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Willis Pride, Hanorah and David Marino: the Concordia voices of La Voix

The three singers were part of TVA’s hit singing competition show’s fifth season in 2017, and their stars are rising
July 25, 2018
By Simona Rabinovitch

The 2017 season of La Voix, the fifth edition of TVA’s hit singing competition series, featured three Concordians: graduate Willis Pride and current students Hanorah and David Marino. We introduce readers to the three rising musical stars.

Waking up to music

Willis Pride, BFA 14 Willis Pride’s latest EP is Wake Up, and now he’s working on a full-length album planned for release in winter 2018. Photo: Christopher Mancini, Manikmati photography.

Willis Pride, BFA (jazz studies) 14, who made it to the quarter finals of La Voix 5, loves songwriting as well as singing and music. “The thing I like most about music is composing and writing my own songs,” says Pride. “I write a lot. I’ve been writing songs since high school.”

His bio describes Pride as a singer, piano player, composer and arranger. He counts Stevie Wonder, Oscar Peterson and Earth Wind and Fire among his musical inspirations.

In early 2018, Pride independently released his second EP, Wake Up, and a full-length album is planned for next winter. The six songs on Wake Up were recorded with 13 musicians — including fellow Concordia alumni Chris Lepp-Forest, BFA (jazz studies) 13, on drums, and Dalhi Gonthier, BFA (jazz studies) 12, on saxophone.

“I was going all-in with whatever I wanted to do as an arranger: strings, brass, backup singers, percussions, whatever,” says Pride about this ambitious project.

“My jazz side came out in my single ‘I’m Your Man.’ There’s a minute-long guitar solo. If you want to get played on the radio, you can’t have a minute-long guitar solo,” he admits. “You can if you’re playing live, but these are all things I’m going to adjust for the next one.”

Pride, originally from St. Paschal Baylon, Ont., moved to Montreal to attend Concordia’s Jazz Studies program in the Department of Music. He fondly cites music professor Charles Ellison and part-time instructor Wray Downes as positive influences.

Pride remembers really wanting to make a good impression when he arrived at Concordia in 2009. “I was scared to go to my private lessons because I had a lot of respect for Wray Downes,” he says. “I thought I was really good, and he made me realize I wasn’t as good as I thought!”

The following year, Pride started playing in bands and accompanying other musicians. “I was missing a lot of class,” he says. “I wasn’t a good student. I was pretty much fighting everybody.”

Pride, a piano player, didn’t realize his own vocal abilities until he accompanied his drummer Lepp-Forest at the latter’s scholarship concert — and sang a song. He, too, wanted to be nominated for the Concordia scholarship — the Montreal International Jazz Festival Award— which included a performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. So Pride buckled down.

“I quit a bunch of the bands and focused on singing and doing well in school,” he says. His work paid off, and Ellison nominated him for the scholarship.

“I did the competition, I got first place and got to play at the jazz fest. It was fun!” Pride says. “I really want to play there again.”

He adds that he gets a kick from “the rush” of performing. “I can really open up and show a different side of myself,” Pride says. “There’s something about sharing your music with a lot of people. Nothing compares to that.”

In addition to helping him get out of his comfort zone, Pride is thankful that his La Voix experience taught him about some non-musical aspects of building a long-term career as a recording artist.

“Being on La Voix made me realize that as assertive as I am, there’s a lot I never thought about in the industry, like image, what I wear, social media,” he says. “So now, in my career, I think about what I want to look like, what I want to sound like, and I just go for that.”

Building mental strength

Hanorah Hanorah is studying studio arts at Concordia and is also recording new songs slated for release later this year. | Photo: Katharine Norva Edith

Now signed to Dare to Care Records, Montreal-born soul artist Hanorah also reached the quarter finals on La Voix 5. After self-releasing EPs, including 2015’s Unstuck and 2017’s Post-Romantic Stress Disorder, Hanorah is now recording new songs with Alex Lapointe of The Brooks, slated for release later this year.

“It’s an accumulation of the last two years of the learning I’ve done, life experiences and musical experiences,” she says.

Hanorah is currently a part-time student in Concordia’s Department of Studio Arts. “It’s fun that I can bring music into art and art into music,” she says.

She points to a project she did for studio arts professor Ingrid Bachmann at Montreal’s Eastern Bloc gallery in spring 2018. “I recorded an album and I had it done on vinyl — a single copy,” she says. “Then I had a session where people could come listen to it, and then I broke it. I destroyed the record. It was a one-time only ephemeral thing.”

Hanorah calls her La Voix experience “awesome.” She says being in the competition taught her mental strength. “You had to find a way to protect yourself or shut out anything that doesn’t bring you to your goal, because it’s such long hours,” she recalls.

“When I sang ‘I Try’ by Macy Gray, I think we waited 14 hours at the studio before the performance. So how can you do that and still bring your 110 percent? I kind of go in my head, in my imagination, and find whatever way possible to keep a good attitude, something positive and productive to keep focused — to find good things in each experience and not see it as a chore.”

She adds, “The most important thing is to be myself and always come back to the reason I’m doing music and what inspires me.”

Learning while having fun

David Marino David Marino finished in third place on La Voix 5 in 2017. | Photo: David Giral Photography

David Marino was a La Voix 5 finalist. “I made it to the top four and finished in third place. It was a great experience to surround yourself with professionals in the industry,” says the Montrealer.

“I learned so much, and it was really fun. Learning how to sing in front of millions of viewers is an experience in itself! To get that kind of exposure in general was just amazing.”

Marino recently switched from Concordia’s Department of Journalism into the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics, focusing on French and Italian.

“I studied music really intensely outside of school, so university is an opportunity to learn something else,” he says. “I think it’s something helpful you keep for life.”

Marino, who’s has been singing in music competitions since age six, discovered musical and Broadway styles before becoming interested in jazz. His La Voix 5 exposure has led to future concert bookings this summer, including gigs in Longueuil and Drummondville, Que.

With his musical director and long-time voice teacher John Gilbert, Marino has also participated in CIBC Mindstrong’s annual benefit concert for mental health services at the Jewish General Hospital.

The fundraiser, called Stop the Silence, aims to address the stigma surrounding mental illness, Marino explains. The April 2018 event was a big band concert featuring Marino and 17 musicians.

“I’ve done three concerts so far,” he says. “We’ve been able to raise about $50,000, which is awesome.”

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