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Voice professor dies in accident

Kate Antonacci | Thursday, September 15, 2005

A beloved Notre Dame assistant professor of voice was killed Monday in an auto accident on Michigan-62 near Edwardsburg, Mich., officials said.

John Riley-Schofield, 51, died at approximately 6 p.m., according to a Sept. 14 South Bend Tribune article. The article reported his Mitsubishi Lancer struck a truck almost head-on as he was driving northbound attempting to pass a vehicle in a no-passing zone.

Riley-Schofield, who had been a visiting assistant professor since the fall of 2002, taught classes in vocal pedagogy, opera scene and vocal performance techniques, among others, as well as private voice lessons.

According to Dean Mark Roche of the College of Arts and Letters, Riley-Schofield was an adored professor.

“Many students as well as a number of parents told me in recent years what an effective and charismatic teacher John was,” Roche said in a University statement. “He had a magical talent for coaching outstanding performances from our students and he created a special bond with them as a fellow artist.”

Riley-Schofield also served as Director of Opera at Notre Dame.

“As artistic director of the Notre Dame opera, John had a magical talent for coaching outstanding performances from our students, and he created a special bond with them as a fellow artist,” Roche said in an email sent to Arts and Letters faculty. “Those of you who have attended the Notre Dame opera in recent years will have seen John’s influence in the outstanding quality of our student productions.”

Senior voice major Nick Tonozzi, who took numerous classes with Riley-Schofield, was deeply upset about his death.

“He was the man that inspired me to be a voice major,” said Tonozzi, who was a pre-med major freshman year. “He has always been so supportive and caring and knew how to best serve us.”

Because there are only 30 voice majors, Tonozzi said, students form very close relationships with their professors.

“I am preparing for my senior recital and now the floor has been pulled out from under me,” Tonozzi said. “At a University where football is king, to go in with a music major seems kind of ridiculous. But he made you feel comfortable with it because of his incredible love of the arts.”

Riley-Schofield had a way of inspiring his students, even at their lowest points, Tonozzi said.

“If I was having a rough lesson, he always talked to me like I could sing at [The Metropolitan Museum of Art] tomorrow,” Tonozzi said. “That’s the type of man he was. He had a never-ending belief in my capabilities.”

Though some students did not have the opportunity to know Riley-Schofield personally, he managed to leave an impression even after brief meetings.

“I’m a freshman, but I actually saw Professor Riley-Schofield for the first time last year when I came to sing for the music department,” freshman Kate Hedrick said. “I remember him as a smiling and bubbly person. He had the most amazing personality.”

Voice students at Notre Dame came to love Riley-Schofield for his ability to make each student feel important and talented.

“He sort of brought out the best in us. Even though I didn’t have him for long, he still brought it out of me in that short time,” freshman Alex Woller said.

While students said singing can sometimes be difficult, Riley-Schofield’s encouraging nature made them eager to work harder.

“He made every situation comfortable,” freshman Simone Stickler said. “He was very caring and always rooting for you.”

A memorial service on campus is currently in the planning stages, Roche said.

“I hope they have a memorial service to honor him,” Tonozzi said. “He was a great professor and wonderful man. He will be sorely missed.”

The daily mass in Cavanaugh Hall was said for Riley-Schofield Wednesday night.

“We have a number of girls who were in the voice program and one actually approached me this afternoon and was pretty upset so we decided to offer the mass in his honor tonight,” Cavanaugh assistant rector Whitney Thomspon said. “Of course, we’ll also keep him in our intentions at Sunday’s mass.”

Before coming to teach at Notre Dame, Riley-Schofield worked as an international soloist opera singer for 25 years, Roche said. Fluent in German, French and Italian, he also worked as a phonetic coach.

Riley-Schofield received a diploma in music from the University of Huddersfield’s School of Music and Humanities in the United Kingdom. He also had a teaching diploma in singing performance from the Royal Academy of Music, Roche said.

He is survived by his wife, Britta Sporkmann of Germany.