Youth Spotlight: Claire Morison
Singer, Instrumentalist Discusses "Life-Changing" Experiences
By Angela Wampler | A! Magazine for the Arts | December 28, 2011Claire Morison, 16-year-old daughter of Whit and Jane Morison of Bristol, is an eleventh-grade honor student at Virginia High School. She enjoys opera, theatre, art, and literature and has won numerous awards for singing and musicianship.
She also loves teaching fiddle to younger students and might be a children's choir director some day — following in the footsteps of her mother, director of Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy (MECCA). But Claire's dream is to become an opera singer and/or perform on the theatrical stage. To further her goal, she has applied to participate in a vocal study program with master teachers in Switzerland this summer.
Meanwhile, Claire is getting plenty of stage experience in student and professional performances in the Tri-Cities area, with MECCA, Barter Theatre and Symphony of the Mountains and at the Paramount — and as far away as Biltmore, Carnegie Hall, and Scotland. She has performed as a vocal soloist, choral singer, poetry reader, violinist and fiddler.
Claire sang with the East Tennessee Children's Choir, a MECCA ensemble, in Barter Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As a violinist/fiddler, she appeared in Barter's productions of WMKS: Christmas 1942 and Civil War Voices. She also traveled to Charleston, S.C. to perform in the regional touring production of Civil War Voices.
In 2011 Claire represented Virginia High School in the regional division of Poetry Out Loud, and was selected to participate in the Governor's School for Play Analysis.
In 2010, with MECCA's Highlands Youth Ensemble, Claire sang "Requiem" by John Rutter at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Rutter himself.
In 2009 Claire took part in a singer/songwriter workshop at the White House with country music stars Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley.
In 2006 she sang a solo in the Symphony of the Mountains and Voices of the Mountains production of La Bohčme.
For several years, as a member of MECCA choirs, she has sung for Biltmore Estate's Candlelight Christmas Tours. In addition, Claire has been selected to sing in the Organization of American Kodály Educators national honor choir for six years and has been a national soloist.
Claire studies classical violin and Celtic fiddle with Jane MacMorran and has been a member of the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra. She has won awards at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and has performed at Speyfest, a Pan-Celtic music festival in Fochabers, Scotland.
Other Awards & Honors: Claire was the 2010 (voice) and 2007 (violin) first place winner in the Bristol Music Club auditions, was the second place winner (violin) in 2011, and was named Honorable Mention in 2008. She has received Gold Cup awards for piano and violin from the National Federation of Music Clubs, and has been awarded superior ratings in the Junior Music Festival and the Sonata Festival. She has appeared four times in the "Tunes at Noon" series at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol.
Claire undoubtedly has a very busy schedule, but was able to answer a few questions for A! Magazine for the Arts.
Why did you choose violin/fiddle?
When I was three, a group of teenage fiddlers came from Scotland to tour the area. Two of the girls stayed at our house and we went to one of their performances. I decided that I wanted to learn to fiddle, although I didn't start lessons for another three years.
I began taking violin from Jane MacMorran when I was six, and she began teaching me fiddle about a year later. My mom taught me piano for several years starting when I was eight, but a busy schedule put my piano lessons on hold for a while. I feel like I've been taking voice from my mom all my life, since I've always been singing and she's always been helping me. We really started working on repertoire when I turned 14, and she became my official voice teacher.
Have you attended live opera performances outside our area and/or broadcasts of opera in Bristol?
When I was 10 years old, my mom and I went to see a performance of Cinderella at Opera Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. In Bristol, my mom and I (and sometimes my brother) have seen broadcasts of Capriccio, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and Don Giovanni. Don Giovanni has by far been my favorite, as I am a huge fan of Mozart. Plus, the overall production was just terrific, and the acting was superb.
Why do you want to be an opera singer and/or perform live theatre?
I first got the idea that I wanted to sing in operas or perform in theatre after watching the film Phantom of the Opera starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. I wanted to be the character of Christine, and I wanted to sing like her. Over the years I've kept the same goal in mind, but I've become more certain that this is what I really want to do and not some whim. After being in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Barter Theatre, my interest in performing on stage increased even more. I love to sing so much, I feel that I can be the most expressive when singing. Opera combines these two passions, and the more I am exposed, the more I fall in love with opera and theatre. Usually when I see a play, a musical, or an opera, I think "I want to play that character," so I guess it's just what appeals to me.
Tell us about your involvement with Barter Theatre.
