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University of Houston sophomore Aaron Casey learns from some of the best music professors in the country. Recently, his education took a new turn as he received lessons from vocal legend and Grammy Award winner Bobby McFerrin as part of HBO documentary series “Masterclass.”
“Masterclass” pairs young creative spirits with award-winning artists for lessons in an intimate classroom environment. Casey was selected by McFerrin to participate in the program following his performances during 2011 Young Arts Week in Miami in May. Casey and four other students worked with McFerrin within the Germany’s largest opera house Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. The next season of “Masterclass” is scheduled to air in spring 2012.
“Working with Bobby McFerrin was great,” Casey said. “He was very humble and easy to work with. We focused mainly on improvisation. He wanted us to feel the music and told us not to practice repetitively to get something correct. Instead, we were instructed to engage our minds and souls with the music. He said that when we let go and live in the music, our art will be perfect. As long as we don’t worry about being perfect, we’ll be perfect.”
Improvisation is not a new concept for Casey, who grew up singing in church. He admitted, however, that applying improvisational skills to classical music was a fresh concept.
“It was fun to think outside of the box and just sing,” he said. “I learned that any mistakes made while singing can be transformed into corrections.”
Casey’s musical goal is to perform opera, so learning in German’s noted Festspielhaus Baden-Baden was particularly special. With its rich history, he admitted that he felt right at home on stage.
Before meeting McFerrin, Casey was mainly familiar with his talents through the 1988 pop hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He also knew about the popular singer’s musical lineage.
“I know that his father Robert McFerrin was a famous opera singer,” Casey said. “I also know that Bobby McFerrin worked on a version of ‘Porgy and Bess’ to honor him and that he has worked with numerous orchestras.”
A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Casey came to UH to take advantage of the opportunities within the Moores School of Music. He is a member of the school’s award-winning Moores Concert Chorale and plans to audition for upcoming Moores Opera Center productions.
“I looked at other universities and conservatories and felt that UH was the best place to learn and grow as a musician,” he said. “I researched several schools and I saw opportunities for me within the vocal program at UH. It’s not too big, but it’s still very competitive. It’s the place for me to be right now.”
HBO’s “Masterclass” debuted in 2010. Each half hour episode details a young artist’s interaction with a star mentor. Previous “Masterclass” teachers have included UH Distinguished Lecturer and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, UH alumnus and acclaimed filmmaker Julian Schnabel and opera legend Placido Domingo.