Discovery Classes & The Honest American Recitals

with Matthew Patrick Morris

We will explore group and solo exercises for movement, acting, singing, and most importantly, combining each of these skills to discover the full singer-actor experience. The class will meet for two hours. The first hour will be dedicated to exercises and improvisation. The second hour will be practical work in an informal masterclass format on two American songs, selected by you in consultation with me, in English or your native language/not American if you are originally from another country. Consider this class a safe and fun space to explore and work on your craft, not a master class. Our goal is that by the end of the program you will have found many new tools to aid you in performance and your personal practice, and will be able to apply those tools to the practical performance of these two songs. To remove any unnecessary barriers to your work at this stage, I ask that these two American songs be in English only (or your native language).

The “Discovery Class” boils down to this: 1) establish a safe space for exploration and play. 2) In that space, observe/allow natural instincts to come forth...”true” behavior is always more interesting and valuable than giving an “idea” of what we believe to be true. (So often singers lose their connection to their own sense of instinct as they learn this very complicated and at times seemingly unnatural craft of classical singing). 3) After being present and “in the moment” of expressing a natural instinct, look back and think if there was ever a moment when the expression of it was cut-off by tension or lack of commitment. 4) Repeat from point 1) and try to commit more fully/release the specific tension noticed in exercise 3.

The process is organic, and achieves what director and writer Wesley Balk calls a “spiral path to performing power”; it is not a circle because when you return to point one, you have made forward progress. You do not return to the same point, but continue to increase the truth and power of your performance!

Young artists choose songs in English because I want to remove any barrier between them, the text, and the audience. So often, young singers are first encouraged to sing songs in Italian and to focus on sound-production with the meaning of the words they are singing a mere afterthought: not in this work. Communication is paramount!

Young artists choose the repertoire themselves that they want to work on. Again, young singers are so often told what songs to learn, how to dress, how to carry themselves, etc., that they forget that they are in fact the artist! At the end of the day, it is the singer (and pianist) who are on stage, not the teacher, performing, and they need to find something that they care about so much that they must share it with the audience...not just stiffly re-produce what they worked on in class.

I tell our students that each of them is a prescription for a soul in the audience to receive that indefinable healing or completion for which we all search in the arts: by going to concerts and movies, reading books or poetry, gardening, visiting museums, etc. The performer’s job is not to learn a technique which irons out all their unique wrinkles along the way, but to use their technique in order to express their unique artistry. Not all art is for all people, not all prescriptions work for all ailments, but if we can encourage our singers to risk choosing their material, caring about what they’re saying, and to say it in the way that is true to them, they will create something true. Then there will be an audience member who “gets it”. Their prescription will help at least one ailment. (And later curating can worry about which "true expressions" are the most useful for what an artist is trying to convey.)

The class culminates in presenting our work to the public in the "Honest American" recitals. We are not creating a program of Schubert through the ages or giving life to a beautiful song cycle. (That is done marvelously elsewhere on the SongFest calendar!) Rather we are daring to share something true, naked, and unique to ourselves: songs we chose and sing from our hearts.