Ryan Davis’ first exposure to playing a musical instrument was when his parents enrolled him in piano lessons when he was seven years old. But he begged them to let him take violin lessons instead. “They were hesitant because I was not practicing piano very much,” Davis laughs. He persisted and, two years later, began learning violin before switching to the viola at the age of 14. “I prefer viola in terms of richness and depth. I was drawn to it because it is a team player in bringing out interesting harmonies rather than being in the spotlight all the time,” he says.

The Saskatoon student completed a bachelor of music degree with a minor in music composition from Montreal’s McGill University in spring 2014 and is now taking his master’s degree at Yale University in the USA. He says that classical music is very different from other academic pursuits. “They teach us about physical well-being. It’s common for string players to get an injury during their careers,” he says. “It also requires a lot of dedication. During the summer, students in other faculties close their textbooks, but for a string player, you really notice when you haven’t practiced for a day or two.”

A Premier’s Centennial Arts Scholarship enabled Davis to participate in two professional development opportunities in summer 2014: a master class for viola at The Banff Centre and the Toronto Summer Music Academy Festival. In Banff, he received feedback that helped him improve his musical decisions. “The two teachers were very different and sometimes gave contradictory comments. I valued hearing the many ways you can perform a piece of music,” Davis says. “Music is such a personal thing. There is no right or wrong as long as you’re committed to it.”

The Toronto festival was a chamber music program with a focus on public performance. “My goal is to become as well-rounded of a musician as possible. Because it’s quite a challenging industry, it’s to your advantage to perform well as a soloist, a chamber musician, and an orchestral musician,” he says. “I am finding my own musical voice based on what other people have taught me.”

Photo (above) by Ron Cohen Mann

Photo (right) by Haley Withers