When Sylvana Joyce Opris graduated from BU, she knew only one thing for certain about her future: somehow her life would revolve around music.
The young singer and pianist is now front woman for a band bearing her name, Sylvana Joyce and the Moment. Together just a year, Opris and band members Sean-David Cunningham, Chris Smith, Miles Lassi, and Pete Bellomo recently won MTV’s Needle in the Haystack Artist of the Week award.
“When I read the email, I had to read it through a couple of times and thought, really?” says Opris (CFA’07). “I didn’t even remember applying for the MTV feature.” But she’s thrilled by the recognition. “I proceeded to excitedly call the rest of the band members and leave really vague, cryptic messages.”
“She just screamed into the phone,” says Smith.
Last spring, Opris posted a Craigslist ad looking for musicians to play with. Each member is classically trained: guitarist Smith attended Berklee College of Music, violinist Cunningham earned a master’s degree at McGill University, and bassist and self-described “utility man” Bellomo has a master’s in opera performance from the Boston Conservatory.
“We love Sylvana’s music and feel a part of the Moment and everything that it has to offer,” says Bellomo. “A lot of times people make a song and you don’t get to express what you want to say as a musician. But her music gives you the ability to express yourself. It’s very delicate.”
Opris fell in love with music as a child. By the time she was two, she was reading song booklets and soon writing songs on construction paper.
As a College of Fine Arts freshman, she planned to major in piano performance, studying with Anthony di Bonaventura, a CFA professor of music. “It was a wake-up call,” she says. “It was a lonely pursuit, to be in a practice room for eight hours a day. I just wasn’t that kind of person. I was interested in doing something more social.” She changed her major to music education.
But it was her involvement with BU’s Symphonic Chorus that proved to be a life-changing experience. “We got to play in Symphony Hall in Boston and Carnegie Hall in New York,” she says. “The experience was transcendent. Our chorus was a bunch of people who loved what they do. They loved music; they lived it, breathed it, ate it, and slept it.”
Performing with the chorus, Opris says, made her feel “that the power of artistic expression could transform a room.”
The band says that their sound can be hard to define. One song, “The Break,” has a bluesy, folk quality, while another, “Comrade,” has an “Habañero” influence. Opris says that artists as diverse as Billy Joel and James Brown have influenced the band’s songs as well.
The MTV recognition has helped the group find a wider audience. After a recent performance at McGann’s Pub, in Boston, “we all walked outside of the bar and Sylvana was swamped by people,” says Cunningham. “It was awesome.”
John Fichera can be reached at email@example.com.