Learning from the masters: Visiting artists come to ASU Herberger Institute

Herberger Institute's 2016-2017 season underway, features opportunities to learn from visiting artists

Alexandra Ncube master class

ASU alumna Alexandra Ncube, star of the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon,” talks to students during a master class last year. Photo by Tim Trumble.


Arizona State University music professor Carole FitzPatrick remembers when it all clicked.

She was a grad student when she heard a professional opera singer express her style, command and passion — up close.

“It was a life-changing experience — a recital of incredible beauty, elegance and joy and utterly compelling,” she said.

Today, FitzPatrick, as an associate professor of voice for the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is providing the opportunity for her students to have a similarly transformative experience by bringing mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade to ASU next month for a master class.

Von Stade’s scheduled appearance signals the arrival of a new season of cultural events from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. It marks the continuance of an emerging tradition that allows students, faculty and the general public to work closely with professionals from various creative disciplines as part of master classes and workshops lead by industry professionals and short-term artist residencies, which all dovetail with the Herberger Institute’s cultural offerings: concerts; plays and readings; design and art exhibitions; lectures and workshops; dance performances and musical theatre.   

“A key part of our mission at the ASU Herberger Institute is ensuring that our students engage with successful working artists and designers who can serve as shining examples of what a life in design and the arts can look like,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “It’s one thing to watch a singer onstage or to see a video in a museum. It’s another thing entirely to have the opportunity to interact with professional artists and designers and learn from them about how and why they do what they do. That interaction can provide the impetus for a truly rewarding career in the arts.”

Von Stade’s interaction includes students selected by audition to sing for her and receive vocal-technical and stylistic advice. Also, the class will be open to the community to watch.

“For our students to get to work with — or even watch someone else work with — this amazing artist is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” FitzPatrick said. “They'll never forget it.”

Estrella Peyton, who runs the International Artist Residency program at the Herberger Institute’s ASU Art Museum, was a graduate student in the ASU School of Art last year. She says that as a student, she had “direct access to amazing, world-renowned artists” through the residency. She was able to see professional projects realized even as a student and had access to the artists “in such a natural way. It’s such an organic experience that will probably take years to really sink in, how important these interactions have been.”

This fall, dance students will have the opportunity to work with award-winning choreographer Kyle Abraham. He will teach master classes and engage in a residency with the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre that will involve remounting one of his previous pieces with the students.  

Abraham, a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, “is a superstar in the dance world,” said Mary Fitzgerald, assistant director and associate professor for the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Stylistically, he fuses postmodern dance with urban styles.”

Abraham’s work will extend beyond the classroom when he returns in the spring for ASU Gammage’s BEYOND series, which offers additional access to visiting artists.

Artists involved in the BEYOND series do work both on- and off-campus, said Michael Reed, senior director of programs and organizational initiatives at ASU Gammage.

“We’re able to bring something to the table for students that is very much of the professional working world so that it becomes a very real part of their experience at ASU,” he said.

In Abraham’s case, his company Abraham.In.Motion will perform a new dance work based on the meaning of love and loss across multiple communities and perspectives. Ahead of the ASU Gammage performance in April, he will interview people in the community about what love means to them and incorporate their perspectives into the piece.

Other artists visiting ASU as part of the Herberger Institute’s 2016-2017 season include the Ying Quartet, the New York-based theatre company 600 Highwaymen and urban dance artist Teena Marie Custer.

These opportunities are just one facet of the season. Students take what they learn from the artists and put it into their own performances and art work that is part of every season. This year, they’ll be performing operas such as “The Magic Flute,” acting in the student-written play “Haboob,” presenting personal dance pieces, mounting exhibitions, premiering short films and participating in choral concerts. Eventually, some students return to ASU as visiting artists themselves.

Last year, one of the most popular master classes was taught by Alexandra Ncube, star of the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon.” Ncube, who graduated from ASU with a degree in theatre, made sure to carve out time to work with students when she was in Tempe touring at ASU Gammage.

“During the master class, she laid out the unique path she took to pursue performing, and reinforced the idea within each of us that our dreams were absolutely possible,” said Erin Kong, a sophomore studying musical theatre. “Pursuing any career in the arts is often deemed unrealistic, yet the master class with Alexandra proved the very opposite. Our dreams were realistic – she was living proof.”

To find a listing of the Herberger Institute’s season events, which include many free events, and to buy tickets, visit season.asu.edu.

For more information on ASU Gammage’s BEYOND series, visit asugammage.com/BEYOND

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