“The Walmart Effect” of highly efficient singing

Dr. Denise Ritter-Bernardini visits Mt. A’s Music Department

From October 13-15, Dr. Denise Ritter-Bernardini visited the Mt. A Music Department to provide her wisdom through lessons, masterclasses, and a recital. Bernardini was initially going to visit last year, but due to COVID-19 had to reschedule for this fall. She is a seasoned performer and teacher, who specializes in vocal pedagogy, recital, and cabaret and currently teaches at Radford University. She instantly charmed students with her collaborative nature and warm, Nashville accent that felt like a warm hug. 

Bernardini worked with three students in lessons and four in masterclass, talking through her methodology to ensure that everyone who attended walked away with something to learn. I found her extremely knowledgeable and a delight to work with; she even provided scientific explanations for many of her vocal techniques. Close to the end of the masterclass, Bernardini spoke about her “Walmart effect,” where students are able to perform better with less effort, a moment that brought the audience to laughter. She explained that best technique was where singers do less work at the folds, less overthinking, and simply sing. It was also instantly obvious that Bernardini fit beautifully with the Mt. A music community. Just that morning, I had been speaking with Dr. Vicki St. Pierre, Dean of Arts, about the same concept as Bernardini’s “Walmart effect,” which St. Pierre has for many years deemed the “Costco effect.” 

Bernardini ended her time at Mt. A with a beautifully programmed recital, accompanied by one of Mt. A Music Department’s resident pianists: Jennie Del Motte. Bernardini’s notes on the pieces were informative, quick, and enjoyable to read—an unfortunate rarity in classical music programs. Bernardini started with a set of beloved Purcell songs based on Greek and Roman myth, laying out the atmosphere for the enrapturing recital. I was surprised by her next selections: two Italian art songs that are usually in the high school to first year voice level. She brought tender emotion, clear tone, and beautiful ornamentation to the pieces to show that simple songs can provide new challenges at any level. The first half of her program closed out with “Quando m’en vo” from Puccini’s La Bohème: a much-loved standard aria that drew many laughs from the audience. 

Bernardini brilliantly performed a set of French art songs to start the second half of her recital, once again showcasing her strong technique. However, she really shone in the next three pieces: a set of American Appalachian folk songs. Her voice was richer with a stronger tone to it, truly feeling the weight of the text. American Appalachian folk songs are not commonly heard on the Brunton stage, so it was a real treat. I always particularly enjoy when musicians bring pieces that are not standard but tell a lot about their musical upbringing. She brought the room to fervent applause with an arrangement of “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain,” featuring a piano part that showcased the excellence of skill, intuition, and musicality that is Del Motte. 

I hope that Dr. Bernardini’s visit will encourage musicians to take the excellent technique and approach to collaborative teaching, incorporate their personality and fun into performance, and shop at their favourite high value-low prices store. May we all discover our equivalent “Walmart effect.” I personally think I identify mine as the “Winners” effect: fabulous for less. 

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