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November 13, 2003

Master classes offer chance to see musicians in the making

When jazz violinist Regina Carter visited the School of Music last week, it was just one more opportunity for students at the school to have a lesson — in public.


Carter was here to give a master class, one of eight being offered this fall alone. Master classes feature a guest artist who performs and explains technique, but they also include students performing for the guest and receiving a critique, with other students listening in.


“At its best a master class gives the audience a chance to see process and illumination as a student is able to make an interpretive discovery while working with the guest,” said School of Music Director Robin McCabe.


McCabe said that no two master classes are alike because the personality and style of the teachers vary.


Carter, who was in Seattle to perform at Jazz Alley, gave a low-key master class that featured her playing the violin with UW Music Professor Marc Seales on the piano. Student groups then offered their own performances, with Carter commenting and giving suggestions. Often, Carter would ask the musicians to repeat some portion of their piece, incorporating her suggestions.


A native of Detroit, Carter is a classically trained violinist who later turned to jazz. In 2001 she made history by becoming the first jazz musician and the first African-American artist to play the legendary violin owned by classical music virtuoso and composer Niccolo Paganini. She later used the violin to record her new album, Paganini: After a Dream.


Like Carter, many of the artists giving master classes are in Seattle to perform — either at the music school or elsewhere. Guests are given a modest honorarium and are often co-sponsored by entities such as the Seattle Symphony or even the Experience Music Project. Carter’s appearance was underwritten by the Seattle Partnership for American Popular Music, a collaboration between the UW School of Music, Experience Music Project, and KEXP radio, funded by a gift from the Allen Foundation for Music.


Master classes are very popular, McCabe said. When famous cellist Janos Starker was on campus, “people were overflowing into the corridors, trying to hear one of his master classes,” she said.


Music students have teachers on the UW faculty with whom they study individually, but master classes provide something extra, McCabe said.


“The student has the benefit of a different ‘lens’ being focused on what he or she is trying to do. In a voice master class for instance, a guest teacher may have a different approach to diction, or to acting or moving on the stage.”


But the students aren’t the only ones who benefit. Master classes are generally open to the public and they’re free. The two remaining classes this quarter are Trio Solisti, scheduled for 3:45 p.m. Nov. 24 in 213 Music, and pianist Dmitry Rachmanov, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in Brechemin Auditorium.