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Dean Burry was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1972, but grew up in the small town of Gander. As both his parents’ families came from small outport communities, he spent a great deal of time by the ocean and out in his father’s boat. Music is in the blood of Newfoundlanders, and it was in this environment that Burry began his own artistic journey. Early piano lessons were not completely satisfying, and it wasn’t until a teacher encouraged his desire for composition, at age 10, that music became a passion. Theatre was another great interest and soon he was writing plays and music for the school drama club. His first produced script, Good Gods, won first place in the local drama festival in 1987.
Following high school, Burry enrolled in the bachelor of music program as a saxophone major at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. In seeking ways to combine his love of theatre and music, he began composing operas and musicals. In his first three years at university, he wrote, produced and conducted three major dramatic musical works: The Resurrection, Joe and Mary Had a Baby and Unto the Earth: Vignettes of a War.
His studies in music continued, and Burry completed his master of music in composition at the University of Toronto in 1996. Shortly after completing his studies at the University of Toronto, Burry began working in ticket services at the Canadian Opera Company while composing incidental music for small theatrical productions. Working for the COC enabled Burry to immerse himself in the Canadian opera world. His own curiosity and interest in opera drove him to spend a lot of time at the opera company outside of working hours, observing rehearsals and learning a great deal about the ways to create successful opera. In 1997, Burry was hired to develop and run the COC’s After School Opera Program, a community program designed to introduce children to all the elements of opera. The program is still vibrant today and will celebrate its 15th anniversary in the COC’s 2012/2013 season.
In 1999, while working as an educator with the COC, Burry was commissioned to write The Brothers Grimm, a new opera for the annual school tour. The opera premiered in 2001 and received rave reviews from teachers and students alike, putting the composer on a national stage. Since 2001, The Brothers Grimm has been seen by over 140,000 school children across Canada, the United States and Europe. In December 2012, The Brothers Grimm will celebrate its 500th performance making it the most performed Canadian opera in history.
(l – r) Laura Albino, Adam Luther, Alexander Hajek and Ileana Montalbetti the Canadian Opera Company's Xstrata Ensemble Studio School Tour production of The Brothers Grimm, 2009. Photo: Anand Maharaj © 2009