Music builds bridges according to Michelle O’Connor


Performer and teacher Michelle O’Connor remembers adoring her first music teacher.

“I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She taught me how to play songs for the holidays on the violin. That helped shape my sense of self-esteem as a child, because I was very shy and had trouble doing things the other kids seemed to do easily, like tying my shoes, jumping rope, or catching a ball, but I could play the violin, and I knew that was something special”. 

Michelle said her earliest memory of music shaped the way she approaches music education, as she remembers being a baby in the crib and her mother winding up a toy panda with a music box inside that played a lullaby.

“I remember watching the sun shine through the summer leaves, low in the sky, making a beautiful golden-green light as I lay utterly enchanted by the music. I can still picture the room in great detail. Because of this memory, I know for sure that even babies and little kids remember and retain music and may be having a vivid and memorable experience of it, even if they don’t sing along or seem to participate.

“Babies and children hear absolutely everything with a clarity and a sense of wonder that we lose as adults, and so it’s never too early for a music education. I try to nurture this sense of wonder in music lessons for kids for as long as I can, and try to bring it back for adults, including myself. That’s been the hardest part of my job, and also the most rewarding,” added Michelle.

A teacher for 21 years, this will be Michelle’s first year at the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA). Michelle is certified in both the Mark O’Connor String Method and the Orff-Shulwerk approach to teaching music. Specialising in Early Music, folk fiddle styles, and improvisation, she nurtures creative string players with solid technique. 

Michelle has studied music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) at the University of Limerick, University of British Columbia, UC Berkeley, Brown University, and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

Performing on and exploring the possibilities of bowed string instruments for over 27 years, Michelle has an MA in Ritual Chant and Song from the IWAMD and studied music at Brown University, and has performed internationally with an eclectic variety of ensembles.

Performer and Teacher at the MWVA Michelle O’Connor

Michelle plays the violin, rebecs to vielles, baroque fiddle, Classical violin and Traditional fiddle, continues to work on her vocal technique, composes music, and has recently taken up the harp. She also plays some American ‘Claw hammer’ banjo, ukulele, recorder, and basic piano. 

“I would like to start playing some Irish banjo. I think it’s very easy to learn another instrument once we are confident in our own musical skills, because music comes from ourselves, and the instrument is just a tool to express it,” said Michelle.

Michelle loves teaching because she can help people play music that inspires them, that they would be able to perform for their friends, families, and communities in ways that are deeply meaningful to them, whether it is for a wedding, a birthday, a funeral, for a religious service, or part of a school concert. 

“It seems to me that kids who learn music early on are more comfortable in public speaking, and this is a skill that they will carry with them into adulthood, helping them with everything from socialising to job interviews. There have also been numerous scientific studies done which reveal that music develops empathy in children”.

For Michelle, music and food bring people together and build bridges instead of walls, “Because of music, I have been able to connect with people from all over the world even when we couldn’t speak each other’s languages. Learning about other cultures has enriched my life and inspired me, and allowed me to travel all over the world.

“It’s also inspired me to use music as a tool to empower ourselves and our communities to enact positive change in the world when we see injustice; music is an expression and a reminder of our humanity”.

http://www.midwestvocalacademy.com/

Busy Summer for Owen Gilhooly


It’s been a busy summer for Director of the Mid West Vocal Academy, Tenor Owen Gilhooly.

When most people are unwinding in the summer sun, or rushing to the beach at every available opportunity, Owen relishes his free time so he can concentrate on his solo career.

“I actually love the summer as when I’m not teaching four to five days a week, I can really focus on my own practice and learning, and I try and fit in as much performance as possible and really challenge myself,” Owen smiled.

Director of the Mid West Vocal Academy and Tenor Owen Gilhooly

So far this summer Owen has  given performances in Dublin including ‘Waltz of my Heart’ at the DLR LexLcon, an Opera Gala at the Liberties Festival and was guest Tenor at Léran Festival of Music in France.

