Weekender

‘It’s just in my soul.’ Happy Valley music scene newcomer Mary Ann Cleary is making a mark

Singer Mary Ann Cleary performs at venues around Centre County.
Singer Mary Ann Cleary performs at venues around Centre County. Photo provided

All things are in a constant state of change, which can be a source of fear, joy, or whatever emotion(s) you choose.

These days, I choose joy, and it’s the obvious choice because Mary Ann Cleary has come to town, has fallen in love (with our area), and plans to stay, which is great news for the music scene here in Happy Valley.

“I just love to play music,” Cleary said. “No matter what if I’m playing music, whether it’s with a ukulele, leading a band, or by myself, I love it. It’s just in my soul.”

And play music she does, in a variety of contexts, notably with the recently disbanded Dopplerpoppins, as a solo act, and with Eric Ian Farmer, with whom she will be playing Saturday at Good Intent Cider in Bellefonte.

Cleary maintains a robust performance schedule, but while she’s not performing or working her full-time day job, Cleary also gives private piano, ukulele and voice lessons, putting to good use the music degree she earned at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

“I started piano when I was 10,” Cleary said. “After grade school I kind of stopped, but when I went to college even though my major was voice I would take piano classes. My parents got me a ukulele in 2016 and I just really got into it.”

While she enjoys teaching piano and ukulele, Cleary has a significant performance history and formal training in voice, which she considers her primary instrument.

“I feel the most comfortable teaching voice,” Cleary said, “because I’ve been doing that the longest. I started taking lessons when I was 16. When I was in high school I was the lead in the play and my dad said, ‘You’re good, Mare, but let’s get you better,’ and he found me a voice teacher. Then, when I went to school I found my permanent voice teacher, who really taught me the classical technique.”

The formal training turned on a light for Cleary, who, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Each and All,” was able to yield herself “to the perfect whole.”

“Even though it’s a classical technique,” Cleary said, “you can use it in any style of the voice. The main things I (teach) my students are a nice, diaphragm supporting breath, exercises that will help strengthen every part of the voice, applying the exercises to songs, dynamics, and phrasing.”

It all can get quite technical, but Cleary’s gift is to elucidate those technicalities in a way that makes them seem simple and attainable. It’s obviously an approach that serves her well, judging by her popularity as a teacher and as a performer. Her Facebook page is filled with glowing reviews, and the gigs keep rolling in. To top it off, Cleary is well-received by the artistic community as a whole, even outside the music community.

“Living with Mare is nothing less than magical,” wrote State College artist Jessica Williams, who is also Cleary’s roommate. “Most people talk to themselves, Mare sings to herself. I get to work on paintings when she is practicing in the living room. It for sure pushes me to create in my own way while she is doing her thing. She is a bona fide blessing. State College is lucky to have this one here.”

In the future, Cleary hopes to increase her presence locally, and let the music guide her.

“I would like to get a steady gig,” Cleary said. “I enjoyed (Dopplerpoppins). I had such a fun time every week. So, that’s the end goal, but if I keep teaching and having my various gigs, that will be great too. The feeling and the fun I have when I’m singing ... I’m lucky. I’m so lucky.”

That lucky feeling seems to easily morph into deep gratitude as well.

“I’m so grateful and so blessed that I can actually perform and sing and play other instruments,” Cleary said. “There’s no other feeling than when you’re on stage performing. I feel like I can do anything when I’m on stage. I feel free. There’s just nothing like belting out the song, and also the connectivity with the audience. That really means a lot to me when I feel that.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.
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