Petaluma Profile: Singing teacher Moreaux finds the magic in music

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“It’s an incredibly profound thing, to stand there with someone at the moment they come into their voice,” says Penngrove vocal coach Melinda Moreaux. “It really is amazing to be with someone the first time they begin to understand who they actually are, as a human being, and as a singer. I get to do that. I get to be there. It’s such a privilege.”

Moreaux’s website (MelindaMoreaux.com) identifies her occupation with a notably varied and whimsical list of titles: “Voice Teacher. Piano Teacher. Writer. Optimist. Joy Machine.” After fifteen minutes spent talking with Moreaux about her life, her love of music, and her passion for teaching, all of those descriptions make perfect sense.

Moreaux holds music degrees from Holy Names University and Sonoma State University. She’s studied music in Hungary and Italy, and is a frequent participant in the annual CircleSongs workshop led by Bobby McFerrin. Moreaux is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, the Music Teachers Association of California, the Organization of American Kodàly Educators and the San Francisco Early Music Society. With so much training and experience, it’s no surprise that over the last few years, she’s also been writing books on music theory, and is currently working at adapting some of them into interactive teaching programs accessible on portable devices like pads and laptops.

During a recent visit to her Penngrove music studio, built adjacent to her home in 2008, Moreaux describes a bit of how playing, singing and teaching music came to be such a driving force in her life. Music is not a career she chose, she says, so much as one that always seemed to be her destiny.

“My longing for piano was so deep as a kid,” Moreaux recalls. “I think at some point my mom got me this little two- octave plastic organ thing, the kind that was very popular in the ’60s. I was all over it.” Then something almost “magical” happened, she says. “I was probably 7-years-old or so, and one morning, I woke up and started looking around, before anyone else was awake, and I found this box of records of Horowitz playing Beethoven and Mozart, all this stuff. And I remember sitting there, curious, putting these 45s on the turntable and listening. And when I heard Mozart and Brahms, it was like hearing a memory. It was as if I knew every word. I was thinking, ‘This is my music,’ like maybe I’d dreamt it before, or heard it somewhere and then forgotten it or something. It was such a profound moment for me, and I didn’t fully understand it, but I clearly remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is it. This is it.’”

It would be another nine or ten years before Moreaux would get to take the next step, beginning to take piano lessons upon enrolling in the music department at SRJC.

“Going to the JC, with all the resources they had there, it was a new world to me,” she says. “The music appreciation classes, being required to go see the symphony, it was a whole new universe. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be surrounded by the richness and beauty of music. It was just incredible.”

Today, she teaches about 30 to 40 lessons a week, right her in her warm, sunlit studio.

“I think of this as my music spa,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a place of music and rest and healing and beauty.”

With a core group of students that range from children to teens to older adults, Moreaux says she’s exactly as busy as she wants to be. After years of trying different things, including directing a number of choirs, including Petaluma Sings and others, she’s content to teach one-on-one, and to occasionally sing herself, when the gig is the right fit.

“I love singing for funerals,” she says. “It’s one of my most favorite things on the planet. I sing for a lot of funerals, doing all kinds of music, all kinds of crazy stuff. ‘My Way,’ is a common one. I’ll sing ‘Danny Boy,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Ave Maria,’ whatever the family wants be to sing. I love it all. I love being there for the family at such an important moment, and because I’ve always loved making people cry with my singing, funerals are perfect. People ask me if it’s depressing, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. It’s strangely fun, though the pleasure I take is not something I show outwardly by laughing and smiling. It’s a pleasure I hold down deep, knowing that singing for funerals is a challenge that, for some reason, I seem to be suited to.”

Moreaux says she has I has students, sometimes, who remind me her of herself when she was seven, as they react to hearing some piece of music for the first time.

“It’s like they’re not discovering it so much as they are encountering it all over again, re-discovering it,” she says. “It’s like that music is somehow embedded in their genetics. With those students, it’s never like I’m teaching them. It’s more like I’m opening boxes for them to rediscover something they somehow already knew. That’s such an amazing things to be a part of. It reminds me, all over again, how lucky I am to do what I do.”

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