Master Classes Not Just For Musicians

VIDEO: James Conlon on his philosophy of conducting master classes.

When I was a junior in high school, I attended my first master class. It was at a four-day conference, and as I was too scared to attend as a performer, I went as an auditor instead. That means that I got to attend all the sessions but didn't play at any of them. I think I spent half my savings to do this.

At Ravinia, you don’t need to spend any of your savings to attend a master class. They’re free! In fact, not only are they free for the listeners, they’re also free for the incredibly talented young professionals who have been accepted into the 25th-birthday-celebrating Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI).

If you’ve never been to a master class, let me summarize: the musicians get up on stage for a sort of public lesson, giving the audience a glimpse into the creative process. The master classes are fun as well as informative, and people sometimes bring notebooks that inevitably get filled with gems like “if you make a mistake in jazz, do it twice” (Gary Hoffman, RSMI, 2012) and “be remembered, even if it’s wrong, be remembered” (Kiri Te Kanawa, RSMI, 2012).

This Friday James Conlon, the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual residency at Ravinia, will be giving a master class with vocalists from the RSMI Program for Singers. His master classes are a favorite; he always makes a point to talk to the audience, ensuring that they know the context and import of the advice he gives to the performer. Consequently his master classes become some of the most engaging musical experiences anyone—whether it be the performer or the audience member—can have.

Elena Guobyte
Multimedia Production Associate