Michelle Danese

Singer, Actress

  • Instrument

    Singer, Actress

  • Location

    Toronto, ON

  • Education

    B.F.A Honors in Music from York University. Post-Bachelor Artist Performance Diploma in voice at The Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music.

Biography Michelle Danese

This week we spotlight former Arcadia student, Michelle Danese.

An artist of diverse musical integrity and exceptional theatrical dexterity, soprano Michelle Danese continues to prove herself to be an artist of many dimensions. She signed on to join Catherine Knights’ roster at Catalyst Talent Creative Management; she sang the lead role of the Vixen in Leoš Janáček’s Czech opera, The Cunning Little Vixen with the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy and she is currently collaborating as a soloist with Dj’s and musicians around the globe. Michelle has recently released two dance tracks, “Alive” and “Dynamite” under Glovel Records and a third release with  Royal Beat Records, “Take My Breath Away.” As a past member of the former classical crossover group, Naria, Michelle recorded and released two full albums (Opera Pop Supernova & Opera Pop Fantasia) and an EP (Aria of the North).

As an actress, Michelle  appeared on CW’s TV series, “Reign” which aired on March 26, 2015. She has also appeared on the big screen in the feature film “Dr. Cabbie”, alongside co-star Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) which hit theatres on September 19th 2014, as well as, CTV’s “The Listener” which aired on June 23rd 2014. Her operatic vocals can also be heard in the film “Dr. Cabbie” as well as INDIE film “I Wish You Love”. In April 2013, Michelle was named the new face and social ambassador for Mercedes Benz after winning a Canada wide contest. She has also been invited to sing the National Anthem for various sporting events including the Toronto Argonauts and the Mississauga Power Team. As opportunities continue to present themselves, Michelle is quickly making her mark as a performer in the arts.

For more on Michelle, check out her website!

How did you first hear about Arcadia?

I first discovered Arcadia in 1996 when I began taking singing lessons. I had decided that I loved to sing and wanted to perfect my craft and so my parents enrolled me in weekly lessons. It was truly the start of my singing journey.

What was your experience like taking lessons at Arcadia?

Taking lessons at Arcadia was a wonderful experience. It was a period of discovery as I began to learn which genre of music suited my voice naturally. It was exciting to begin to learn the various technical requirements as well, that at times seemed challenging but very helpful in shaping my voice. My knowledge of singing began to flourish immediately.

For parents, paying for music lessons for their child when they don’t practice can be very frustrating. Was it hard getting in the flow of taking lessons and practicing? Or was taking lessons something you really wanted to do and had no problem with?

I really wanted to take lessons. It all began after watching a Mirvish production of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1996. I turned to my parents and said, “I want to be Christine Daae on that stage one day.” Lucky for me, my voice was naturally suited to the classical repertoire and so that is where I put my focus. I loved my weekly lessons. Practicing is always a struggle for children at the early stages of learning music. I think this can be said for most children. I, too, can admit that I didn’t always practice for my weekly lessons. Nonetheless, once my passion grew and I began to realize that this is what I truly wanted, I took it much more seriously and began studying every day.

Is there any tips you can share with our young students and their parents to help them be motivated and have more fun with their practice time?

Always be working on a song you love and have a real passion for. Of course there will be times when an exam calls for a piece that isn’t your favourite, but remember that the reward of studying is great and that to be a great musician, dedication and hard work is key. Parents should encourage their children to play or sing for them and positive feedback is always important. A child never wants to feel judged, especially by their parents, for not being good enough musically. Words of encouragement are definitely essential. Remind them that becoming a fine musician takes time and practice and that working on their music will propel them to the next level.

Do you think music education is crucial to the development of a student wanting to pursue a career in music?

100%. Although some children have a natural gift even before they begin taking lessons, concentrated study with a professional is essential in developing one’s craft with precision and knowledge. There is no such thing as studying too much or learning too much. Teachers bring knowledge to the table that stems from years of their own experience and education. Music education provides students with the tools necessary to make music a lifelong career.

Do you play any other instruments aside from being a vocalist?

I learn all of my music on the piano by plucking out notes and playing chords. Do I consider myself a pianist? No, but I HIGHLY encourage and recommend vocalists to learn another instrument, especially piano or guitar. Playing an instrument helps vocalists to become smart musicians and allows them to learn more about music theory. They also learn how to read music which is crucially important, and they become a much more musical performer as a whole because they understand the logistics of it all. Furthermore, if a child desires to write their own music one day, knowing another instrument is key. Take piano!

When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?

I was deciding on what to do after high school and where to apply for University. I knew I didn’t want to give up music as it was a big part of my life and I wanted to continue studying. So I made the decision to dedicate my University degree to classical voice and pursue a career in music. I was lucky to have been placed with a fabulous teacher, Norma Burrowes, and I was inspired by the thought of performing as she had all over the world.

What advice would you give to young musicians who want to attend/audition at a college/university music program?

