Young alumnus goes ‘West’ to find the world

Curt O'Neil // Special to Western News

Western alumnus John Yun, MMus ’12, recently landed a performance and associate conductor role in the international tour of West Side Story. This 40-plus-week tour will play major opera houses and theaters across Europe and Asia.

Here comes John Yun. Little world step aside.

Yun, MMus ’12 (Literature and Performance), is a multi-faceted musician, one who effortlessly moves between the roles of musical director, collaborative artist, jazz pianist and opera tutor. This versatility played a significant role in the alumnus landing the Associate Conductor role with the international travelling production of West Side Story, which kicks off this October.

And the credit for setting him on this musical journey, Yun said, goes to his time at Western under the tutelage of Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Stephan Sylvestre.

“The people you meet during your masters are the people and connections who are going to carry you through the rest of your life,” Yun said. “It’s been interesting to see how everyone has progressed in all kinds of things from opera and churches to Second City. You are sort-of banded together.

“Everything ties back to that one summer between first and second year at Western, which pretty much started the whole snowball and the gigs kept getting bigger.”

After a tip from a fellow Western student, Yun worked at the Sarnia Imperial Theatre as a student. There, he first met Mark Payne, currently Musical Director of the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, who gave him his first musical theatre gig. After a couple years of performances with Payne, Yun was asked to be the Musical Director for Sounds of Sinatra at the Drayton Festival Theatre.

At the time, he was already working as Head Opera Coach and Assistant Conductor for UWOpera’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte, but didn’t want to turn down the experience.

From there, Yun became the Music Director for the U.S. travelling tour of Godspell in 2014. On that tour, he met Musical Director Keith Levenson, who got him a performance job with the 2015 National Broadway touring production of Annie. Yun, eventually promoted to the role of Associate Music Director, wrapped up that show in Indonesia this month.

“In every show you find a different rhythm and pocket to do that. That is a problem for long-running shows and tours anywhere. Things do get monotonous; you need to find things to keep things interested,” he said.

During his year on the road with Annie, Yun performed with a chamber group with a cellist and violinist, along with doing the regular show. “Having these little side projects really go a long way. It keeps you sharp and feels a little less like going into work every day.”

Yun, 32, believes he’s still “getting my foot in the door.” But his biggest break to date came thanks to the phone number of the musical director of West Side Story landing in his possession.

“Someone on the Annie tour gave me his number and I ‘cold called’ him and said, ‘My name is so-and-so. I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I got your number and I don’t know if you’re looking for an Associate Music Director, but if I can I’d like to send my materials to you,’” Yun said.

While it took months for anything to come of the phone call, Yun was hired earlier this summer. He will conduct two or three shows a week, while playing piano for the other shows.

Before the tour starts this fall, Yun will return home to Sault Ste. Marie next month, with a few weeks off to hang out with friends and family – and learn the intricate score of West Side Story – before hitting the road for at least a year.

“There is definitely a pretty wide range of emotions. Many of us (musicians) are not working; a lot of my colleagues are extremely talented people, but with the state of the arts, there aren’t enough jobs available,” Yun said.

“Sure, it’s going to be a bit of a bummer not being able to see a lot of friends and family for a while. But, at the end of the day, I have an opportunity and job I can’t pass up. It’s a great way to see the world. The professional experience was too good to pass up. The pros far outweigh any cons. There was no way I was going to say no to this.”