Who We Are, What We Do

Meet the Founder and Director of etc. Music School, Mike O’Mara:

director Mike

“Director Mike” has been working professionally as a music educator and performer since 2000. He currently maintains a private piano, composition and vocal coaching studio of over 35 weekly students of all ages and experience. Mike holds a Master’s and Bachelor’s from DePaul University’s School of Music in Music Composition. While at DePaul, Mike studied composition with Dr. Kurt Westerberg, piano with Dimitry Paperno, harpsichord with Roger Goodman and was a member of as well as the accompanist for the upper-level Concert Choir under Dr. Clayton Parr.

Mike has had previous professional experience including 5 years overseeing the music education of a musical theatre program for students grades K-12, directing both children’s and adult choirs (both church and neighborhood), instructing courses in music theory to students grades K-12, and designing cross-curricular activities that showcase music in general classrooms throughout Chicagoland. He has been seen as a conductor and music director in musicals at the Theatre Building (Chicago) and North Central College (Naperville) and has served as an accompanist and coach with the Chicago Children’s Choir, Merit School of Music, Northwestern University and DePaul University.

As a composer, Mike’s choral, orchestral and musical theatre works have been performed by numerous ensembles, from grade schools to universities in American and abroad. In 2013, he had choral works premiered in Wisconsin, California, Ohio and Arizona. Mike recently premiered string orchestra arrangements in Japan at the Suzuki World Conference (Matsumodo) in March 2013. Multiple works of musical theatre by Mike were premiered in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles in 2013-14 and several vocal ensemble works are in the process of being prepared to be performed in 2015 and beyond.

Mike is the winner of the 2012 and 2013 “Silver Platter” award for Compositional Excellence from the American Choral Directors’ Association for his collection “Modern Madrigals”, a series of choral pieces for teens. Current projects involve “Precious Monster”, a 3-Act opera for young people which was first performed in New York in May ’14 (libretto by Ariel Zetina), “Mercy: Variations”, a full two-act musical theatre work with lyricist and bookwriter Larry Todd Cousineau (premiered in L.A. May ’13 and Chicago April ’14), and a number of indie/pop rock arrangements for mixed choir with band, as well as his large and ongoing output of works for all of etc. Music School’s students.

Most recently, Mike’s teaching philosophy and resulting leadership of etc.’s arts community was the focus of an Evanston Arts Council “Bright Spots in the Arts” presentation in October ’14, and etc. Music School was awarded the 2014 Evanston Mayor’s Award for the Arts for the school’s contributions to Evanston’s arts community.

As a teacher, Mike has been known for taking the students other teachers wouldn’t and inspiring them with unique repertoire and opportunities for personal expression. He brings these skills and a passion for sharing the arts with everyone in his community to his new endeavor and long-time dream come true, etc. Music School.


Teaching Structure and Philosophy: The etc. Mentor system

Director Mike O’Mara is present at all ensemble classes, offering his 15+ years of professional teaching experience in piano, voice, composition, music theory, theater and curricular development to the proceedings. Assisting him each Saturday during ensemble classes for school year 2014 is Natalie Vanderlaan, a music education major at DePaul University and budding singer/songwriter and a rotating team of high-school mentors. There are always 3 and never more than 5 teachers/mentors in every studio with our ensemble students at any time, including director Mike.

The Mentor system at etc. Music School is unique in that it recognizes officially the importance of community in a ‘community music school’. It teaches older students how to lead and instruct others, giving them skills and experiences that will aid them no matter what career path they choose down the road while offering the younger students a chance to work side-by-side with the high-schoolers and college artists they are looking to emulate. Both sets of students learn from one other, growing closer in the process and building confidence and camaraderie for all.

Rather than punishing our most-accomplished and most-dedicated students by taking advantage of their eagerness to help out, the Mentor system recognizes them by offering an additional $125.00 per term off of their family’s etc. tuition for their service (each mentor must apply to come and help on 6 weeks of each term). With other etc. ‘loyalty discounts’, this could mean that as students get older and give back to the school, their term’s bill gets smaller and smaller while their influence grows and grows!

For more information on the high-school Mentor program, please contact Director Mike O’Mara at etcmusicschool@gmail.com.


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