Owens next big performance will be the title role in Faust for Opera in the Open in Dublin on August 22,  and on September 25, he will join the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the National Concert Hall along with other guest soloists which include Celine Byrne and Claudia Boyle, to celebrate Cara O Sullivan in ‘Cara: A Celebration’.

Does Owen ever take a complete break from music or singing to completely switch off?

“Yes, I do, it’s really easy to get burned out from all the demands, so I do take the odd weekend off and I make sure to have some short breaks over the summer too.  Vitamin D is essential.

“ Being self employed it’s also sometimes very hard to switch off, so there has to be discipline to rest as well.

“I’m also trying to finish my doctoral thesis,  so watch this space, next year I’m hoping to be Dr Gilhooly,” added Owen.

http://www.owengilhooly.com/

http://www.midwestvocalacademy.com/

 

Mary Barry launches debut album at Dolan’s Warehouse


 

I Knew You, the debut album by Mary Barry, will be launched at Dolan’s Warehouse at 8pm on November 1.

Limerick Lady Mary, is a singer songwriter who, after many years of thinking about it, finally put pen to paper and composed nine original songs over the last year and a half.

“My inspiration comes from a combination of my two loves which, apart from the people in my life, are music and philosophy, and also learning from songwriters I admire, and writing what’s true to me,” said Mary.

The seed of this album began when Mary finally used a gift she had received, an hour in a recording studio in Dublin, three days before the voucher was due to expire. There she recorded her first song, accompanying herself on guitar. That was the start of her creative journey that eventually led her to Red Door productions in Limerick, where she met Dave Keary.

“Luckily for me, Dave has a very busy schedule, which meant there was time between meetings to write more songs. So, what started out as one song became nine. It has been an amazing journey, and a privilege to work with Dave and the amazing calibre of musicians he brought together in the making of this album,” added Mary.

Having always loved singing, Mary originally took guitar lessons so she could accompany herself as a hobby. Inspired by song writers such as Kris Kristofferson and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary’s main influences are folk and country music. She writes philosophically about her life experiences and hopes she is conveying thoughtful and uplifting messages through her songs.

“When I’m singing I think about the lyrics and what they mean to me. I love the way music brings out feelings and helps summarise otherwise complicated scenarios. I also feel deeply grateful and spiritual. The songs mean all I’ve ever felt but never thought I would have or need to explain, if that makes sense,” said Mary.

On the night Mary will be accompanied by Dave Keary on guitar, Danny Byrt on Drums, Eoghan O’Neill on Bass and James Hanley on Keyboards.

“Other than singing a couple of songs in a pub the odd time, I’ve never done anything like this. In one way, I can’t wait. In another way, I’m terrified,” added Mary.

Tickets are €5.00 and can be bought from

https://www.dolans.ie/gigs-events-live-music-listings/2017/11/1/mary-barry

https://www.facebook.com/mary.barry.9655806

The Piano Lesson a Ken Wardrop Documentary interview with Mary O’Sullivan who features in the Film


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Limerick Musician and Actress Mary O’Sullivan and her students Heather Small (11) her sister Rachael (9) and Gráinne Lynch (14) from the Redemptorist Centre of Music, were featured in the Ken Wardrop documentary, The Piano Lesson, which premiered at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) Dublin, as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (ADIFF) on Monday, February 20.

Internationally acclaimed, Multi-award winning director Ken, interviewed and filmed a number of Piano teachers and their students throughout Ireland for this unique production, and received an extended standing ovation at the end of the screening from a sold out venue.

“The way it’s shot and the moments that Ken catches are stunning, I think he has got an amazing talent, an amazing eye, he’ll let you see things and then it’s for you to judge how you felt.

“He captured people’s personalities. There’s really funny moments, where there’s the interaction between pupils and teachers, so many different characters, and it was interesting to see how involved parents are at different levels. As a teacher I’ve never gotten to see pupil’s at home, to see the part that music plays and how it slots into their life,” said Mary.

Though this is Mary’s first time seeing herself on the big screen and in a documentary, she is no stranger to the limelight and over the years has combined teaching piano with a flourishing acting career.

