Judith Farris: The perfect pitch for Cape talent

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Judith Farris inside the Rust Flexible Theater in the River Campus of the Southeast Missouri State University (Laura Simon)

If having a well-known university can help attract new business and industry to a community, having a well-known teacher could likely help a university attract new students.

It's even more likely if you're talking about a teacher who has shared the stage with Luciano Pavarotti; performed at Carnegie Hall; and taught Broadway stars like Matthew Broderick and Tyne Daly, the answer is yes.

Judith Farris returned to her Cape Girardeau roots to serve as artist-in-residence in the Department of Theater and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University in 2005. The homecoming essentially meant an end to Farris' professional singing career and required a significant cutback in work at her studio in New York as one of Broadway's most sought-after vocal instructors.

Farris said that even though returning to Cape Girardeau to teach involved sacrifices, she made the move when invited by Southeast because she wanted to give back to the university.

The invitation to join the Southeast faculty coincided with the opening of the River Campus and the state-of-the-art facilities there. Farris said Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins was a driving force behind her return to the area.

"My background was in music and opera, but [Dobbins[']] vision was the theater department," Farris said. "I had been teaching Broadway performers in New York, so it was a good fit."

Having an artist-in-residence with Farris' resume is helping attract theater students to the university, according to Dr. Kenneth Stilson, chairman of the Department of Theater and Dance.

"We certainly promote the accomplishments of all our faculty when recruiting new students, and a number of students have come to us specifically because of Judith being here," Stilson said. "She's a tremendous asset, and I can't imagine our program without her."

Stilson said Farris is one of the reasons the university's theater program is gaining a reputation among aspiring musical actors and actresses.

"Judith has played an integral part in the overall growth and success of the Department of Theater and Dance," Stilson said. "This department is filled with talented professionals, and having someone of Judith's stature and experience really adds another layer to our reputation in the field."

Farris' professional resume includes performing with the most well-known companies in some of the most well-known theaters with some of the most famous artists in the world.

She has sung with the Santa Fe Opera, the Opera of St. Louis, the Tulsa Opera, the Fort Worth Opera and the Virginia Opera. Farris is no stranger to mainstream musical theater, having portrayed Nettie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. She has performed at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center and at New York's Carnegie Hall, where she shared the stage with famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Farris has also frequently performed as a featured soloist with some of the nation's most famous orchestras, including the Saint Louis Symphony, the National Symphony, the American Symphony, the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic as well as with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Farris said that both singing and performing have their rewards, but so does teaching.

"When I'm performing, I'm going for the emotion of the vehicle, the song, to move the audience," Farris said. "With the students, I'm mostly going for them to understand this instrument that they're learning to play, which we cannot see and we don't know how it makes pitch. When they get it, and I watch them move the audience, that is so rewarding."

According to Farris, the audiences are rewarded as well.

"What (the public) sees and hear at this campus, for less than half the price of the touring companies that come through, this is just as good, if not better," she said.

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