Connecting Students with Today’s Top Artists Despite the Pandemic

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For more than a year, the pandemic has impacted many aspects of the day-to-day at the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA). One thing that hasn’t changed is our faculty and staff’s commitment to providing outstanding educational experiences. This moment has enhanced our resilience and creativity in order to satisfy the needs of the student community. The most recent examples took place in March 2021, during which four masterclasses were held over the span of a single week. These ranged from virtual classes via Zoom webinar, to a hybrid session (half in-person, half virtual) utilizing the Moving Story Window Wall technology.

An important element of the College’s instructional offerings is our intrinsic link with the Center for the Arts at George Mason University and the Hylton Performing Arts Center, which enables Mason students to learn directly from today’s top artists. When performers and touring ensembles appear in the professional season of music, dance, and theater offerings, CVPA ensures that masterclasses or similar educational opportunities are part of what they bring to the table. This learning exchange is in line with the College’s longstanding mission to “educate the artists of tomorrow.” In spite of the current restrictions, CVPA and its two performing arts centers have continued to provide these exceptional experiences to Mason students.

Lawrence Brownlee
Lawrence Brownlee giving a Zoom masterclass to students from the Dewberry School of Music.

Beginning on March 2, Lawrence Brownlee—who is recognized as one of America’s foremost modern opera singers—led a Zoom masterclass for a group of Vocal Studies and Opera majors from the Reva and Sid Dewberry Family School of Music. The class was held the day after he participated in The Artist-Activist: Centering Black Voices series as part of Mason Arts at Home.

Of her experience, Rosie Wright (Vocal Performance ‘22) commented, “Singing for Mr. Brownlee was an infinitely valuable experience for me. He was an absolute joy to work with. I had the privilege of singing a Rossini aria for him and, since that’s one of his specialties, I was very nervous. I had so much fun learning from him and it was so inspiring to get a coaching from him on the piece. This masterclass was one of the highlights of my college career.”

The following day, School of Theater students were welcomed to participate in a masterclass with Broadway singer and actress Laura Osnes—who appeared in Broadway Princess Party on March 21. For this session, students gathered in person (physically distanced) on the Center for the Arts’ stage while Osnes was projected live onto the Moving Story Window Wall. Sophia Inserra (Theater ‘21) explained, “the innovativeness of the set up and how we connected with Ms. Osnes was excitingly effective and, of course, getting the opportunity to meet and work with her virtually was amazing. This experience made my entire year; I am so grateful.”

Laura Osnes and Tom Lessels
Left: School of Theater students participate in a masterclass with Broadway singer and actress Laura Osnes. Photo: Even Cantwell. Right: Clarinetist Thomas Lessels from Academy of St. Martin in the Fields giving a Zoom masterclass to students from the Dewberry School of Music.

Similarly, on March 8, instrumentalists from the Dewberry School of Music had the opportunity to study with clarinetist Thomas Lessels and cellist Will Schofield of the world-class Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. These two, separate masterclasses were held via Zoom webinar and they preceded the ensemble’s Mason Arts at Home virtual performance on March 13. Teresa Jenkins (Clarinet Performance ’22) summarized her involvement as follows, “the masterclass was fantastic and enlightening. I really enjoyed the musical ideas that Mr. Lessels recommended and shared with me regarding my playing. The Zoom masterclass experience is one full of silver linings, and I am so appreciative to have been chosen to participate!”

Tom Lessels Masterclass with Dewberry School of Music students
Students from the Dewberry School of Music participate in a masterclass with clarinetist Thomas Lessels (top left) from Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

These testimonials both confirm and reinforce the importance of making masterclasses, workshops, lectures, and artist conversations available to our student community.

In addition to the abovementioned masterclasses, the School of Art’s Visual Voices lecture series continues to feature nationally-recognized visiting artists and designers each month in an online format. Recent guests included Wendy Red Star, Rozeal, and Mia Rollow. Film and Video Studies’ Visiting Filmmaker Series is also thriving in the digital space, highlighting films and artists who are committed to innovation, social justice, and diverse and inclusive filmmaking. Most recently, the series featured film director Stefon Bristol and TV writer Hank Jones.

CVPA is proud to offer these opportunities to students, and we look forward to increasing their reach throughout the academic year. Support our educational initiatives beyond the classroom.