Teaching

Clara O’Brien is Associate Professor of Voice at the School of Music of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Professor O’Brien comes to North Carolina after more than twenty years of performing in Europe and the United States. For seventeen years, Professor O’Brien based her career in Germany and regularly appeared on the operatic and concert stages of such cities as Berlin, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Dresden, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Dallas, Chicago and many others. Her many roles range from Baroque to contemporary and include Octavian, Komponist, Adalgisa, Mignon, Dorabella, Donna Elvira, Elisabetta (Maria Stuarda), Rosina, Cenerentola, Musetta, Hélène (La Belle Hélène), Fenena (Nabucco) and numerous roles at the International Händel Festspiel.

In addition to operatic and concert appearances she was a member of “Ensemble Surprise” which performed chamber repertoire from over seven hundred years of music history. She also is a regular recitalist and private voice instructor.

Professor O’Brien holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music (M.M., Performance Certificate) and the Dana School of Music (B.M., Summa cum laude) and completed her stage training at the Curtis Institute of Music. She was a Fulbright Scholar and was awarded a fellowship to the Münchener Singschul’. Before joining the faculty of UNCG, Professor O’Brien was Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Oklahoma. Many of her students are now successfully pursuing performing and teaching careers throughout the United States. She has also taught at the American Institute for Musical Studies in Graz, Austria and gives masterclasses throughout the United States.

Teaching Statement

As a teacher and mentor, I strive to help my students to the path of becoming the complete vocal musician. By this, I mean a vocal performer who has a comprehensive mastery of all the important aspects of a fully trained, competent and confident musician, completely in control of their voice, fully knowledgeable about music and totally engaged as a person making music come alive and move the listener.

I can divide the process of mentoring a student toward the goal of becoming a complete vocal musician into three categories, three questions:
  1. Complete mastery and control of the instrument.
    How do I make my voice do what I need it to do?
  2. Thorough knowledge of musicianship skills.
    How do I make music from these notes?
  3. The creative development of an individual “voice”.
    What do I bring to music that is unique and special?

A pleasing tone and a strong voice are great beginning points on the journey to becoming a complete vocal musician. We study voice to learn how to master and train our instrument – our voice. Each person’s instrument is unique and they must learn how to control and use it in their own individual way. Here’s where I come in. I offer methods for each student to gain full mastery of their body through a combination of a thorough technical knowledge of the mechanics of the vocal apparatus and imaginative techniques to control the voice. The combination of understanding how a sound is produced and creative means to tap into that potential produces a competent singer. With each student, the combination is different, and together we find the ways that are most effective in creating and maintaining a proper vocal technique, a technique which is intended for a lifetime of healthy, smart powerful singing.

I like smart musicians. A voice student needs to know the historical context of music, how music is put together and the proper method of interpretation. Music theory, aural skills and music history – music fundamentals – are not simply classes to pass on the way to a degree in music. They are the tools of music literacy and an integral part of what we learn at the collegiate level. I want my students to be fully fluent in music so that when they look at the page and they know exactly what is expected and how to execute it.

I want my students to do more than simply imitate me. I want them to bring to music something new, exciting and unique to them. Certainly we all learn by imitation, but each student is a creative, intelligent and thoughtful individual, who has something unique to contribute to music. Mature musicians have a “voice”, something about their performance that no one else can do and which sets them apart. In mentoring my students, I try to find ways to release that potential in each of them. I try to find what makes you unique and how to exploit your creative impulse to shape your performance so that a listener hears and appreciates the unique you.

I see each student as an individual, someone with a unique gift they wish to bring to fruition. I am there to guide this process with my experience, knowledge and personal interest. I expect a lot from my students and I expect to give much in return. Their reward is my reward. Being part of their journey is why I teach.

Education

  • Hochschule für Musik, Heidelberg/Mannheim (Fulbright grant)
  • Curtis Institute of Music (post-graduate study, opera)
  • M.M. Eastman School of Music (Performer’s Certificate)
  • B.M. Dana School of Music (Summa Cum Laude, Dean’s List, Vindicator Best Student of the Year)

Teaching Positions

  • Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
  • Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma School of Music
  • Visiting Professor, University of Oklahoma School of Music
  • Faculty, American Institute for Music Studies in Graz (AIMS)
  • Masterclasses at various universities through the U.S. and Canada

Academic Awards

  • Faculty Research Grant, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
  • Research Council Grant, University of Oklahoma
  • Junior Faculty Grant, University of Oklahoma
  • Rothbaum Award nominee

Teaching Videos

For information about Professor O’Brien and the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, please contact her at cjobrien@uncg.edu.