Posts Tagged ‘Marni Nixon’

Marni Nixon’s Master Class

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Marni Nixon (4th from L) & Master Class students



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By Marcia E. Gawecki

She was the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” and Deborah Kerr in both “The King and I” and “An Affair to Remember.” She sang Opera, performed on Broadway and won two Emmys along the way. At age 80, one would think that Marni Nixon would rest on her laurels and retire like many legends. However, recently, she performed with other Broadway singers at a “One Night Only” concert in Palm Springs, and then gave a two-hour Master Class at the Idyllwild Arts Academy (IA).

“We were so lucky to get her,” said Doug Ashcraft, head of the Music Department at Idyllwild Arts. “Darren (Schilling, PR) saw that she was appearing nearby, and e-mailed her to see if she’d do a Master Class for us.”

Ashcroft added that Nixon had hosted a Master Class at IA about six years ago.

“I love what I do,” Marni Nixon said when asked why she is still performing. “And I still have to set a good example for my grown children.”

Her son, Andrew Gold, followed Nixon into the music business. She said he is best known for creating the theme song for the TV sitcom, “The Golden Girls.” Her daughters, Martha Carr, became a psychologist and Melanie Gold is a massage therapist. All three live in LA, and Nixon planned on visiting them that weekend.

On April 9, Stephens Recital Hall was packed to capacity with students, faculty and even some Nixon fans who live in Idyllwild.

“I’ve been following you throughout your career,” one woman said later as Nixon was autographing her CD.

Each of the students took turns performing a song of their choosing (with special meaning to them). They included: Everett Ford, Samuel Chan, Preston Pounds, Ruby Day, Joey Jennings, Paulina Kurtz, Becca Goldberg, and Melissa Haygood

“I wasn’t as nervous as I am performing,” said Samuel Chan, a classical voice major, who performed “Loveliest of Trees.” “I knew that she was there to help me.”

For Chan, Nixon suggested that he enunciate his consonants more, and then visualize while he was singing.

“Try and visualize that tree,” Nixon suggested. “Is it old? Is there snow on the branches?” She also said to put emotion behind the discovery of the tree. “Imagine that your rooomate has just died, or something just as traumatic, then you go to the woods to get away, and you come upon this tree.”

Chan performed the song for Nixon again, visualizing the tree.

“I can see you smelling the branches,” Nixon exclaimed, as Chan blushed.

“Can you see the difference?” Nixon asked everyone in the audience and they clapped in response. She added that it was good for classical voice majors to take some acting classes to help them visualize, and for musical theater students to take classical voice for the discipline.

Everett Ford sang a song in German, and Nixon asked him to translate the first and second verses. He said that it was about death and passing away freely.

“Just because the song is sung in German, doesn’t mean you don’t have to enunciate,” she said. “Be Italian, without being ‘fake.’ It will feel strange at first, but then it’ll become more natural. We need to hear the distinction of the words.”

As he performed the song over again, Nixon announced that she was going to “poke” and “pry” at him. She prodded him to stand up straight, and came up behind him, and held onto his rib cage.

“That’s where your voice needs to come from,” she said.

With other students, she mentioned posture, confidence, and the Tai Chi way of  firmly planting your feet on the ground.

After Becca Goldberg sang, “I Never Knew His Name,” about a young girl who didn’t know her father, Nixon was complimentary in her delivery, but critical of her posture.

“This might sound a bit cruel, but the way you’re standing up here says, “Oh poor me, pity me,'” Nixon said. Immediately, she went over to Goldberg and straightened out her spine.

As Goldberg was singing it again, Nixon commanded her ¬†to push against her with all her strength. “You need to get that strength and emotion into your song,” she said. Goldberg sang another song for Nixon, a sassier, jazzier one, and her posture greatly improved.

Throughout her critique, Nixon would always ask the title and composer of the songs. Most of the students didn’t know, and referred to their sheet music at the piano. When Joey Jennings announced his second song, “Bring Home My Youth,” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman, Nixon asked Jennings what he knew about them.

“These are famous people,” she said. “Oscar Levant was bitter and funny and honest about his putdowns of people. This is kind of his signature song.”

When Jennings finished the song, he wiped away tears and “flipped the bird.”

“That was a good exercise,” Nixon responded. “Now, next time, instead of being angry underneath, try another emotion.”

When Paulina Kurtz sang, “My Brother Lives in San Francisco,” Nixon said that she wasn’t familiar with it.

“It’s new, and never been performed on Broadway or anything,” Kurtz said. She explained that it was about a girl recollecting her gay brother who moved to San Francisco, and the effects of AIDS.

Afterwards, some of the students in the audience were brought to tears.

“Can you give me a copy of that song?” Nixon asked. “I’d like to share it with some of my students.”

Nixon answered questions from the audience

“These Master Classes are a great way for me to stay in touch with modern music,” Nixon said later.

“Just perfect,” Nixon told Melissa Heygood, the last one to perform.

“I don’t think I say it perfectly,” Melissa said later. “I think she was just a little tired.”

After the last performance, Nixon told a little bit about her career, and answered questions from the audience.

“What advice would you give to young people who are just starting their careers, knowing what you know now?” asked Ella Walker, a dance major.

“Have lots of money,” Nixon quipped, as everyone laughed. “You need to have a job at night like computer programming or something, because you need to be up and ready for auditions during the day.”

Others asked if she had travelled to Europe or Asia (because of her Suzuki teaching method) and what type of music genre she preferred.

Nixon talked about her youth, when she and her sisters would sing at local events to make money for their voice lessons.

“Sometimes the teachers would feel sorry for us and give us a break on their rates,” she said.

She said she began singing seriously, with regular performances, at age 10 or 11. Remarkably, at age 17, she performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“She seems like one of those rare individuals who came out of the womb singing,” said Jessica Scales, a theater major, later.

“I wish we could have heard her sing,” added Andie Hubsch, another musical theater major. “But was nice just being in the presence of a legend.”

Afterwards, Nixon posed for pictures, signed autographs, and sold copies of her CDs and new book, “I Could Have Sung All Night.”

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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