Do your research and be very well prepared. Studying abroad is always an amazing experience and can be a great opportunity for you. Audition with a piece that shows your greatest strengths musically. Rehearse your piece with your teacher and with a coach several times before auditioning. Perform it for your family as practice. If you are a singer, mean every word. Live your piece through your performance. Sometimes one shot is all you get. Blow them away!

Tell us what it was like singing the national anthem for a Toronto Argonauts game for the first time? Were you nervous? If so, how did you deal with your nervousness?

It was a thrilling experience. The Roger’s Centre was filled with thousand of football fans and many of my friends and family came out to hear me. Although I knew the words of the anthem very well, I had this slight fear of forgetting the lyrics in the middle of singing the song. I had to sing half of the anthem in English and half in French. In the end, I just looked up at the jumbo screen and sang my heart out. It was a great honour! My singing teacher always says, “Nerves are good, use them.” We all get nervous; it’s natural. You learn to deal with nerves by being as prepared as possible and by performing as much as possible. They never go away and so we just have to learn how to embrace them and use them to propel our performance to another level.

Singers are just like the rest of us and get sick from time to time. What advice can you give our young singers on how to deal with being sick while performing?

I just recently had to sing two auditions with Bronchitis. Yuck! It’s not fun to be sick when having to sing, but it happens. Singers must respect their bodies by constantly taking vitamins, and being disciplined with themselves especially when a performance or audition is coming up. Alcohol, staying out late, screaming over loud music, and smoking are all horrible for the voice. Remember, unlike instrumentalists, a singer’s body is their instrument, so take care of yourself. A few of my favourite remedies when sick are:

*Drink a lot of warm tea with honey (I like Manuka honey)

*For a sore throat: Boil water, add sea salt and 5/6 drops of oil of oregano and gargle

*Load up on vitamins (vitamin C and vitamin D)

*For stuffy nose: use a Neti pot

*Sleep!

*Go to the doctor right away especially if you have a performance coming up

Is there a different type of preparation you must do when doing theatre gigs versus regular live gigs?

All gigs are different in their own way and require different preparation. When I’m learning a role from an opera, for example, I literally start off by familiarizing myself with the piece by reading up on it and learning about the libretto and the meaning of it as a whole. Where is it set? Who are the characters? Who am I? What is the style of the piece? There are many things to discover before even beginning to learn the music. If it’s written and sung in another language, I translate word for word so that I know exactly what I’m singing about. Then I begin from the beginning and work page by page on learning the melody, the correct rhythm, the words, etc. If you learn it correctly from the beginning, it will save you a lot of time later on.

Live concert gigs (depending on what it is) are somewhat different, as they require you to learn repertoire not as a part of an entire show/opera, but as a separate entity. Of course that has its challenges as well as you have to engage the audience without wearing a costume or singing in an elaborate set. Often times you have to learn different musical arrangements rather quickly or various harmonies on the fly. Nonetheless, a lot of preparation is involved for any gig and being prepared is always the most important part of being a performer. No one wants to work with someone who is unprepared and comes to rehearsal without having learned the material. A conductor or director will never hire you again if you are unprepared!

How has it been balancing a professional music/acting career and your personal life?

I’ve always been lucky to have the amazing support of my family and I honestly believe that this is why I’ve been able to make my dream a reality. I’ve had to sacrifice family functions and gatherings because I’ve been out of town or in rehearsal, but my family understands that it’s all a part of the process. I balance my career with my personal life by allotting time for both, when I can, which in the end helps me stay balanced as an individual as well.

If you had to recommend a great song for a student to learn, what would it be and why?

For classical vocalists I’d recommend the book, “Twenty Four Italian Songs and Arias.” I started off singing these pieces and I believe they were essential in my development as a classical vocalist. Remember to always buy volumes in your voice type (ex. Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor, Bass). Learn something that speaks to you and that you portray brilliantly. We want you to take us to another world with your beautiful voice.

Are you working on anything new? Any plans for travelling, album recordings, acting?

I’m currently doing a lot of auditioning for different theatre companies and television shows. Having sung for four years in a classical crossover group, I’m now pursuing a solo career. I’m always up to something new and that’s what makes this career so exciting. I continue to meet a lot of interesting and talented individuals to share my craft with and to collaborate with. I’m lucky to be able to combine my love of singing with my love of acting.

Where can we follow your musical journey?

Any last thoughts, comments, suggestions?

Make music because you love it; because without it your soul isn’t complete; because it takes you to your happy place. Rejection is a huge part of the process, learn from it and move forward. There is a place for all of us in this industry as long as you work hard and believe in your talent. Get an agent at a young age and get out there. Perform as much as possible. Don’t limit yourself to one genre of music but explore others and have fun doing so. When you feel inspired, write a song. Don’t ever apologize for your talent but share it with the rest of us. You have a beautiful gift! MAKE SOME NOISE! Thank you Arcadia for being the stepping stone to my career in music and performance!

Thank you, Michelle!

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