"There is this sudden look of joy and excitement on their faces... where, as a teacher, you see how you've helped them accomplish something they may never knew they could've done."
The following article is the first installment of our new Faculty Spotlight series, which highlights the stories and experiences of Real School instructors.
Voice Instructor Matthew Condon-Rivera, Real School of Music, Andover, MA
With an 'always on' positive energy and enthusiasm, Matthew Condon-Rivera has quickly become one of the most in-demand instructors at the Real School of Music in Andover, MA. The north shore native and New England Conservatory graduate works with voice students of all ages, and with RealJams Academy's musical theater program in the summer.
When asked what families say about their experience working with Matthew, John McElfresh, Andover General Manager, said, "His students are always amazed at how much they learn from him in each lesson. He gives them practical tools that make them better singers."
Growing up amidst a hybrid of classical, pop and musical theater repertoire, Matthew developed an appreciation for all genres of music at an early age. We asked Matthew about his musical beginnings, approach to teaching, and his advice for aspiring young musicians.
At what age did you begin music lessons, and who did you study with?
Matthew: I first began to take voice lessons when I was 10 years old. I initially took from a few different teachers, including from a couple in Topsfield, MA, before settling down with one in Boxford, MA.
Did you participate in your school orchestra, band, choir, or other school-sponsored music group?
Matthew: Yes, I participated in as many things as possible. I did chorus from 7th grade until senior year. It started out as a chorus and performance arts class, which then evolved into Chorus, Chorale, Jazz Choir, Barbershop, Districts and Theater.
Who were your favorite music teachers and why?
Matthew: Honestly, each teacher I have ever had has always furthered my love and knowledge of music. Each has brought something else to the table, has enabled me to keep improving my technique, and has furthered my love in different music and genres.
Who were some of your early musical heroes and inspirations?
What is your favorite early musical memory?
Matthew: When I would be singing in the backseat of the car, and sometimes sing so high, my mom would get so nervous and pull over. Now that was fun.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of Real School?
Matthew: Outside of work, I enjoy living day to day, seeing what adventures will arise. I enjoy to be with friends and family, always making new memories, having fun, and laughing uncontrollably. I am frequently finding myself involved in local community theater, always finding new characters to play. Hiking, being in nature and the outdoors, and hanging with my dogs are always a major plus to a day!
Why did you join Real School and what do you like best about working here?
Matthew: Well, there always comes a time when we stand back, and think "What am I doing?!" I was working in a job that I loved, but realized that I had put music on the back burner for far too long. I had been contacted by a friend, who works for the Real School as well, and was informed that they were looking for a new voice instructor. It was one of those moments where one door closes and another door opens.
And it couldn't have come along at a better time. Working at The Real School has been such an amazing venture. It has brought music to the forefront of my life, and has enabled me to constantly do what I love. Not only that, but I get to share my excitement, and love, for music with students who are just beginning their journey in music.
How has playing and teaching music made a positive impact on your life?
Matthew: Teaching and playing has made a huge impact on my life. I have been singing since an early age, and have never been able to see my life without music. Music has helped me in so many parts of my life. By finding confidence in myself, and my talent, performing has made me such a strong, confident person, both on and off the stage. It has helped me to become a strong speaker, and has helped me to step up more in social aspects.
Teaching has shown me something about myself that I never knew. I never had imagined that I would teach. I always knew that I wanted to change the world with music, but had always assumed that it would be through performance. By teaching, I have found a strength within myself that has helped me to pass on everything that I have learned to the next generation. By sharing my knowledge, it even furthers my confidence as a performer, and strengthens my own technique, by going over it with students, and finding ways to describe it differently and in ways meant for each student.
What are some of your most memorable teaching experiences so far?
Matthew: There are always such great moments with teaching. The funny reactions at a voice crack, or a warm up that seems extreme; there are just so many moments that make teaching worthwhile.
I would say that the most memorable teaching moments I have would be when each student has a breakthrough. When you work week after week on something, there are times you don't see why. But then, each student always has this moment where something clicks, and bam! There is this sudden look of joy and excitement on their faces, whether they mean to or not. It's there. And it is this moment where, as a teacher, you see how you've taught the student, and helped them accomplish something they may never knew they could've done. Those moments get me every time.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are looking to develop their skills?
Matthew: The most helpful piece of advice that I could give to any aspiring musician would be to never stop aspiring. No matter what anyone says to you, or what they may say about your music, never stop. Remember that music is what you love, and that you do it for you. They joy it brings you, the joy your music brings others and the feeling that brings. It is all for you.
Don't get deterred from negative opinions, because unfortunately, everyone has them. Rather, always look for the good. Even if it is 1 out of 20 reviews. Hang on to that good, and keep working at what you love.
What advice would you give to parents or caregivers?
Matthew: Always nurture the talent. Students take the slightest comments to heart, and one comment could change a performers ability in a flash. Always support the work they put into their instrument, allow them to explore with it and try new things, and always encourage them.
As with life in general, we all need a helping hand and words of encouragement. Musicians especially, we need that. We are putting ourselves and all of our emotions on our sleeves when we perform, and that needs to be nurtured at a young age. Always be honest with them, but in very constructive ways.
If you weren't playing and teaching music, what would you be doing?
Matthew: Oh man... this is is a hard one. Honestly, I have NO CLUE what I would do without playing or teaching music. I think that the arts would be involved somehow, whether it be fashion or interior design, painting or animation, or acting and voice overs. Whatever I did would still need to be highly connected to the arts world. It's just who I am :)
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