Star on the Rise: URI music major performing with BSO, preparing for life on the stage

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KINGSTON, R.I., Jan. 7, 2013 – While many college students are spending this winter break visiting with family and friends, University of Rhode Island senior and opera baritone Devon Morin is performing with the Boston Pops at Boston Symphony Hall. It’s a big stage but he has gotten used to it, having performed on the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s hallowed ground in the summer of 2011 in Bramwell Tovey’s revival of Porgy and Bess.

“It was the first solo I had ever had and you have to sing over full orchestration and you are unamplified so you have to be heard,” Morin said. He remembered looking up at Symphony Hall’s decorative Greek and Roman statues that line the upper levels. “I saw Apollo, the God of music, and I was blessed by Apollo. The performance went off without a hitch.”

A double major in music education and music performance, Morin, 22, was brought up in Saunderstown, R.I., listening to Madonna and The Beatles. While he loves many types of music, opera is his passion. He wants nothing more than to bring the United States into opera’s international spotlight.

“Opera is the perfect combination of different art forms and the music is so expansive,” said Morin.

In his junior year, he became a librettist, writing the plot and lyrics of an opera with fellow student Tim Coffey providing the instrumentation. The opera was produced at URI with Morin performing the lead role. It was a highlight of his college years, along with performing at Carnegie Hall with the URI Concert Choir in 2009. His summers are spent performing at Tanglewood where he has sung as part of the chorus with virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma and American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. He just won URI’s Concerto Competition.

“Devon is on the rise and going to do so well,” said Rene de la Garza, artistic director for Opera Providence who leads the URI Opera Program. “He is blessed in many areas and it’s his interest and his desire to investigate new things that brought him to where he is now. It’s so nice when a student has ideas of his own and brings them to the table.”

Morin, who has performed with Opera Providence, has started the competitive process of applying to the top graduate music schools in the country and is being invited for in-person auditions.

“If I could make my living as a performer, I would just do that. I want to reach that point.”

Morin disagrees with the notion that singing is a natural talent or a gift. He describes singing as a workout on the smallest muscle in the body – the larynx. It takes time and practice to sound good.

“You work your way up,” he said. “You wouldn’t just wake up one day and try to pick up 400 pounds. In the same way, you wouldn’t just wake up one day and sing Wagner when you’re 18.”

As for people who tell him they can’t sing, he disagrees.

“Everyone says that to me! ‘Oh, I can’t sing!’ or ‘I’m tone deaf.’ If you can tell if your mom is angry at you when you are on the phone, you aren’t tone deaf,” he said. “It’s more about acting through the sounds you make. It’s a kind of acting and it’s the way I think.”

He criticizes the American approach to learning how to sing especially in this day of American Idol, saying that if you don’t sing perfectly at age four, you are marked as being unable to sing and unfortunately, that label stays with you. Morin realized how much he loved music as a student at North Kingstown High School where he performed with the All State Chorus and started working with voice teacher Mark Conley, a URI music professor and director of URI’s choral activities.

“Devon is one of those rare students who comes along and is absolutely and continuously open to new ideas,” Conley said. “His intellectual curiosity has led him to explore challenging new works in the repertoire. It will be hard to see him leave the studio after eight years but he is ready to move to the city and begin working on his career now that the foundation is laid.”

Morin prepared with Conley for his most daunting challenge as a singer – the baritone solo of Carmina Burana, one of the most popular pieces of classical music, which he sang in the spring of 2011 at URI.

“The piece is one of the hardest things written for a baritone. There are few things harder. It was the moment,” Morin said. “The moment when I thought, ‘this can be my life.’ I was really proud of it.”

URI Marketing & Communications photo by Michael Salerno Photography.