In 2015 while completing a Masters in Education and the Arts at Mary Immaculate College, she played Little Voice’s mother, in the College Players Theatre production of, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at the Lime Tree Theatre.

Mary has studied at the Gaiety School of Acting, and worked as a professional actor in London. In 2010 she won Best Supporting Actress at the All Ireland Drama Festival, toured with Mirage Theatre playing the title part in Educating Rita, worked with Island Theatre, Shoestring Theatre, performed at the Riverside Studios, Edinburgh and London Fringe festivals, toured with College Player’s ‘Metamorphosis’ which won the All Ireland Drama Finals and then went on to represent Ireland at the International Drama Festival in Japan in 1995, and was Musical director when they represented Ireland at the International Drama Festival in Monaco. Mary has also worked on radio and television and composed music for an RTE documentary.

“I don’t like watching myself but you actually saw the real Heather and Gráinne, I was very proud and delighted for them. Heather was so excited, Gráinne so laid back, very natural in the film, they are both fantastic and really talented,” said Mary.

Growing up in a musical household as her mother was a piano teacher and a member of a well known band the Therant Sereneraders, Mary’s first piano lesson was when she was 8years, but from an early age she would have been curious and tinkled on the piano in the family home.

“I hope my students get enjoyment out of the lessons. There is the side where you can decide you want to achieve something at the end of the year which is the certificate, at least you have targets, but at the end of the day it’s a hobby and it’s a talent. The exams are an achievement but also, it’s nice just to be able to go away and relax and play the piano. That they look forward to going to the lessons,” added Mary.

Produced by Andrew Freedman, The Piano Lesson examines the special bond between piano teachers and their pupils, with over 30,000 students in Ireland preparing for exams each year, this funny, sensitive, touching film shows the students as they practice and prepare for exams, their struggles, and their teachers’ dedication.

Ken who studied filmmaking at the National Film School (NFS) at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT) Dún Laoghaire, has had his films screened at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, the Cork International Film Festival, and at festivals in the UK, Croatia, The Netherlands and Scandinavia.

In 2008, his work received the Grand Prix Award at Sapporo International Film Festival in Japan. His short film Undressing my Mother, won a European Film Academy Award, Special Jury Mention at Sundance and an IFTA for Best Short Film. His Documentary on Circumcision Ouch and Bongo Bong, were both nominated for an IFTA. Farewell Packets of Ten won Best Short Documentary at Toronto. His & Hers, his first feature debut won the Audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival, the Feature Award at the Galway Film Fleadh, an IFTA for Best Feature Documentary and the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival 2010.

“It was a joy to be involved with this, these are really nice guys and so professional. He is fantastic, with all kens achievements he is such a nice down to earth genuine guy.

“I am really looking forward to the gala night in April, because it was lovely to go to the screening. We will get to talk to the people afterwards and maybe get to know the people a little bit better, because there were some really interesting characters in it, some fantastic kids,” added Mary.

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Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane teach Stage Stars


 

Stage Stars is the new group performance programme for children at the Mid-West Vocal Academy and Music School. Devised by accomplished professionals Jessica Bray and Shirley Keane, the fast paced, energetic and child focused course aims to give children training in the areas of singing, drama and dance.

Limerick ladies Jessica and Shirley co-lead the hour long classes that cater for children aging from four to sixteen years of age. Their primary aim is to build the confidence of the children and allow them to explore theatre in a safe, supportive, fun environment, where the children’s ideas are the driving force of the creative work.

“The classes are energetic, physical and busy. Jess and I have put together a flexible structure, we include technical elements, such as vocal warm-ups, practical stage awareness, and dance routines built on a strong foundation of fundamental acting work including devising, improvising and lots of imaginative play.

“We always begin with an energetic warm-up followed by vocal warm-ups using rehearsal and theatre games.  We constantly return to a circle to begin exercises or share ideas within the group, always emphasising that we take turns, we listen to each other and that everyone’s input is valuable giving opportunities to all the participants to be seen, heard and to participate,” said Shirley.