After singing with the East Tennessee Children's Choir in Barter Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I auditioned as a fiddler for WMKS: Christmas 1942. I was very nervous because, up until that point, I hadn't had a lot of training or exposure to bluegrass and old time music. But I learned some Christmas carols from a CD. I auditioned for Rick Rose (Barter's artistic producing director), Nick Piper (associate director), actor/musician Eugene Wolf, and musician Ed Snodderly, which was a bit intimidating. I played two bluegrass songs I knew and a Celtic song, and then I got to play "Go Tell It On the Mountain" with Snodderly, which would have been worth the audition even if I hadn't been selected for the show.
My experiences in both Joseph and WMKS increased my love of theatre, as well as being valuable sources of instruction in music and theatre. However, I think the most life-changing aspect of my involvement with Barter was in the musical Civil War Voices. That production completely changed my perspective on the Civil War, theatre, and people in general. Previously my view of the Civil War had been completely one-sided: pro-Union. I considered the South the "bad guys" and, under no circumstances, would I waver from that point of view. Civil War Voices made me see the perspective of the other side and realize that the people fighting for the South were just like those fighting for the North, with families and friends who desperately wanted them to come home, and with their own ideals. I loved the Southern characters as much as I loved the Northern ones. The musical also increased my sense of the absolute terribleness of war, where people so alike would kill each other. The musical also made me realize the importance of theatre in helping the audience see and understand the perspectives of others. I believe that many problems in the world could be solved if people just took time to understand each other.
Tell us about your performing experiences.
Singing at Carnegie Hall was so amazing, particularly since my choir was singing the Requiem by John Rutter under the direction of the composer himself. He was so fun to work with, and the piece is so beautiful. Singing in that hall gave a whole new feel to the composition. It didn't really hit me while I was there that I was singing in Carnegie Hall because I was so excited about singing the Requiem. But now when I look back, I get excited that I have sung there. It was such a beautiful hall, and the acoustics are just phenomenal. While we were in New York, I got to see the Broadway musical version of Phantom. I was so excited I was practically jumping out of my seat!
Singing at Biltmore is such a special experience. The choir sings in the Winter Garden, a room that faces the entry door, so the people coming in see you first. When singing there, the music seems to soar and fill the entire house; and since we sing at Christmas, the Christmas music combined with all the decorations and the candles makes it feel somewhat sacred.
When I was 10, my family traveled to Scotland to visit some friends, including James Alexander, who is in charge of the music festival Speyfest. At the same time, my teacher and her fiddle group (Jane MacMorran and Celtic Air) were going to perform at this festival, so she invited me to fiddle with them. I only learned two sets, so I didn't play the entire time, but I had so much fun being on stage and fiddling with "the big kids," including musicians who stayed in our home when I was only three. It was really amazing to reconnect with people who were my inspiration to start fiddling by getting to fiddle with them so many years later. And it was exciting to hear people in the crowd cheering when we started playing a tune they knew.
Do you enjoy competition?
Well...competitions are very stressful. Particularly in the weeks leading up to the competition, I can get pretty edgy. Usually I enjoy competing in voice, because I get excited about singing for people, not just in front of them. I generally stress more during a violin competition because it's a lot easier to get things wrong. I know technical problems that I have had in practice, and I have to be able to not make those mistakes while still channeling the musical part of the piece. But when I have a really good competition, no matter the result, I get this wonderful feeling and I'm so glad I participated.
I generally participate in competitions that my teachers recommend. If the competition requires two pieces, I choose two contrasting ones. Generally, in the months leading up to a competition or a recital, I will choose two pieces to focus on and/or learn. Having a deadline helps me learn the pieces. I'm also always thinking, as I add repertoire, which piece would be good in competition. I try to choose pieces that are challenging and enjoyable to play or sing. It's hard to make the audience like the piece if I don't personally like it.
How has the Bristol Music Club scholarship program helped you?
The scholarship auditions are always rewarding and helpful, regardless of whether I place or not. Like I said earlier, having a pre-set performance helps me to set a goal for learning music, and also gives me a chance to perform that music for an audience. I would say I work harder on the music knowing that I am competing with it, and it also makes me challenge myself with music that is difficult but enjoyable. The scholarships that I have received have gone towards lessons, camps, and violin-related expenses, including a repair for my instrument after it fell out of my case.
What have your music teachers done to inspire you?
Jane MacMorran has been such a blessing to work with. She is so helpful and encouraging, and I don't think that I would have come so far in any of my artistic pursuits if it weren't for her instruction and guidance. As for inspiration, I've always wanted to play as well as she does. I'm still working on it. My mom has always been a musical inspiration to me. I have grown up under her guidance, and she continues to help me pursue my dreams by teaching me, encouraging me, supporting me, and being overall awesome. Both she and Ms. MacMorran have shown me the beauty and importance of music and how their jobs can touch and affect lives. This makes me want to be the best I can be and touch people with my own life.
Claire Morison, singing at the 2010 Bristol Music Club Coffee & Fashion Show scholarship fundraiser.