Meet our wonderful voice and piano teacher–and spectacular Office Manager–Mairead! Her training and performance credits are wide ranging, from musicals, to pop, to an Irish band! As an APA grad who transitioned from the Musical Theater conservatory to MMET (and who was also part of the dance department!) she has direct insight into our local performing arts schools and how to prepare and thrive there. Not only is Mairead incredibly talented (just check out her video), she’s also kind and so much fun to work with.
Q & A with Mairead
MM: What instruments do you play (including singing), how did you get started with each one, and how long have you been doing them?
MS: I took up piano a few years ago, and then stopped. I picked it up again over a year ago at Orange Coast College! I love my piano class there, my teacher Mrs. Pombo is truly incredible. So I guess I’ve been playing piano for a little over a year, but I’ve been spending a lot of time on it. We get tested regularly and it makes me practice, a lot!
I’ve been singing since I could talk! My family is very musically driven (the Irish sing at any and every family event). My dad would bring out his guitar or accordion and we would just jam. I started taking lessons in 3rd grade and have been taking them on and off ever since. I always loved my lessons. Singing is so expressive, and I’m so grateful to have had that one on one time with so many different teachers to help me grow that side of my instrument.
MM: Who has inspired you musically?
MS: So many people! Growing up I loved Elvis and Dolly Parton. That being said, the Destiny’s Child album was on repeat per my demand for a while when I was really young. I’m one of those odd-ones-out who didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles, but once I did in high school they became a huge influence. My more present day influences stylistically would be Brittany Howard from The Alabama Shakes, Rachael Price from Lake Street Dive, and Brandi Carlisle. Rhythmically, I get really jazzed by Haim, plus being in a girl band is my dream. Vocal technique wise, Ariana Grande blows my mind. Every time I listen to her stuff I’m so inspired to practice more.
MM: Tell us about your vocal background and what types of music you’ve worked and trained in. I know there’s been musical theater, pop, classical and even an Irish band! I’d love to hear about all of that.
MS: I grew up doing quite a bit of children’s theater! Some of my favorite parts were Jasmine in Aladdin Jr. and Peter (yup, really) in Peter Pan. I don’t do a whole lot of musical theater type projects anymore, but I do love it, it’s so special.
I worked on some classical pieces in high school, and we do a lot of classical music in the Orange Coast College music department. I love learning more and more about the style all the time! Timeless music is really something to be marveled at!
I have spent time in two different Irish bands! When I was in elementary and the beginning of middle school I was in a band called “Wooden Tantrum” with my dad. We performed at festivals and events and the like. It was such a great introduction to that style of performing! Now I occasionally perform with the Irish band my dad is a part of here in OC called “Cillian’s Bridge.”
All of that aside, most of what I’ve done has been in the pop world. I’ve always loved the relatability of pop music, it resonates with people. Plus, it’s just a fun genre to sing. There’s so much room to leave your mark on a song.
MM: What’s your favorite genre (or genres) to sing in, and why?
MS: I love the fusion genres of popular music. I love to sing things that have the feel of pop music but with tones of folk or jazz music too.
MM: What are your current musical projects?
MS: Currently, I’m consumed by school projects. I’m working on a song for a musical theater workshop style class, classical pieces for my college voice lessons, and I’m experimenting with jazz improv for my jazz improv class. I’m looking to get my hands on a cool blues piece or maybe something in the pop world to start working on in my (very limited) free time.
MM: How do you practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?
MS: I practice whenever I get the chance. If I have 20 minutes before bed, I pull out the keyboard. If I get out of a class early at school, I jump into a practice room. Sometimes I get up early before classes to practice, or I mentally set aside a chunk of my time on days off to rehearse my pieces. I do a mixture of taking advantage of the time I happen to get, along with making time to make sure it happens.
I think one of the most overwhelming things when you start practicing, is just figuring out where to start. I always try to give students specific things to practice, because once you just have somewhere to start you’ll branch out in your own time.
MM: What are your top music goals?
MS: I’d love to start writing sometime soon, I’m still working on being comfortable trying that. I have lots of ideas, just haven’t figured out how to structure them. As I said before, being in a girl band is my dream. I’d love to get together a group of really cool girls who love to make music, and just perform wherever we get the chance in the area. Other than that, I’m working on transferring to a university for a bachelors in vocal performance. If I get the opportunity, I’d also love to get my masters in vocal pedagogy, but I’m trying to take things one step at a time!
MM: How’s your experience at OCC so far? Tell us about the program.
MS: I love the OCC music program. The professors are so genuinely invested in their students, and will do anything they can to help you succeed. There are so many opportunities to learn, perform, and meet fellow music students. The program really stresses learning about the technical side, theory and sight reading, as well as the history of music. It has really stretched me to try new things and work harder as a musician. I have nothing but good things to say, I love the OCC music program so much!
MM: Tell us about APA! Which conservatory did you graduate from? What were some of the highlights of the program for you?
MS: APA holds a really special place in my heart. So many of my favorite memories come from that program, and most of the people I still spend time with from high school I met in APA. I did a year in the musical theater program, which was so fun. I realized near the end of that first year that I loved musical theater, but it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to be doing. That’s when I auditioned for their popular music program MMET (Music Media and Entertainment Technology).
MMET is a truly remarkable program. Jamie Knight, the head of the program at the time, gave his heart and soul to his students. We did really cool set lists, from new wave, to funk, to a show fully devoted to the role of the keyboard throughout the growth of contemporary music. We also did a show every year called “Playlist,” where the students created the show based on our favorite hits and hidden indie music gems. My favorite memory from the program was singing “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals for my last show. It was a song my mom always sang to me and my brother as a kid, so it was the perfect song to close out my time in the program.
As a side note, I was also in the dance department for all 4 years! I had the opportunity to work with so many unbelievably talented choreographers.
MM: If you were stranded on a desert island with only one album to listen to, what would it be?
MS: I tried to decide, but I’m stuck between “Sound and Color” by The Alabama Shakes and the Beatles’ “The White Album.”
MM: Anything else you’d like to share?
MS: I know I only just started a couple of months ago, but I am truly loving working here at Molly’s Music! I am so lucky to be doing this job, and I’m endlessly grateful to share the love of music with this community!