Master class at Brownwood High School

HPU music professor helps choir students prepare for contest

Steve Nash
Howard Payne University Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Chris Rosborough gestures as he coaches Brownwood High School junior Kim Herrera through high notes as she sings the spiritual “Were You There.” Ann Slaymaker accompanies on the piano in the high school’s choir room. [Photo by Steve Nash]

In the Brownwood High School choir room Friday morning, junior Kim Herrera stood near a grand piano and faced her fellow varsity women’s choir members.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” Herrera sang the opening words to the spiritual in a strong, clear soprano, accompanied by pianist Ann Slaymaker.

Dr. Chris Rosborough, assistant music professor and director of choral activities at Howard Payne University, stood a few feet away, listening to Herrera sing.

Minutes later, Rosborough, relaxed and engaging, offered critique with a mix of humor and technical coaching, eliciting laughter several times.

“What is this song about?” Rosborough asked. “Crucifixion is what — a form of torture. I feel like you’re a little too happy when you’re singing this song.”

Rosborough was leading what choir director Jennifer Reeves described as a “master class” in which students sang solos in front of each other and in front of Rosborough.

Rosborough had been at the school at various times throughout the week, helping choir students get ready for an upcoming contest.

“We have a lot of (high school and middle school) students going to UIL solo and ensemble contest this weekend,” Reeves said. “They’ve been working on their solos and/or ensembles since Jan. 7.”

At the UIL contest in Stephenville, Reeves said, the students will sing in front of a judge and be critiqued.

The master class, Reeves said, is an extra practice.

‘A band thing’

“Oh, oh-oh-oh … ” Rosborough sang in a powerful tenor’s voice as he accompanied Herrera for a portion of the spiritual, gesturing theatrically as he coached her through high notes. “Move the sound out this way …”

A few minutes later, Rosborough critiqued sophomore Destynee Gomez after Gomez sang a portion of the Italian song “Star Vicino.”

“Are you in band? Rosborough said.”

“I was,” Gomez replied.

“I can tell … one-two-three, three-two-three, three-two-three” Rosborough said lightheartedly. “That was totally a band thing. See if you can still that and do it in your brain instead of out loud.”

Rosborough went on to coach Gomez to “put the voice in a different place.”

Listening to another girl sing, Rosborough said, “you’re breathing in rhythm, which is great. You’re singing in time, which is a wonderful thing. Singers forget to sing in time. Instrumentalists, for some reason, sing in time but they don’t breathe correctly.”

When some of the girls sang shyly and softly, Rosborough signaled for the other choir members to join in — the posse, Rosborough called them — which in turn prompted the soloist to sing louder.

“So singing solo is terrifying,” Rosborough acknowledged. “If you can have this host of heavenly voices singing in your head while you’re singing, it’s going to help you in that process.”

Easing their stage fright

“We’re trying to make an impact in the shortest time possible, Rosborough said. “Everybody that’s a teacher says the same thing but somebody else can come in and say the same thing in a different way, and it makes all the sense to that student.”

Rosborough said he understands the students’ nervousness, although he hadn’t experienced much of that when he was a student. “I help them to ease their stage fright as much as possible and break down walls,” Rosborough said.

“That’s part of the hard part — dealing with some of these students that aren’t as confident. How do we break down the wall of uncomfortability quickly, and then make some kind of difference within five minutes, seven minutes?”