Teacher at the Redemptorist Centre of Music (RCM) and performer Aleksandra Lucic will be giving a solo performance at a lunch time concert in St Mary’s Cathedral on September 18.
From Croatia, Aleksandra is a classical guitarist, “I started to play guitar when I was ten years old in the music school, and since my first touch with the guitar, I knew that music and especially guitar would always be my main subject, my passion and love”.
Aleksandra who has a Diploma in Musical Arts said, “I was lucky to be supported by my parents, but I also had a very good guitar teachers. I’m very proud that I can say that I was a student of Professor Mila Rakanovic, one of the leading guitar professors at that time in that part of Europe.
“I have performed numerous times in Croatia and all the rest of the states of Eastern Europe and won several prizes in International Guitar competitions in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
In 2016 Aleksandra moved to Limerick with her family, and since then has been working in the RCM as a guitar and ukulele teacher, where she teaches everything from classical to contemporary music, and shares her knowledge and more than 16 years of teaching experience with her students.
Following a recent well attended lunch time concert in The Granary Library, this will be Aleksandra’s first time performing in Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
The audience will be treated to a solo concert of classical music, and experience a sense of travelling through time and around the world as Aleksandra performs pieces spanning from the Baroque period to the 21st century.
The programme will include pieces by J.S.Bach, A.B.Mangorè from South America-Paraguay, and F. Tarrega from Spain.
“After Spain we will travel to the United States in Tennessee with the composer Lawrence Long and then continue to South America through pieces by Antonio Lauro from Venezuela and Jorge Cardoso from Paraguay. For the end of the concert I will bring the audience back into Europe with the composer Roland Dyens from France.
“I’m very happy to work in the RCM where the environment is so friendly and all of the teachers are very talented. With this concert and the rest of them, that I intend to perform, I would like to show gratitude, and give a piece of me through the music to the RCM and the community of Limerick,” added Aleksandra.
The concert will take place at 1.15pm on Wednesday, September 18, at St Mary’s Cathedral.
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.
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”.
“Music feeds my soul and mind, where words fail – music speaks. It is a presence of harmony and beauty in our world, an incredible energy that connects and unites people,” said teacher at the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA) and well known pianist, organist and accompanist Irina Dernova.
Irina’s earliest memory of music was at around three years of age, “There was a lot of music on the radio, TV and tape-recorder, that I liked to listen to. My parents sang songs, and there was a piano in my crèche where a teacher played it almost every day for us.”
From her first music lesson Irina remembers seeing a grand piano for the first time as a very exciting and a magical experience, then listening as her teacher played a variety of sounds, and showed her chords and tunes, and she can still recall her first attempt to create a simple tune.
Now in her seventh year of teaching at the MWVA, originally from Russia where she studied music, Irina has worked as a piano teacher, piano performer, accompanist, repetiteur, composer, arranger, organist and choir director both in Russia and Ireland.
“As a musician who plays music on daily basis, and performs at concerts and other occasion, I love sharing all I know with young and not so young musicians, beginners and those who play for a while. It’s part of my life.
“For me, teaching is the process of discovering and unveiling of that special musical language and the instrument’s possibilities to my students. Finding out what music touches their hearts and enjoying it as much as they do, and helping them to learn how to read music and play by ear, and supporting their interest and ambitions.
“I love to help them to become able to express themselves, to become confident performers, it does not matter if it’s for sitting in a room in their house or for a talent show in their school, competitions or exams.
“It’s a great pleasure to help them to make steps towards learning the art of playing the piano, to broaden their knowledge of different aspects of playing the instrument and listening to and appreciating the music,” said Irina.
For Irina music has brought many friendships and lots of memorable moments and events into her life, by collaborating with other musicians and sharing precious moments of music playing and listening. She has also enjoyed crossing paths with very interesting and talented people.
“It’s very hard to imagine life without music, especially here in Ireland. Of course, one can just stay a listener, but it’s so much more exciting and gratifying to try the instrument, figure out how to make music on such a beautiful instrument as the piano, to learn a tune or a piece you love, or make your own music, or achieve the exam grades and have a life-long skill,” added Irina.
By Louise Harrison
Teacher at the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA) Fiana Ní Chonaill’s earliest memory of music was from her Primary school years at Ahane National School, when she learned the song Éiníní.
Little did she think when her grandmother took her to her first music lesson at the Limerick School of Music to learn the harp many years ago, that she would end up touring the world as a professional musician and sought after soloist.
From Castleconnell where Fiana studied harp with Dr Janet Harbison, this will be her second year teaching at the MWVA. Though her main instrument is the Irish harp she also plays concertina and pedal harp.