Shirley Keane

Shirley Keane

Shirley trained in theatre and opera studies at the Rose Bruford College of Drama, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music in the UK, and has worked as a singer, actress, director and teacher with many varied groups and festivals across the UK and Ireland.

Also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK, Shirley is currently on the teaching staff of The Guildhall School of Music, where she works with undergraduate and post-graduate singers, musicians and conductors, directing opera scenes and productions and running performance workshops.

“As teachers we work to develop routine, structure and technique and it is our job to encourage them all, always, to do their personal best. It is my job is to listen to the participants, to be open to their ideas, and by having their ideas accepted by adult facilitators and a group of their peers, the children learn to value their own talents, abilities and self-worth.

“I love to perform, that is what I have trained to do and I love being a facilitator.  I would encourage and support any child who wanted to perform professionally. I hope that some of our children feel capable and confident enough to audition for external music and theatre productions, but I would never push children to seek fame or to seek adulation.  Drama and theatre work is not about encouraging children to show off but through nurturing talent, the work should encourage an openness of mind, an ability to work with other people, the courage to offer and to accept ideas, and the confidence to express themselves through the disciplines of the theatre,” said Shirley.

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray

Jessica Bray studied Musical Theatre Performance at The Guildford School of Acting in the UK where she received the Sir Michael Redgrave Scholarship and the Sir John Gielgud award for Musical Theatre.

Jessica who currently works in Limerick and Cork as a teacher and director, has performed with the Cecilian Musical Society, Limerick Musical Society and Shannon Musical Society, and believes that being a regular performer makes her a better teacher.

“I’m excited about working with new and current students. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience. Our hope is that we can introduce our students to the world of theatre and performing and make them fall in love the way we did from a young age. Performance skills are useful in many walks of life.

“Whether it’s job interviews or college presentations. At stage stars we are preparing our students for all these challenges and building strong, confident kids and teenagers. We hope they enjoy it. We hope they learn something new every week and build friendships and confidence,” added Jessica.

www.midwestvocalacademy.com

061- 358088

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Laurel Hill Coláiste perform at ‘Reach Out’ Benefit Concert LIT


 

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It’s been a busy year for the music department and students of Laurel Hill Coláiste FCJ who will be taking part in the ‘Reach Out’ benefit concert for ISPCC Childline, at the Millennium Theatre on December 16.

The choir will perform a fifteen minute programme of Christmas favourites and also join with Music Generation, Limerick City Big Band and lots of other artists for group performances which will include some audience participation.

Last April at the Cork International Choral Festival, the choir won the Equal Voice Post Primary National competition for schools and the overall prize for the best school choir of the festival. This success came soon after the orchestras performance in the Dublin Feis Ceoil, where they won the Post-primary School Orchestra competition and the RTE Lyric FM award.

The choir comprising of 121 students from first to sixth class sang, ‘What Sweeter Music’ by John Rutter, and ‘Ceann Dubh Dílis’ by Michael Mc Glynn, accompanied by students, on drum Laura Drennan and Orlaith Stedje on piano.

“It felt fantastic. I’m really proud of them. The girls were so excited, we went down with the expectation to really sing well. I would always say to them once you come off the stage and you feel you have given your very best that’s enough. I don’t think they get nervous I think they just enjoy performing.

“It was very special for the sixth years, because they have been with me through everything. I think the younger ones learn from the older ones about their commitment to the choir, they sound so gorgeous the older ones, the first years would be trying to emulate their sound. We were singing in five parts, that was very difficult for them,” said conductor and music teacher Orla Colgan Ahern.

The orchestra consisting of 41 students from first to sixth years, having won their competition by playing ‘The Thieving Magpie’ by Rossini and ‘Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte’ by Ravel, were invited to play for the gala concert in the National Concert Hall.

“I think it gives them a huge discipline. They get to appreciate lots of different styles of music, they make friends in the choir and orchestra. I hope it instils a love of music, that they can join a choir and be good enough, and to love it. The same in the orchestra, that they would join orchestras when they are in college or if they are living somewhere away, it might be a way in to meet people.

