Operatic tenor George Shirley presented a master class at Ball State this past November. Born in Indianapolis, IN, Mr. Shirley was the first African-American to be appointed to a high school teaching post in music in Detroit. He was also the first African-American member of the United States Army Chorus in Washington, D.C., and the first African-American tenor and second African-American male to sing leading roles with the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained for eleven years.
Rory Wallace, a vocal performance doctoral candidate who is originally from Trinidad, had an opportunity to sing in Mr. Shirley’s master class. Below is his reflection after the class.
“On Friday September 14, 2018 I had the opportunity to perform in a master class taught by world-renowned American operatic tenor, George Shirley. Mr. Shirley, a native of Indiana, was the first African-American tenor to perform a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera. With such a notable historical background paired with his extensive performing career, I was eager to work with him and experience his teaching style and feedback. One would think with such an impressive background Mr. Shirley would somehow be tough or aggressive with the students he worked with at the masterclass, but he was quite the opposite. I was able to observe him working with other students before it was my turn and he was just simply remarkable. His advice was relevant, pertinent, and he gave singers various things to think about as they interpreted their songs. He also addressed technical issues pertaining to pedagogy and diction.
It was finally my turn to work with Mr. Shirley. I performed “Il mio tesoro” from the opera Don Giovanni by W.A. Mozart. I chose this piece because Mr. Shirley performed the aria when he played the role of Don Octavio at the Metropolitan Opera in 1973. Gaining feedback and instruction from someone who had already performed the role would provide me with additional tools for interpretation. Additionally, Mr. Shirley could impart specific technical instruction that could help my performance. Mr. Shirley was down to earth and supportive as he worked with me after I performed the aria. He was encouraging, motivating, friendly, and extremely professional in his approach.
This experience is something I will never forget. There is no greater resource for singers other than someone who has been in the business for years, who has traveled all over the world performing similar or the exact repertoire you intend to master, and has performed in some of the most prestigious venues. Mr. Shirley encompasses all of these and more as his contribution to the world of singing has laid a path for younger singers like me to follow and be successful.”