thing as the Rossini mafia and the Wagner mafia, where if they're casting, they think of 5 people.

  • Business likes to put labels on you real fast, because it makes their job easier. Not being labelled makes it hard to get called. Most of the people who make it big early on are known for a specific thing.

  • "The answers are not in the practice rooms -- They're in life."

In all, this was a fabulous master class. Eric Owens had lots of pearls to share, and he was also humorous and attentive to his students, at one point even singing an impromptu duet with one of them near the end of the night. I hope you enjoyed his pearls. Maybe there's enough there for you to go make a necklace!