Brian Farrell is a passionate musician, but instead of pursuing his own career in music he chose to foster the abilities of others.
“The stuff we end up doing, the kind of things we do in our lives, are the things we just seem to have passion for,” he says.
Music was always present in Farrell’s childhood and when he was nine, he began taking piano lessons from a ‘Renaissance man’ who taught him to think independently.
“He just was unafraid to ask really difficult questions to get the right answers. There was no right or wrong, but to get the answer that was rooted in the depth of understandings,” Farrell says.
As Farrell grew older, music began to play an even bigger role in his life. He was the piano player for the school choir and was later a church organist.
Once he graduated high school, Farrell’s love of English led him to consider becoming a lawyer. But after auditioning at several schools and being accepted into a music program, Farrell chose to combine his interests and pursued a double major in Music and English at the University of Western Ontario.
Even though he once seriously considered studying law, Farrell says he knew he would have ended up studying music no matter what.
“I still loved it so much that it was kind of crazy to leave something like that on the shelf,” he says.
Yet instead of pursuing a career as a musician, Farrell decided to become a teacher immediately after graduating from university. His first teaching job was at a junior high school as a music instructor.
Farrell says his desire to teach stemmed from his love for people and his respect for the profession.
“The pedagogy of teaching is so linked to the brain and how the brain works, it’s so linked to the everyday life of the human being,” he explains.
Today, Farrell is a well-respected vocal coach and artistic mentor. He’s taught many notable musicians including Kiesza and Paul Brandt, who recently sang at his daughter’s wedding.
Farrell believes the presence of a mentor in a student’s life makes all the difference and his past students testify to that. Performer Raghav, a former student of Farrell’s, believes his career might not have happened if he hadn’t had Farrell as his high school music instructor.
“That validation that I could actually do something with my voice and my writing ability was incredibly important, for me and my family,” Raghav explains.
Another former student, Robyn Hauck, says Farrell’s unique teaching style was effective for her.
“His training is less technical, and more style and getting inside the music. I think for a long time I was a bit robotic in terms of looking at the music from a more technical perspective, but he’s brilliant in forcing a singer to get inside the music,” Hauck says.
Farrell uses his teaching skills far beyond private coaching. He's the artistic director of REVV52, a performance group made up of Calgarians performing arrangements of contemporary music. He also runs a workshop for professional musicians called the Reboot Lab and the director of a choir for Parkinson’s patients.
No matter the setting, Farrell believes personal or public success in music requires far more than just talent.
“You need a really safe environment where you can fall on your face and you can get up, you can try stuff on,” he says.
From the moment he first sat down at a piano, Farrell received unwavering support from his own family. He hopes all who have a love for music experience the same and does what he can to make this a reality for his students.
Though he has already been successful as a vocal coach and mentor, Farrell still has many plans for the future. He hopes to continue his travels, teach as much as he can and keep learning himself.
“You’re so humbled by the incredible array of what there is to learn out there. That's inspiring.”
- By Donna Kroker