Windsor opera singer named to CBC Music’s classical ’30 un…

Fresh off completing his masters in voice performance from McGill University, Windsor’s Wesley Harrison has been selected as one of CBC Music’s “30 under 30” classical musicians for 2023.

The 25-year-old opera tenor — who attended Walkerville Collegiate Institute — is also on his way to the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto to join their ensemble studio in the fall.

Last year, he claimed third prize in the Canadian Opera Company’s centre stage competition.

Harrison spoke with Windsor Morning host Nav Nanwa about what he thinks has got him to this point and where he sees himself in the future, as it relates to music.

Here is part of that conversation.

How does someone who grew up in Windsor decide to become an opera singer? 

I grew up doing piano first and I was always doing classical music. 

And I would do the Kiwanis Festival music competitions there. But piano was always something very intimidating to me and very stressful. 

And I think it’s when I was 14, I switched to voice lessons and it kind of felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. 

It just felt a lot easier for me to make the expression I want when I’m doing music. 

Were you exposed to opera before that or did it all start at age 14?

Definitely exposed to classical music, but it was more going to watch the symphony and stuff like that when I was young. 

I think my first opera might have been when I was 14 as well. That’s when I started these voice lessons. 

I remember going to see one of those opera live streams of the Met in one of the movie theaters with my dad. 

We watched it and I was kind of lovestruck after that. The set was huge. The voices were beautiful, and it kind of confirmed that that’s what I wanted to do. 

Windsor Morning8:20Opera Singer

A young man from Windsor has been named one of CBC Music’s Classical 30 under 30. We meet opera singer Wesley Harrison.

Being a graduate of Walkerville Secondary School, was performing opera just a big part of your life growing up and being in high school and then eventually going to McGill? Was that something that you started to be known for from age 14 and onwards?

Definitely for singing.

I think I didn’t start the focus into actually performing operas more until my undergrad.

But {I was] definitely still getting every opportunity I can to sing and perform …lots of music, either lots of choirs, which I think helps kind of give you a good foundation and perhaps for the more focus into opera later. 

What do you think it is about your voice that lends itself to this type of music? 

That was a very good question. I would say that I’m able to have quite a playful nature with my voice. 

I think it’s very malleable in the way where I have many ideas of musical expressions I want to share, depending on the emotion of what I’m trying to express. 

And I think I have the ability to be very playful with that and just make the phrases change as I would like. 

The one thing I’m always curious about with opera singers, Wesley, is just the amount of work and preparation that goes into that range, that tone, for one of those performances?

Absolutely. While we’re coaching and staff and practicing, a lot of people in opera will kind of like to compare opera singers to athletes. 

It’s kind of like we’re training very small muscles for singing, but we are training these muscles just to be more coordinated. 

And there’s a lot of just little coordination and different things. It’s kind of a full body aspect, not just what’s happening in your larynx or your voice box. 

It’s just a lot of focus of how do I coordinate all these little muscles to work together to produce this joyful sound that I want? 

Clearly you’re making some waves, Wesley, because CBC Music has recognized you on this year’s classical music 30 under 30 list.  What does it mean to you to make this list? 

Yeah, it’s very exciting. It’s kind of crazy to me. 

I remember when I first got the email about it, it was always something that was in the back of my head. 

I remember seeing other opera singers who I know that are just a little bit older than me, and I loved seeing some of them get into the 30 under 30 [list] and we’re going, Oh man, that would be so cool if I made it. 

Like, if I’ve made it there one day, then that’s incredible. That’s exciting. 

And then when I got the email, I was so surprised. I was like, okay, “here we are, we made it.” 

You just finished your masters, as you mentioned earlier, in voice performance at McGill University. Where do you see your career going?

I’m heading to Toronto soon. I’m going to be joining the Canadian Opera Company there in their ensemble studio.

I see myself there for years. 

And then after that I think I’d love to try to maybe hop over to Europe and try to do a few auditions there and see where that takes me.

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