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Stage presence

New music graduate sets sights on singing for his supper

special feature: Student success

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring convocation 2017.

By Marcia Porter

Watching Ryan Dillon sing in front of a crowd at his graduate voice recital, his final performance as an undergraduate student at the School of Music, you can see he’s in his happy place.

His smile is broad; his baritone voice fills the hall. This young man has presence.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be on stage,” said Mr. Dillon, 22, who first started voice lessons at age six in his hometown of Gander, where he grew up singing folk music and performing in musical theatre.

“I want to be able to make a living performing and telling stories, to escape to a different world and take people along. It’s like when you were a kid playing dress up.”

Featuring Ryan Dillon

Upon collecting his bachelor of music degree during convocation ceremonies on June 2, Mr. Dillon will return home this summer to perform with Beyond the Overpass Theatre Company. Then, he is off to Wales in September to pursue a master’s in musical theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

He’s one of 12 students — six men and six women — accepted into this highly competitive program, which includes workshop performances in London’s west end theatre district, and a showcase on Broadway in New York City.

Mr. Dillon credits four years of a rigorous undergraduate music program, and his voice professor, Dr. Jane Leibel, along with pianist Dr. Phil Roberts, for helping him develop as a professional musician, gaining the knowledge, background, range, technique, experience and confidence necessary to transition between musical styles.

Solid musical base

“Our undergrad program is difficult but super beneficial. It focuses on the holistic musician,” he said.

“Learning classical first is important. Look at operas and Broadway shows and you are singing 2.5 hours a night, for eight consecutive nights. You’ve got to be healthy. You’ve got to have a solid, musical base and good technique.”

During high school, Mr. Dillon had never considered singing classical music. It was his voice teacher, also a School of Music graduate, who told him, “If you can sing classical, you can sing anything.”

So he signed up for the school’s Song Academy in St. John’s, held every summer for young singers in Grades 10, 11 and 12. He was hooked from the start.

“You get a lesson with each professor,” he said.

“Lessons were so intimate and they were so accurately able to pick out things for me to work on immediately I got really interested. I met everyone and decided that I really enjoyed the environment here and decided to apply.”

“This program gives you the tools to go out into the world and spread your wings.” — Ryan Dillon

While in his third year at Memorial, Dr. Leibel encouraged Mr. Dillon to audition for a role in the St. John’s musical, Tarzan. He won the lead role, which in turn opened the door to other opportunities and experiences, and confirmed that musical theatre was the path he wanted to pursue.

Of his time at Memorial’s School of Music, he said: “It opens huge doors. This program gives you the tools to go out into the world and spread your wings.”

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