By Louise Harrison
Meaghan Haughian from Canada, who has been teaching at the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA) for two years loves teaching music for many reasons, “I love students’ excitement. I love helping them decode the puzzle, and seeing things finally come together—the classic “lightbulb” moment. I love seeing their pride when they can do something they couldn’t in the not-so-distant past. And I love learning along with them—new songs, new ways of thinking, and the chance to critically examine just how and why I do what I do in my own practice”.
Player of 19 instruments in total including the piano, flute, whistle and Irish flute. Meaghan also plays all the band instruments, which she said she can play well enough to teach beginners and direct a band, these include the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet, French horn, trombone, euphonium/baritone, tuba, percussion, and then also the bodhrán, guitar, mandolin, uilleann pipes, and the most recent addition to her collection was a Highland bagpipes practice chanter.
Meaghan believes people should learn music for a number of reasons, “At the very least, so they can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and the national anthem in tune, and can clap on the right beat at the right time.
“There are many cognitive advantages: a full-brain workout, improving connections across the corpus callosum, lowering the risk of dementia and generally protecting against age-related cognitive deterioration.
“Music is also great for personal development, giving students a mode of expression, a chance to succeed if they happen to struggle academically, an outlet from other life pressures, a chance to meet other musicians.
“We are constantly surrounded by music, and having a good music education makes for better music consumers who have been exposed to a greater variety of artists and styles beyond what they would naturally listen to, who have a good appreciation for how much work that a musician has put into what he or she does, and who are more likely to support live music and the arts in general.
“But mostly, I can’t even count the number of people who have said to me, ‘I wish I hadn’t quit music lessons’. Music is a life-long skill that can be enjoyed well into old age, which is good, because music-making is just plain fun—a rewarding activity in and of itself. I’ve been to fleadhs and Willie Clancy Week and other traditional music settings where people have been sitting in a corner playing tunes for an obscene amount of time, all week long, getting nothing from it but sheer enjoyment.
“I’ve experienced the marvel of sitting in a band and sight-reading a piece I’d never heard before, the music realising itself around us as if by magic. I’ve sung in choirs where I’ve slotted my voice into that exquisite hair-raising harmony, contributing to this fabric of sound that feels that much more profound coming from my own breath and body. I’ve played a flute-piano duet with an accompanist so sensitive to the music and to me that the notes seemed insignificant, the music rising beyond simple fingerings and rhythm and dots on a page to breathe a life of its own.
“So, if you think music is nice to listen to, imagine how much nicer it would be to actually be part of that music-making yourself”.
So, where did Meaghan’s passion for music come from? Her earliest memory of experiencing music at a young age was hearing her Dad singing and playing his guitar, Church choirs, listening to Disney soundtracks and her Dad’s rock albums and his classical-music stories like ‘Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery’ and another one about Mozart’s The Magic Flute and getting a piano from her Grandpa.
“I sat in front of it and cautiously pressed the keys, marvelled at this big complicated contraption. I kind of figured out “Little April Showers” from Bambi, but when I tried to play it for our Kindergarten graduation, it didn’t go over so well, the kids laughed at me, and some of the other students who actually attended piano lessons played their pieces instead. It didn’t even bother me that much—I was completely aware that I didn’t know what I was doing, so I didn’t take it too personally,” Meaghan laughed.
At Meaghan’s first piano lesson when she was just seven years of age, she remembers feeling eager to unlock its secrets and then having to go home and practice, for her it was like setting out to solve a puzzle. At the age of eleven, Meaghan started to learn the flute.
When she was just fourteen, she attended the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra’s open day, where she got to play with the full orchestra.
“I was blown away—they were so good, and the strings sound was so lush and full. I was amazed when I was actually successful in my audition that autumn, and pretty much right from the first rehearsal I knew that I had to do music for the rest of my life”.
Towards the end of high school Meaghan became interested in Irish traditional music and learned the whistle and Irish flute. She studied music education at the University of Saskatchewan, and played with the Band of the Ceremonial Guard in Ottawa during her university summers, and During this time, started playing with a local Celtic trad band called The Residuals.
“My university graduation present to myself was a trip to Ireland, where I attended several workshops and played in sessions across the country and when I came back to Canada, I started teaching band, choir, guitar, and English in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. I continued teaching in Saskatchewan for five years, after which I did a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Limerick, studying the uilleann pipes and writing a thesis about cóir Ghaelacha (Irish language choirs). After my degree, I decided to stay in Ireland, and now I teach a variety of instruments, as well as a cór Gaelach and music theory, at the Mid-West Vocal Academy”.
So, what has music brought to Meaghan’s life?
“What hasn’t it brought to my life? It has brought a career, travel—culminating in a full-out relocation across the Atlantic—new friends, fluency in the Irish language, hours of enjoyment (frustration, too, but we’ll focus on the positives), and depleted bank accounts from money spent on instruments and workshops and lessons (totally worth it). Most of all, it has brought moments of incredible, indescribable, inimitable beauty,” smiled Meaghan.