“It’s a huge commitment, I think that’s very good, and the focus of it is good, because with a lot of technological things, it can be hard to hold their attention for a long time because they are always on Facebook or things like that, and I think music dispels that and allows them to focus for a huge period of time,” said Orla.

In January the choir collaborated with De La Salle College, a boys choir in Waterford to perform Fauré’s Requiem in Waterford Cathedral.

“There was a lovely rapport between the two choirs. From the Choral Festival the idea of merging the two choirs came, the idea of giving them a bigger work to do. It was fantastic there were about 200 singers,” said Orla.

This year the choir also performed in The Unlucky Cabin Boy in the Limetree Theatre, the Childline concert and Gulliver’s Travels which was written by Myles Breen and consisted of a collaboration of many groups including Limerick Youth Theatre, Coláiste Nano Nagle, Patterns Dance Collective, Limerick Youth Dance, Music Generation Limerick and the Daughters service users.

“That integration of the Daughters of Charity and ourselves is the most special thing we have done. We are lucky, this is our third year to be involved with it. It’s a privilege.”

In the past the choir have performed in concert with Anthony Kerns, the Vienna Boys choir and the UL Orchestra to name just a few. They also frequently perform new and commissioned works by composers such Ben Hanlon, Michale Holohan, Seamus De Barra, Elaine Agnew, Kathleen Turner and Michael Mc Glynn.

“Every year you have to start building again in the choir and in the orchestra, because you loose fantastic players every June, so you are constantly building and working on them,” Orla added.

This year the traditional musicians of Laurel Hill Coláiste, prepared by past pupil Deirdre Ní Mhaoláin also got to the finals of the Siansa Gael Linn, and represented the school at all Ireland level in the National Concert Hall.

To book tickets for the ‘Reach Out’ benefit concert for ISPCC Childline, at the Millennium Theatre on December 16, contact www.litmt.ie

 

Ancór Christmas Concert


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The award winning Limerick chamber choir, Ancór’s eighth Christmas concert will take place at 8pm, in St Mary’s Cathedral on December 15.

“Our partnership with St Mary’s Cathedral has proved very successful indeed. The concerts are always sold out, and it seems to have become an essential part of Christmas, to come to the Ancór Christmas concert for many in Limerick.

“I’m sure the fact that we serve up seasonal treats such as mulled wine and mince pies at the interval has nothing to do with this,” smiled Ancór choir director Cecilia Madden.

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Cecilia Madded Ancór musical Director

As well as the 35 member mixed voice choir, the concert will feature well known Limerick solo singers, Emma English, Sarah-Ellen Murphy, Kevin Neville, Vlad Smishkewych, and a guest orchestra.

The programme consists of, “The Magnificat, a fabulous work by CPE Bach who was one of Johann Sebastian’s more famous and talented children.

“In addition we will perform a beautiful Christmas cantata by an Italian composer called Ottorino Respighi which was written in 1930. There will be a few familiar carols too,” said Cecilia.

This year Ancór celebrated their tenth anniversary with the launch of their CD Sing Joyfully, and added more trophies to their collection when they won the Early Music competition and Best Limerick Choir in the Limerick Choral Festival.

In preparation for a trip to Slovenia in the summer of 2017, the choir will be staging a number of concerts throughout the country over the coming months.

Cecilia, who is enjoying her role as Deputy Principal at The Limerick School of Music, said the sound of the choir has evolved over time.

“We have always called ourselves a chamber choir but we are nearly too big to say that now. We aim to have that kind of pure sound that may be heard in smaller, tightly blended ensembles, but with the slightly larger numbers we have now, we have the scope to vary the dynamic levels dramatically for expressive purposes,” Cecilia added.

Tickets are €18 (€15 for Seniors and Students) available from St Mary’s Cathedral or online at Ticketsolve – LIT Millennium Theatre

The Ancór CD Sing Joyfully is available from the Hunt Museum

https://www.facebook.com/ancor.ie/

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