In Experiential Learning, Guest Artists, Opera

Music majors resonate with the character and charisma of Thomas Hampson

Hampson teaches vocal performance students about the importance of thought. (Ben Williams)

Baritone legend Thomas Hampson came to BYU as part of the BRAVO! Professional Performing Arts Series and participated in a workshop with vocal students in the School of Music, emphasizing the importance of conveying unspoken thoughts and employing proper technique.

Campus masterclasses with renowned professionals are very beneficial for young musicians but can also be intimidating for those students asked to perform. For graduate student Michelle Dean, part of what made the masterclass so impactful was how Hampson interacted with each performer.

“I felt tense and nervous, but after I sang Mr. Hampson did a good job of putting me at ease,” said Dean. “I saw that with other people afterwards as well. It was really cool to hear his ideas and to get his recommendations and feedback.”

With a well-trained ear for detail, Hampson worked to shape the voices of each singer to resonate with the members of the audience as he shared his thoughts with his trademark charisma and a touch of humor.

“You invited me, so I’m going to give you my ideas,” said Hampson.

As he listened to each student, Hampson shared techniques and instruction designed to help each singer refine their performance and continue to think more critically about their craft after the masterclass.

Michelle Dean appreciates lessons learned from a renowned professional. (Ben Williams)

“The clue is in the mind,” Hampson said. “If you don’t hear what you’re going to sing, you’re not going to know what breath to take. Hear in your mind exactly what you want your voice to sound like, and sing it.”

Dean took Hampson’s words to heart and thought about her desired tone and resonance before she sang, taking her piece to the next level.

“When Thomas Hampson told me to do that in the masterclass, it made a huge difference,” Dean said. “I imagined what I wanted my voice to sound like, then I sang it and it sounded like what I wanted it to in my head. I think as musicians, we forget how to be very conscious in our decisions, so that was a big takeaway for me.”

Throughout the masterclass, Hampson continued to share advice and lessons he learned throughout his professional career.

“A breath for a singer is an unspoken thought,” he said. “Anchor your breath and let the music fly. Our voices are there to express that which we wish to express, so sing as beautifully as possible for as long as possible.”

As Hampson helped vocal performance major Savannah Porter work on technique, she was able to experience more freedom in her voice.

“He really knew what he was talking about and how to help me as an individual,” Porter said. “Singing is a lot easier than we make it sometimes. I realized there are a lot of things I don’t have to force, because they will just come naturally.”

One of the things Hampson emphasized to the performers was resonance. He compared the human voice to a violin — delicate and precise with the ability to gently move from note to note. Singers are often told to project to fill the room, but Hampson had a different view on producing sound.

“As singers, our voices don’t project; they resonate,” he said. “Bullets are projectiles. Broomsticks thrown in anger are projectiles. Singers resonate, just like a violin.”

BYU vocal performance majors cherish an educational and uplifting masterclass with Thomas Hampson. (Ben Williams)

Porter came away from the masterclass inspired to pursue a career as a singer.

“Because of this experience, I feel more prepared for a potential career in music and that I have things I know I can work on to improve myself,” Porter said. “Mr. Hampson did a really good job of assuring me that I was doing well, and that I am on a good path to be successful.”

For Dean, she was inspired by the experience as a whole.

“I’m just so grateful that BYU brings in fantastic artists,” said Dean. “That’s such a big draw to this school. They bring in a big artist in the fall, but they bring in other artists throughout the year and I just hope that never goes away. We appreciate that, and it’s what we need as music students.”

The BRAVO! Series produced by BYU offers masterclasses as part of the professional performing arts series.

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BYU School of Music Gamelan Bintang Wahyu