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Getting to Know You - An Interview with Ryan Townsend Strand

Atonement Interviews

When Mother Erika suggested this assignment, it sounded both interesting and challenging. Interesting to talk to different people, including ones I didn’t know well. Challenging to try to give a sense of who they are. Perhaps the most challenging aspect was conveying in my words just how interesting the conversation turned out to be. I didn’t have an extensive list of questions. I figured they would come to mind. I did however have 2 basic questions in mind. One was suggested by one of my past French teachers. At a social gathering the French would not ask: “What is your occupation?” That was considered trying to categorize people. Rather, they would ask: What is your passion? So that was one of the questions. The other one was something that always intrigues me. Could you give me your philosophy of life in 25 words or less? And they did. - Helen Lambin

Ryan Townsend Strand

If you have attended performances of the Chicago Symphony or the Lyric Opera, you may have heard him in the professional chorus, or perhaps as a soloist at Music of the Baroque. If you go to the 11:00 High Mass at Church of the Atonement fall through spring, you have very likely heard him; he sings tenor in the Scola choir. Singer. Storyteller. Listener. Holder of faith. Meet Ryan Townsend Strand.

Ryan grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, but lives now in Chicago, where he shares space with a roommate, a cat, and a dog. His undergraduate studies were in music; he has a master’s degree in vocal music from Northwestern. Ryan sings in English, French, and German. He also plays piano.

One of my basic questions is: what is your passion? His answer: storytelling, theater, and music, and music writing. Storytelling is what he does in music. Each time he sings a role, he is also telling a story, bringing it to life through his singing voice. Everything is musical theater, from opera to karaoke. He is curating a story.

Among his projects have been a recording, with the first half comprised of a music recital of Debussy, and the second half of letters to Jackie Kennedy about President Kennedy after his death, including Walter Cronkite reports. Perhaps “continuing student of history” should be added to the list above.

Ryan grew up talking and performing, he recalls. But later he gave up performing. He was, he said, a poor listener for years. And it created problems and difficulties, including ending a friendship. So, he changed. A story in itself. “Are you an extrovert on the Myers-Briggs scale,” I asked out of curiosity. “Yes,” he said. (I might add here that I emerge as borderline Introvert, unless I shade things a little to fall in between Introvert and Extrovert. Yes, how embarrassing to cheat a little on a personality test.)

It was apparent in our conversation that he is now a good listener. So, my next question was: “How did you learn to become a good listener?” “I didn’t,” he answered. “It was Experience. The world taught me.”

My final question was: “What is your philosophy of life in roughly 25 words or less?” And there is no better place to conclude.

“Life is about connections. We are designed as humans to relate to one another. That is evident in the Gospel teachings. My faith life reflects this, in trying to love my neighbor as myself. Which is not always easy.”

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