Renowned Vocalist to Join Southeast Faculty



April 8, 2005 – Judith Farris, renowned contralto artist and voice instructor, will become a full-time faculty member at Southeast Missouri State University beginning Aug. 1 as an artist in residence and instructor of voice and musical theatre.

Farris will be a member of the Department of Theatre and Dance, and has a renewable, non-tenure track position initially for the 2005-2006 academic year. Farris will teach both theatre and music courses, including “Speaking for the Stage,” “Musical Theatre Performance I and II,” “Class Voice for Musical Theatre,” “Opera Theatre Workshop,” and an interdisciplinary course on “Musical Theatre – Origins to the Present.”  She also will collaborate with dance, music and theatre faculty on musical theatre productions and recitals.

In addition to faculty responsibilities, Farris will perform with the Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestra in the fall, singing both classical opera arias and Broadway tunes.  She will give master classes for University students, and coach both voice majors and non-singers for theatrical singing roles. To assist with student recruitment and retention, Farris will give master classes in regional high schools, and assist the chairs of the Department of Music and of Department of Theatre and Dance to establish internships in New York City and other locations where she has professional contacts.

“Southeast is fortunate to have Farris help facilitate New York connections and real life musical stage experiences for Southeast students majoring in musical theater,” said Dr. Gary Miller, chair of the Department of Music at Southeast.

He added, “Judith brings a wealth of experience, both as a performer and a vocal coach, to Southeast. She is at home in all styles, from opera to Broadway.  She is a master teacher who can transform a student’s vocal production within minutes by mixing just the right amount of humor and wit with downright coaxing and cajoling.”

Miller says he always has enjoyed performing with Farris.

“She has a wonderful voice, but she’s also a fantastic musician with a great sense of rhythm and timing.  She knows what she wants, and she goes for it,” he said.

Farris was born and raised in Cape Girardeau. She is a graduate of Cape Central High School and is a 1971 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, where she majored in voice and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.

“I still have family and loads of friends in Cape Girardeau,” she said. Referencing her return to Southeast as “the circle of life,” Farris added, “I’m just very blessed and very grateful for this opportunity. There’s no place like home.”

Dr. Martin Jones, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Southeast, says, “This is a significant career change for Farris, who has been self-employed for some 35 years. She is excited about coming home to the University where her operatic career began and will bring her expertise in training voices for Broadway roles to Southeast students in the performing arts.”

A protégé of the late Keith Davis, Farris is the teacher of many of New York’s finest singers. Some of the renowned “Broadway style” singers Farris has instructed include Tyne Daly (“Gypsy”), Donna McKechnie (“A Chorus Line”) and David James Carroll (“Grand Hotel”). Farris also is frequently called upon by non-singing actors such as Matthew Broderick (“How to Succeed in Business”) and the late Peter Allen, as the “specialist” who can get a non-singing “actor” type to pull off a singing role in a musical that both surprises and delights audiences in major Broadway productions.

“This is a unique opportunity for me to come back and give back to where it all started for me,” said Farris, who was recently on the Southeast campus, assisting students rehearsing for the upcoming theatre production, “Guys and Dolls.”

Stilson said, “the students benefited greatly from working with her in ‘Guys and Dolls,’ which runs April 5-10, and we look forward to her arrival on a full-time basis beginning this fall.

The Department of Theatre and Dance has tripled in size over the past four years, and with the addition of Judith Farris, we expect our numbers and quality to continue to rise.”

While on campus in October, Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast, approached Farris about the possibility of returning to Cape Girardeau to teach and to spearhead annual musicals at the soon-to-be River Campus.

 “Dr. Dobbins had the vision that started this whole process,” she said.

“The students actually made up my mind for me, though,” about this position, Farris said. “They were grateful for me coming, eager to learn and were appreciative of my stature. The students were the icing on the cake for me.”

Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Southeast, says “Farris’ presence will have an immediate and positive impact on the development of our students and the quality of our productions.”

Farris said she hopes to instill in students the notion that they, too, can succeed in voice and theatre on a large scale, just as she has done for more than three decades.“I want them to benefit from all my experience in New York City,” she said. “Because I’ve been here and done it, maybe they will hear what I have to say a little differently. Sometimes, when you hear it from someone who’s been there and done it, perhaps it takes on more meaning.”

Farris is often called upon to assist singers who have vocal damage due to poor or faulty technique and help them renew and rebuild their voice. The students in Farris’ studio also learn to master all types of singing and are not limited by singing just classical repertoire, opera or “traditional” musical theater. Her singers master all types of singing that are commanded in the business today with ease and vocal health.

As a singer, Farris’ primary performance genre was opera. In addition to having had a successful career in Europe, she has enjoyed appearances with the Santa Fe Opera, the Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Washington Opera and the Chicago Opera Theater, and performances at Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.

Farris has appeared with many of the finest orchestras and conductors, including the St. Louis Symphony, National Symphony, the American Symphony, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. She has appeared and recorded with the New York Philharmonic and has sung as a featured soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Farris has been a frequent guest with New York Musical Sacra and has sung under the baton of master conductors such as Leonard Slatkin.

Her many awards include the Marian Anderson Scholarship, the National Arts Club of New York City Contraltos, The Minna Kauffman Rudd Award from the Metropolitan Opera, The Lucrezia Bori Award, and the Metropolitan Opera Katherine Long Grant Award.

 “We currently have an outstanding group of professional artists on our faculty, and the addition of Judith Farris will help bolster our program even further,” Stilson said.