Perfecting God's musical instrument

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Voice instructor Judith Farris conducts a clinic for local church choirs

In Judith Farris' mind, the human voice is the perfect musical instrument for praising God.

"It's the only instrument that isn't manmade, that we have to accept on faith," said Farris, a music and theater instructor at Southeast Missouri State University. "It's the only instrument you ever learn to play that you can't see."

Farris -- a former opera singer and voice coach for celebrities such as Matthew Broderick and Lauren Bacall -- shared her insights with local church singers at a choir clinic Thursday night at Grace United Methodist Church.

"The human voice doesn't even need words. It can just hum and bring tears," she said.

Farris spoke with the 50 or so members of local choirs who attended the clinic about everything from pitch to breathing to vibrato.

Mike Dumey, a music teacher at Central Junior High School who helped organize Thursday's clinic, said Farris approached him about offering vocal technique tips to church choirs.

"A lot of people were just amazed at how down-to-earth her approach really is, and how simple singing needs to be," said Dumey.

The group practiced breathing deep -- from their lower rib cages and backs -- and also focused on making their singing voices similar to their speaking voices.

"There were not a lot of dos and don'ts, just a good foundation of breathing and knowing that the voice originates from speaking," said Dumey. "Keeping your voice unique ... is something [Farris] emphasizes."

Dumey said he hopes Farris will hold similar such clinics in the future. The idea of a community church choir effort was spawned as well.

"Singing knows no denomination, it's a great unifier," said Dumey. "As far as a ministry is concerned, nothing can touch someone like the beauty of the human voice."

For Farris -- a native of Cape Girardeau -- the clinic was like returning a favor from years ago.

"It's a great thing to give, and it's great that I have a chance to give back to the community that has given me so much," said Farris. "It's rare to get to give back where it came from."

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