'Music Lady' helps people find their voice

Tim Alexander

America, and especially its youth, has been enamored with prime-time talent shows such as "America’s Got Talent" and "American Idol" since before the calendar flipped to a new millennium — and one local singing coach with a vast musical pedigree of her own could not be more thrilled.

“I know Simon (Cowell, the seemingly flippant and critical talent judge on 'Idol'),” said Edith Barnard, a self-described “voice and success coach,” who feels the show's real value lies in encouraging America’s youth to pursue positive goals and follow their talents.

“Simon is a really nice guy with a heart of gold. He recently donated a large sum of money to an animal shelter in Barbados, where I hold dual residency.”

Simon’s positive virtues aside, Barnard said a good portion of her youthful students enroll in her singing and acting classes so they can pursue their dreams of performing in front of a prime-time audience while the cameras roll.

Such motivation, Barnard said, is acceptable for youth trying to find their voices and struggling to express themselves.

“My focus is helping people get their inner voice clear first, then learning the techniques to build a bridge to their outer voice,” said Barnard of her calling.

“I want to help people feel comfortable on the stage of life. This applies to all ages.”

For the first time, Barnard — known to many as the “Peoria Music Lady” — has expanded her youth singing and acting classes to include 6-to-10-year-olds in addition to her ages 11-15 classes.

She cites an explosion of youth looking to enhance their musical and thespian skills as one of the main reasons she recently vacated her tiny studio on Prospect Avenue in Peoria Heights in order to accommodate more classes this fall at Lakeview Museum.

The classes, which began Sept. 23 and run each Tuesday evening until Nov. 11, teach young vocalists breathing and tone placement skills, while aspiring actors will be encouraged to develop their own unique acting style. The courses will culminate in a “Performance Showcase” offering a presentation for enrollees’ family and friends.

Meghan Panpaces, 19, and a senior at Notre Dame High School, took voice lessons from Barnard last year in preparation for her singing audition for a community playhouse production.

“I needed help with my skills, confidence and in learning a song for my audition, and Ms. Barnard helped me with all of those things, in addition to teaching me to read notes for vocals. It was a valuable class and she was really fun and nice,” said Panpaces, who credits Barnard with helping take her to the “next level.”

After nailing the voice audition for "Godspell," Panpaces went on to work in local theater productions with Corn Stock, EastLight and Peoria Players.

Barnard also contributes to productions by The Penguin Project, which promotes musicals featuring challenged youth. Bernard devotes Tuesdays to working with youth, and she offers “dramatic training, dramatic results” to area professionals seeking to sharpen their speaking skills and confidence.

In business since 1970, she is currently working with the staffs of two local doctors' offices to help them better relate to patients.

Also on her current client list: local politicians on both sides of the aisle, a couple of attorneys and a manufacturing executive. She is also helping a successful high school student prepare for interviews with prospective colleges. Corporate seminars are on her schedule, as well.

Barnard returned to the Peoria area three years ago because of a death in the family, after spending the previous 11 years in Barbados, where she met Cowell through mutual friends at a yachting club.

While back in Peoria, she rekindled a friendship with an old high school friend and the two were soon married.

She opened her studio in the Heights shortly thereafter. Barnard, who said she loves working with youngsters because of “their spontaneity, their love of life and love of music,” grew up in Delavan as the daughter of a Methodist minister who encouraged her to express herself musically.

Most weekdays, she would bring school friends home to view the Mickey Mouse Club on television.

The group would sing and dance along to nearly every show.

“As a child, music, theater and acting was a real important part of my life. I started my first piano lessons at age four,” Barnard recalled with a smile.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Illinois and a master’s in theater from the State University of New York at Binghamton before operating her own theater in Bath, Maine, for 15 years.

She has also served as a cultural ambassador to Greece and wrote a musical about the U.S. Constitution, “Courtly Appeal,” which won a White House award.

She currently serves on the board of the Apollo Theatre, where she produced her original family musical, “Flood of Creatures,” which benefited the Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter.

“I view my work as my mission and my passion, so I feel very blessed” Bernard said.

“My classes are all about making a heart-to-heart connection with all my students. The key is learning to speak from your heart.”

Those interested in registering for youth singing and acting classes — or for information on any of the other services offered by Barnard — can call 922-9058.