'You're going to love it'

When Dianna Richardson was about to go on stage to sing at Carnegie Hall last weekend, she looked at the chairman of the competition, who had just signaled her to ready.

"Watch this," she told him. "You're going to love it."

Then she took the stage and sang Debussy's "Green" without, she says, a hint of nervousness. When she came offstage, the man told her, "Looks like you were born to be on stage."

To this she replied, "Yes, I was."

The confident Richardson, 27, was one of two Southern Oregon University students who performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 3. Singing at the world-renowned performance hall was a reward for winning the best performance vocal, first place and judges distinction in the American Protégé International Vocal Competition 2012.

In the competition, participants send an application, a short biography and a DVD or Youtube links of a stage performance to a panel of American Protégé judges. Participants are then judged on voice, stage presence, and according to Richardson, how a singer "emotes," something she says is particularly easy.

"When you love something, it's easy to emote," she says, laughing.

She sent in her materials in October and found out she had won in December.

For her Carnegie Hall performance, she chose to sing Debussy's "Green" because it is a piece full of "lush harmony" with an emotional aspect that can "take you somewhere you didn't know you could go."

The downside was that the piece lasted a mere two minutes. That timespan, though, she calls "the best two minutes of my life."

The soprano says she has found her niche in the music department at SOU. But for Richardson singing opera and classical music was not a real option just three years ago.

Back then, she was pulling drafts and mixing drinks for late night crowds at a chain-style sports bar in San Jose, Calif. Sometimes she didn't get off work until 2 or 3 a.m. During the day, she took classes at the community college, West Valley College, thinking she'd like to pursue a degree in history. But working those late hours left her less than productive with school, she says.

Her mother suggested — "in the motherly way"—that she apply to SOU, which means "do it or I'll be mad," she says.

Richardson applied. She got in. And in the fall of 2010, she began taking classes at SOU.

Then, she still intended to pursue history, but she had always sung, ever since she was a little girl, and had grown up in a musical family. Her mother plays piano, her brothers play instruments, and her identical twin sister, Darci, sings jazz with a voice, she laughs, nothing like her own.

So, along with history, she decided to take music classes, and that was when she discovered her passion. She let history go, and concentrated on music.

Voice teacher Ellie Holt-Murray says Richardson has a passion for music, she studies it intelligently, she possesses a beautiful voice and she owns a strong stage presence.

"She's a generous spirit when she's on stage," Holt-Murray says, adding that Richardson is able to develop a rapport with an audience.

"She has a glint in her eye and sparkles when on stage with a bit of fearless joie de vivre," Holt-Murray wrote in an email. "She is definitely someone that people will want to buy a ticket to see and hear."

Richardson praises the music department, which has sent seven students to perform in Carnegie Hall since December 2011. Tye Austin, a classical guitarist, also performed last weekend at the venue.

Following a June graduation, Richardson will begin auditioning in hopes of landing a spot in a professional opera, musical theater, symphony or chorus.

Voice coach Laurie Anne Hunter says Richardson has what it takes for a successful career. Hunter received her master's degree at The Julliard School, where she worked with many "very, very fine singers."

But Hunter says having a beautiful voice is not enough. Because some rejection is certain, a singer also needs a thick skin and a certain toughness — traits Richardson has, she says.

"It takes a real strength of character," Hunter says. "It takes a real courage."

Richardson knows it will be a tough road, but she says she's ready to put herself out there. She says a person follows a musical career "because you love it and it makes your heart feel good.

"Why not do something you love?"

Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at vince.tweddell@gmail.com.

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