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My Musical Roots by Ryan Downey


My mom has stories that are recycled and retold during family get-togethers. Most of the time these stories increase in exaggeration or lose detail with every telling, but one such story that my mom tells anyone who asks how or when I started singing goes something like this:

 I am young, somewhere around the age of 6, listening to Leonard Bernstein’s recording of Mozart’s Requiem as loud as technologically possible—it was the early 90s after all. To me, this seemed like a normal thing to do as a 6 year old, but in hindsight, I can definitely see why my mom thought that something was…..different. There are other stories in the same vein; sitting enthralled by a family friend’s barbershop quartet, still having Vivaldi’s Four Seasons memorized note for note, but nothing came close to the emotional draw and captivation I felt when I heard the Phoenix Boys Choir for the first time.

Ryan outside the Chandler house 2

As many of their fans know, boys choirs have a sound all to their own and I wanted to be a part of the group. It was one of the musical experiences I still hold most dear. However, at the time I didn’t know how much this decision would inform the rest of my career and life.

 The next several years contributed much to who I am today. The amount of time spent in the building on 12th Street and Missouri, or standing at some Basha’s or AJ’s entrance selling Sweepstakes tickets, missing school for concerts, and learning how to tie my own tie as a 10 year old, all had an impact. Although I met many musical mentors singing with the Phoenix Boys Choir, it was only by the vision and support of Dr. Harvey K. Smith that I found the lifelong courage to pursue music. He instilled within every boy a sense of responsibility and respect that I hold dear.

Not only was Dr. Smith a great mentor, but he taught me to love singing. After singing with the Boys Choir, I knew that I wanted to continue singing in choirs. It was only in my wildest dreams that I could have seen myself singing with the Phoenix Chorale, which has come to mean just as much to who I am as the Phoenix Boys Choir.


Now, after about 15 years, I can delve deeply into two requiems that are important parts of the choral repertoire. I still listen to these works with the same amazement and awe that first struck me while listening to Mozart’s Requiem. As I reflect upon Dr. Smith, a man who gave so much of his being to so many boys, I can only wonder how his mentorship and kindness affected generations of sons, brothers, fathers, and grandfathers. It is an honor to get to perform these works in honor of one of my earliest musical mentors.

 -Ryan Downey, Bass in the Phoenix Chorale

We will be holding our Requiem: Day of the Dead concerts on November 1st and November 2nd. Please join us in commemorating the dearly departed through this concert of transcendence, inspiration, and uplift. Buy tickets here.

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