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”.