Lyrical language honed

Mai Doan

The National Association of Teachers of Singing hosted a master class giving individual voice lessons on French songs Feb. 22 at the University of Portland.
The lessons were given by Mary Dibbern, the international accompanist and vocal coach. Senior tenor Sam Dinsmore and freshman soprano Chelsea Janzen were chosen among many competitors to participate in the class.
Dibbern has accompanied vocal recitals in the USA, Europe and Japan at venues such as La Scala, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, the Opera-Comique, Radio France and the Opera Royal de Versailles.
“I got some great advice,” Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore will graduate this spring with double majors in music and German. He said he learned about the master class from Gwen Leonard, professor of music. He submitted his audition recording to NATS and was chosen to attend Dibbern’s master class.
Dinsmore performed a French song titled “Vainement Ma Bien Aimee,” composed by Edwardo Lalo.
“It was a concentrating environment and very different from other master classes that I have attended,” he said.
Dinsmore said there were approximately 50 music educators observing the class. He said both audiences and singers listened to each piece of music and discussed each problem with Dibbern.
“It opened my eyes to a couple of things, especially French literature,” he said.
Dinsmore will perform in Linfield Opera Theater in April. He said he has also been preparing for his May 3 senior recital. He will sing 16 pieces of music in English, German, Italian and French. He said the master class was helpful for him in order to sing foreign music expressively.
Janzen said she found the class interesting. She said she took lots of notes and gained knowledge about language in music.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Janzen said.
She said there were 10 student singers from colleges and universities around the Portland area who were chosen to attend the class.
“[Dibbern] is so knowledgeable about music,” Janzen said.
Once Dibbern listened to each of their songs, she spent about 10 minutes giving constructive criticism for both. Janzen said she and Leonard chose an English song called “Diaphenia, Ancient Myth Beautiful Maiden” to perform for the class.
“After I finished, [Dibbern] instantly asked the audience if they could understand what I sang, and there were only three audience members who raised their hands,” she said.
Janzen said Dibbern addressed the common mistakes of singers when they do not understand each word of the songs they sing. She said she has learned that singers must take each word and look it up, before they can perform with a meaningful expression, especially in foreign music.
“[Dibbern] is such a language expert,” Janzen said.
Janzen takes French, so she was excited to learn that Dibbern speaks fluent French. Dibbern moved to Paris to study with Pierre Bernac and Nadia Boulanger in 1978. She has been guest coach for vocal recital at all of the major French opera companies.
Janzen said Dibbern also writes books for singers to help them develop their knowledge about music and language. They are “Performance Guides” for Pendragon Press and “Interpreting the Songs of Jacques Leguerney.”
“[Dibbern] is a professional and strict vocal collaborative pianist,” Janzen said.
She said she also learned to understand and follow the instruction of the composer in order to express the song appropriately.
“[Dibbern] is not a singer, but she dedicates her whole life to improve singers,” Janzen said.
Janzen will participate in the choir tour March 19 to perform in high schools and churches from McMinnville to San Francisco. The concerts, directed by Anna Song, interim director of choirs, will feature a variety of music, ranging from Bach to Villette.