Education feature: Class ends on a high note

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Jennifer Brandon touches up her makeup in the dressing room backstage at Clovis Community College’s Town Hall before she and her classmates performed their final for a Broadway-style singing class.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

In the minimal light backstage, Caleb Brandon took his place behind a podium and placed a headset on his head. He took a deep breath as the first song began.

Brandon, a part-time instructor at Clovis Community College, took a breath not only for himself, but also to help his nine students relax as they prepared to do a Broadway-style performance in front of family and friends.

The performance also served as the final exam for a class on Broadway-style singing.

“This is not a typical class. It’s a performance-based class. We spent time working up a show and it will act as their final. Their entire grade in the class rides on this performance,” Brandon said.

Before the performance, the students paced back stage, making motor boat noises with their lips and rehearsing lyrics.

For most of Brandon’s students, being on stage wasn’t new.

“A big part for this class was to get the students confident in singing a solo,” Brandon said. “Most of them had sang in choirs, so being on stage alone was the only new part.”

Brandon said because his students had some experience he focused on smaller things, such as stage etiquette and techniques for warming up their voice.

“A voice is just another muscle,” said Brandon. “You have to warm up.”

Maria Bezt, who performed “I Know Him So Well” with classmate Jenny Carr, said she learned breathing, vocalization and enunciation techniques as well as how to reach a high note.

Although Mark Schmidt was no stranger to the stage, it was his first theater class that focused on singing.

“I’m not musically talented, I have to work very hard,” Schmidt said.

One of the most important lessons Schmidt said he learned was how to hear himself.

“What you hear inside isn’t what they hear. You have to feel the note so you know when it’s right,” he said.

Schmidt has acted and designed sets for several of the college’s plays and is the technical director for the school’s Cultural Art Series.

“I spent my last play doing everything back stage. Taking this class was a chance to be back on stage,” Schmidt said, who performed “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Eric Idle from the musical Spamalot.

Brandon also felt anxious and nervous before the performance. It was his first time teaching the class.

“I miss performing. But it’s fun as far as being able to pass along what I’ve learned,” said Brandon, who was involved with the musical theater department while attending Eastern New Mexico University, but turned to being a computer technician to pay the bills.

“I want to get back into music. My real dream would be to leave Clovis and give performing a real shot,” Brandon said. “Every performer dreams of being on Broadway. That’s the Mecca.”