The NOCCA Institute funded 65 artist residences this past year, and NOCCA welcomed many more master artists into its classrooms who provided invaluable experiences to young artists developing their own voices and goals. The Artists-in-Residence Program also funded hourly faculty and the Summer Conservatory this year.
Alumni were especially generous with their time, including musicians Troy Andrews, Joey Peebles, Michael Ballard; vocalists Amanda Waites and Marcia Porter; and actor Wendell Pierce.
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“Tell me what you liked,” Dr. Marcia Porter asked the young vocal student who had just performed in a workshop last October.
“Well, I liked the acting,” she replied.
“That’s all? I’ll tell you what I liked” said Dr. Porter, now Assistant Professor of Voice at Florida State University. “I liked the through line, the German diction was really good, and yes, I liked the acting or what we call character.”
“When you are analyzing your work, go with what you liked first. That will encourage you. There will always be 101 things you didn’t like and two things you did. But give yourself something positive to build on.”
New York artist Lesley Dill has long incorporated language into her imagery, specifically the language of poets such as Emily Dickinson. Returning to NOCCA for a three-day workshop, she gave students a theme and a cache of xeroxed images to incorporate within their own ideas. “Heaven and hell was chosen as the theme,” Dill explained,” so that students could work with an intensity of emotion and to give everyone the freedom to not be neutral.”
Upstairs on the music floor, Guggenheim Fellow and jazz guitarist/composer Joel Harrison was asking students, “How do you learn the vocabulary of jazz without becoming a slave to it? Then how do you develop your own voice?” He and violinist Christian Howes guided students through thought processes and exercises designed to simplify and strengthen their improvisation skills. As students grappled, he asked them to think of a song as a story, with music themes as characters that have to be introduced. “I want you to introduce characters slowly but surely; this gives you a place to build a solo. But I want you to captivate me.”
“An actor’s job is to excite, surprise, make one feel,” Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Blythe Danner expressed as she critiqued the monologues of 12th grade drama and musical theatre students preparing for college auditions.
On her third visit to NOCCA, Danner again gave students a primer on acting. She prodded, urged and pulled emotions out of students as they focused on the every word from the master artist. With great care and honesty, she helped them understand the hard work, generosity and courage required of acting. “Acting is reacting,” Ms. Danner urged students. “Surprise one another when you are working on scenes together. Do something different today from what you did yesterday. The best actors I’ve worked with threw the ball from a different direction each night.”
Jeff “Tain” Watts
“Music is not a competitive thing. You must be constantly trying to help each other,” renowned jazz drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts impressed upon jazz music students from NOCCA, Loyola, UNO and Tulane University. They had all come to NOCCA for Watt’s master class put together by The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at Loyola University.
“You know, musicians can perform live music without truly aspiring to play with each other,” Watts told students as he tried to explain how important it is to be emotionally and aesthetically invested in each other’s playing. “You’ll have good days, bad days, alright days. But it’s those ‘bam!’ days that keep you going, when you touch some of that magic. That’s why you practice your craft and help other musicians – so you can be in position for those moments. You never know when they will come but they reaffirm why you are playing.”
“What do I do with a broken metered line and just one word to start a speech?” Treme star Wendell Pierce asked a student to consider. This winter Wendell spent extensive time – as technician and inspirational voice – with every NOCCA senior making the trip to the Chicago Unified Auditions. “There’s craft and there’s the business. Employment doesn’t define you. Nor does it mean you are good. Your relationship is always with your craft. Some of my best performances were in auditions. Investigate, find the fire that fuels you. If you have been working for this, be there in full.”