Having completed a BA in Irish Music and Dance at the University of Limerick (UL), Fiana went on to study at Newcastle University in the UK where she graduated with an Mmus in Musicology in 2013.
Currently pursuing a PhD at UL in Music and Tourism, Fiana is a recipient of the Comhaltas TTCT teaching Diploma and is a trained adjudicator.
What does Fiana love about teaching music?
“Watching students progress and develop and seeing the joy it can bring to their lives.
“Music is a fantastic education, and as well as teaching you how to technically play, you learn to appreciate all types of music as well as that, it’s good for your brain,” smiled Fiana.
Fiana has toured extensively in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Cyprus and the USA as a member of the Irish Harp Orchestra. She has given many solo concert performances, and collaborated with flautist Matthew Dean on his album “Trasna Na Farraige”. In 2016 she released her debut solo CD, ‘Dathanna an Cheoil’ (The colours of music).
According to Fiana the highlights of her career to date have included performing for former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, The Emperor and Empress of Japan and other state officials and dignitaries as well as performing in front of 50,000 people as part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Trafalgar Square in London in 2014.
“Music has brought fun, friendship and a passion into my life,” added Fiana.
By Louise Harrison
Student of the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA), Soprano Helen Hancock, will perform at ‘The Art of Song’ concert, in the Yeats Tower of Thoor Ballylee, Galway at 8pm on Saturday August 24, as part of Heritage Week.
The Oranmore native, now in her fifth year of vocal studies with tenor Owen Gilhooly, has just returned from Abingdon Summer School for Solo Singers in the UK, and is looking forward to performing with her piano accompanist.
“I love singing with Mark Keane and Thoor Ballylee is a gorgeous intimate performance space. I always enjoy explaining the background to the songs and arias which brings them to life for the audience,” said Helen.
A teacher in Coole Music in Galway, director of recorder ensemble ‘The Whistleblowers’ and choir the ‘Marine Singers’, Helen originally qualified and worked as an engineer.
Though she had studied singing in the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) while studying in UCD, it wasn’t until she met Owen at a conducting summer school in Limerick that she returned to vocal studies.
“What a fateful day, I had always wanted to resume solo singing but didn’t know there was anyone teaching at that level in the West of Ireland. I started with Owen in the MWVA and he believed in me, and pushed me from the start. In that time I have done grade 6, 8, ARSM and have just completed my DipABRSM,” added Helen.
Though used to public speaking, Helen said she was quite shy and nervous when she began singing as a soloist, but over time has learned to harness the adrenaline of performance and believes it now it makes her sing better.
“Becoming a singer doesn’t happen overnight, I have plenty still to learn and my studies will never end but I think the Licentiate Diploma is next on the menu. I find exams give you a good target to aim for when you are outside the Conservatory system.
“The DipABRSM forced me do loads of reading on history of music which really enriched my understanding of what I am singing. I sing every single day, I have children so when they are at school that is my lesson and practice time. I record all my lessons and work on the detail over and over again and with Owen there is always loads of detail,” Helen smiled.
Helen said solo singing involves a lot of time spent alone and you have to be a self starter with a lot of self belief. She has driven from Galway to Limerick for four years for her weekly lessons with Owen, which she said was a big commitment but she has found it to be incredibly rewarding.
“Having a teacher who is also a performer is great, he, like any performer, is constantly working to improve his own voice and that knowledge and skill really comes into his teaching. I never dreamed when I started out how far I would get and I am really optimistic for bigger things in the future. I owe Owen so much, becoming a singer has brought me home to myself and is the most significant thing I have ever done for myself,” added Helen.
Having a week of singing in the UK, Helen will attend another vocal course in France in September.
“Those weeks are magic and keep you going for months. In the normal world people don’t always understand the life of singer and it is amazing to be with people who think and feel like you do- your tribe,” said Helen.
Helen has had much experience of performance in multiple setting over the last number of years, but this year her ambition is to sing with an orchestra, “I have sung so much choral repertoire with orchestras in the past, but I always looked at the soloists with such envy. I didn’t know back then how much work would be involved to get to that level”.
Helen and Mark’s performance on August 24 will include a varied programme of Baroque, opera, art song and musical theatre.
Admission is €10 for adults and €5 for children and tickets are available on the door on the night. Refreshments will be available at the interval.
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.
I recently asked Life Coach and Poet Anne Tannam how she manages to balance her busy artistic and business life.
“The biggest difficulty is to use my time wisely whether in my artistic or business life. And the older I get, the less I see those lives as separate. Both lives complement and inform the other.
“ For example, as a poet, apart from the serious business of writing and developing my craft, I need also to network, to make strategic decisions regarding what workshops or festivals to attend, run or perform at, where to submit the work etc.
