Sep 26, 2022
DEAP’s First Independent Learner
Reflects on Shaping an Artistic Life
This year, Manitoba Opera was pleased to be able to provide an opportunity for a BIPOC artist to take part as an Independent Learner in the four-week DEAP – Digital Emerging Artists Program.
DEAP is an annual online training intensive designed to provide vocal instruction, professional development, performance experience, and earning opportunities for four Canadian singers in the early stages of their careers.
The program’s first Independent Learner was Winnipeg artist Ritchie Diggs, for whom participating in the program was a life-changing experience. It provided him with the reassurance and encouragement he needed to recommit to his artistic journey at a time when he was questioning his options.
“I’m glad and grateful for having been involved in the program,” says Ritchie. “I now have more tools to help me with my artistic innovation and expression. And, I have always wanted to have a singing lesson with Tracy Dahl, and I did!”
He’s equally grateful to the 2022 cohort of DEAP artists and faculty who both listened and offered their own experiences on shaping an artistic lifestyle and recognizes that his limiting beliefs have been changed as a result.
As a child in Liberia, a country on the west coast of Africa, during a war, singing was a familiar tradition that brightened Ritchie’s days. However, during his teenage years living as a refugee in Ghana, the gospel choral traditions were not present. It wasn’t until after coming to Canada that music resurfaced in his life in the form of his high school choir. The choir teacher was impressed with his singing range and recommended he audition for the Little Opera Company (LOC). Ritchie worked at LOC first as a stagehand and was surrounded by opportunities to listen to and learn from trained opera singers. His musical curiosity blossomed, and the power of opera soon drew him in.
Ritchie continued to be involved in Winnipeg’s music theatre scene following high school, and he began studies in philosophy and classical architecture at the University of Winnipeg. While his studies had him exploring the human condition, music’s magnetic attraction remained a constant. The pivotal question was unlocked: to be or not to be an artist?
Ritchie has approached this problem as a question of philosophical enquiry. His participation in DEAP prompted further exploration of this new vista. “That’s what’s most inspiring for me, the ability of this art form to open new paths to understanding the world and ourselves. We try to pin down an expression of the human condition through this medium using music to achieve this.”
He believes classical singing technique involves the voice working at times to achieve the instrument’s most desired sound, while providing a rich education in major human themes like love, despair, and redemption. Ritchie feels that these forces combined work to activate multiple senses that result in a powerful audience experience.
“I think art is the creation of new concepts to understand the world and ourselves. It can perhaps generate an entirely new idea or finding a way to bring into view what our eyes had previously missed.”
He hopes his learning experience with DEAP can be experienced by others. “There are probably other students out there who, like me, would have thought that perhaps they’re not quite ready to be involved.”
“As we have recognized, there are other groups of people that would want to be involved and we have to find ways to include them,” he adds. “Talking about opera innovation, we can bet that within these groups who have not yet been explored, there’s perhaps a great deal of potential there to bring a new perspective to this art form, enriching all of our lives”