Joseph Dhanens ‘13
University Professor and Actor/Singer
Music major (voice) and Theatre Arts minor
“What I love about LMU Music is the intimate size of the department. I knew my professors extremely well, something I am particularly able to appreciate after attending a large public university for my master’s degree. The professors are not only passionate about their course content, they are all available to engage student needs in or out of class hours whenever they come up.”
Tell us a little about your career trajectory since graduating.
Since graduating, I earned my master’s in music performance in voice from Cal State University, Fullerton and began performing in several community operas and musicals, and began a teaching trajectory with substitute teaching. In 2017, I returned to LMU to teach private voice and in 2019 I began film acting. I am currently on track to become an actor and singer for stage and film and TV. My career highlights thus far include singing Escamillo in Georges Bizet Carmen, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, and Don Giovanni in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
What is your day-to-day like?
When I am not teaching, I perform in operas, musicals, and films, do background acting work, sing at a local church as a paid section leader, and draft for an architectural firm—that is my day job. I also practice singing, piano, cello, and Spanish to improve my brand as an actor.
How do you feel your undergraduate studies prepared you for your career?
My studies provided me learning strategies and the foundation for several skills I am now developing. One of my most cherished skills is the ability to approach a problem with an open and well-rounded thought process. At LMU, a critical element to my music studies in theory, history and applied voice lessons was the following approach: observe the problem without bias or judgement, think, then develop the appropriate strategy. This mental framework is something I use constantly in my performing, learning, and interpersonal business relationships.
More practically, I learned sight reading, which helps me with my church singing; piano, which helps with teaching and acting gigs; vocal technique, which is the foundation to my teaching and performance careers; and choral conducting, which I relied on heavily in the Spring of 2018 when I took a long-term sub position as a choral teacher preparing students for a concert. As a singer, I learned a foreign language, and more importantly, diction, which has been an invaluable asset in my opera career and my acting career since I often play foreigners and have dialogue in foreign languages.
How did you decide to major in music?
I originally wanted a musical theater career trajectory, and since LMU does not offer that specific degree, I decided to be a music major to improve my singing. At that time, I had been playing trumpet for nine years and had been singing for two years.
My concentration in music was vocal performance. Developing my voice and working on stage presence have been so universally invaluable – more than I expected, since even business transactions and leadership positions benefit from presentation elements critical to vocal performance. I minored in theatre arts since I always planned to be an actor.
What was your favorite aspect of the music program?
My favorite aspect is the intimate size of the department. I knew my professors extremely well, something I am particularly able to appreciate after attending a large public university for my master’s degree. I see now that there is nothing as valuable in academia as a close relationship with faculty, individuals accomplished in their respective industries. Those relationships I developed with faculty have helped me even after graduation, with advising and professional matters. Since the class sizes were so small, I was able to take full advantage of the learning process, and when I suffered a great personal loss my final year at LMU, my professors supported me and worked with me to help me complete my degree.
While at LMU, I was an orientation leader, involved in music ministry for Mass, and helped found two a cappella groups. Music ministry helped directly prepare me for my church jobs, but more importantly, was a unique way that the university was able to provide something spiritually meaningful. The a cappella groups were perhaps one of the most meaningful experiences I had: I was able to flex my learning in theory by arranging pieces for voice, experienced the process of leadership as musical director and founder of one of the groups, and was able to branch out into popular style singing, which is my bread and butter both as a teacher and as an actor.
I think it is important to note that at LMU it is possible get involved in extra-curricular activities. I believe branching out into other disciplines is important for the wholeness of a rounded education and gives a competitive edge in the work field. I’ve definitely seen other programs that will overload their students, keeping them from branching out.
What is your favorite memory from your time at LMU?
My favorite part of my time at LMU was the sense of total engagement built within the community. I have always and will continue to throw myself completely into my work and projects, and the LMU community is set up to encourage and support this kind of drive. I went through some of my most monumental life defining moments as a student and received total support, I felt empowered as an individual making my own decisions, and I took hold of every opportunity I wanted by studying theater and music. I know that many other institutions of higher education do not allow that specific double focus since performances overlap, but my professors and directors worked with me, which allowed me to build an impressive resume.
Do you have any advice for current and future music students?
Engage yourself completely in every class whether or not you enjoy it, because the rapport you develop with professors is a gift that keeps on giving. The music department is small and the professors are not only passionate about their course content, they are all available to engage student needs in or out of class hours whenever they come up. The “just need to pass” mentality is okay for general education classes, but with such a small department of passionate professors there is much more to be gained from total immersion in coursework beyond the information and homework.