“Equally, in my business life, there is the day to day running of my practice, and all that entails, but the coaching process in and of itself, is a collaborative creative process which at its best, is an art form,” said Anne.
Anne who has lived in Dublin 12 all her life, has a background in teaching, and qualified as a Life Coach in 2009. In 2011 she left her teaching job and began working part-time as a strategic brand researcher for Brand Development company Islandbridge,
Anne is now taking more time to focus on her writing and building her coaching practice, and this year she will gain her Accredited Coaching Course (ACC) accreditation from the International Coaching Federation.
“I never thought to be a writer when I was growing up. I read but the idea that I could write literally never crossed my mind. Even in college, studying English, I always thought of writers as a breed apart.
“It was only after a good friend offered to coach me, as part of her training as a Life Coach, that I discovered this burning desire to write. Up to that point, I did not believe I could write, or that I’d have anything important to say.
“So the year I turned forty, I committed to turning-up for an hour every day to write, and that’s what I did. For one year, I got up early in the morning, turned on the computer and wrote. Slowly and tentatively at first, and then with more confidence as I found my voice,” added Anne.
Anne said she does find that her Life Coaching influences her poetry and vice versa, “The writing of poetry is all about deep listening: to oneself, to others, and to the world as it breathes in and out.
“At the heart of the core, coaching competencies is attentive listening. It’s often the silences between words that tell a deeper truth. The process of coaching and the process of writing require a slowing down, a willingness to be open, to lean into uncertainty, to trust what’s unfolding. At their heart, they are both expressions of a deeply lived life,” said Anne.
What drew Anne to Life Coaching was the simplicity and clarity of the process, she said people are wired for progress and coaching provides a solid framework to explore what people really want from life, she enjoys helping others set out, step by step ways to achieve their goals.
“When I turned-up to writing eleven years ago, I had no idea how my life would be transformed by the simple act of committing to a course of action, despite having no certainty about the outcome.
“The act of creating art through my poetry has brought immeasurable pleasure and satisfaction into my life. There’s the obvious satisfaction in having my work published and appreciated, but equally wonderful is finding a world-wide tribe of people who share the same passion for words.
“As a coach, I get to witness others finding their passion and purpose, in all areas of their lives, and that privilege is one I’ll never tire of,” added Anne.
On a recent trip to Turin, I happened upon a lovely restaurant called Boka, and became completely absorbed by the unusual artwork on display.
One of the owners noticed my interest and handed me a business card for the artist, Bisha art, the artists name is Pino Amato.
“I realized I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid, watching my dad create his collages, he had a great technique, I was hypnotized by that. I wanted to mix images in order to change the meaning of it and that’s what I do now.”
From Turin, Pino is a self-taught artist. By day he works at an IBM help desk, but he says he eats, sleeps and dreams about art, and at the moment has to balance work commitments with his passion for his art.
“Art is not always considered as important as new mobile or similar, that’s why a real artist is poor most of the time. I could live with art if I had the chance to build the studio I want, it’s a matter of time.”
Pino has had many exhibitions, such as the See-Me project in New York City (NYC) and the Louvre, he is currently a featured artist at MICA the Maryland Institute College of Art, and he has some personal exhibitions such as at Boka in Turin and at the Fifty House Hotel in Milan.
“See-me was really cool, their project is to celebrate creators of art, any art. In NYC they exhibit all the works on a skyscraper. At the Louvre was the fifth annual Exposure Award, there I was selected with a few other artists. They had a special area inside the Louvre, it was really cool. The MICA institute was really a surprise. They simply contacted me and asked if I was ok to be exhibited permanently on their online gallery, amazing.”
Pino loves to exhibit his works in public places, such hotels or restaurant, where there’s a lot of people moving. He is most creative at night and in the afternoon.
“I hate the rain, the dark winter but sometime can be useful. I can work everywhere there is a good mood, where I can find aesthetic elements I recognize. Some idea need to be ripe as a fruit, some is ready made as soon as it comes in my mind and I see it real.”
“My style is fed by the world, the news, the people, I take my inspiration from what I see around me, that is creating a perpetual motion.”
Pino can work on a new idea for months or just a few hours, it depends how he is inspired.
“I’m really the bohemian artist cliché, I’m thinking about crowd funding. I need to have a real stable studio. I’m fighting with my living monthly. The Fifty House hotel chain in Milan commissioned me a job for a couple of hotels they have, plus I’m selling some works to people randomly. It takes a lot of effort and thinking to create art, even if I love it.”
www.bishadesign.com to see more of his work
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 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 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.