William Burden, American tenor singer and guest faculty at the Chautauqua School of Music, is no stranger to Chautauqua; his parents, lifelong Chautauquans, took him to the Institution several times as a child, and he returned as a professional singer just last year to perform with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Messa de Requiem.” This year, however, will be his first time visiting as guest faculty. He will teach two voice master classes this week, at 10 a.m. Wedesday, June 26 and Friday, June 28 both in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall.
Burden began singing publicly in a boys’ choir in his hometown of Miami, Florida — his mother especially encouraged his talent. Though he drifted from performing while in college at Middlebury College, the guidance of several of his vocal mentors inspired him to turn his attention back toward singing.
He then went to Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and his career took off from there. Burden has since performed in prestigious opera houses all over the United States and Europe and joined the voice faculty of the Mannes School of Music, the Peabody Conservatory and The Juilliard School.
The role his own mentors and colleagues played in his professional development is foremost in Burden’s mind when he teaches voice students.
“I really cherish the opportunity to come full circle in that way,” he said. “Being able to build those relationships — even for short periods of time — with young singers is invaluable, because this is an art form that has existed for a very long time, but it is always in transition.”
In his master classes, Burden plans to focus on interpretation as an aspect of technique, exploring the communication of the text and the story of the piece, in addition to the physical aspect of how the body makes sound. He values individual attention to students as well as maintaining a “collective sense of learning.”
“In my own singing, when I am able to trust my physical abilities to really help my communication, it all sort of comes together in a better way,” Burden said. “The singing comes easier, and the dramatic aspects of what it is that I’m doing also fall into place more easily.”
During a recent performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, Burden had “a flash of realization” regarding the effect of the human voice. It went, he said, beyond the words; the very vibration of the human voice from one person to another provoked a heightened sense of emotion. He felt that the audience was experiencing the music through their chests as much as through their ears.
“It felt like people were being affected as if it were through the heart,” he said. “As I am moving towards teaching more, I am becoming so aware of the importance of that sort of effect of the sung voice on our audience and ourselves.”
Burden said he is excited by the opportunity to work with young and eager singers ready to learn and grow, and to impart some of the knowledge he has gained from a career spanning more than three decades.
Burden is at Chautauqua for the first week of programming, after which he will depart for the San Francisco Opera to perform in Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd.