was born with retro-lentil fibroplasia and is legally blind. This
hasn't prevented her from achieving some remarkable accomplishments.
Having less than one per cent sight, Bernadette has had to memorise
all of the thousands of pieces in her repertoire. She even memorized
the entire score to Fiddler on the Roof, while studying
for her top accordion exam.
By the time she was 15 (1994), Bernadette was the Australian National
Champion and Open Age Champion of both the Australian
Accordion Teachers' Association
and the Accordion
Society of Australia - and has since gone on to win
the National Championship at both organisations more times than
any other competitors have been able to achieve in the history
of either group.
Commonly referred to as the world's best
piano accordionist indisputably, Australia's foremost virtuoso
exponent and promoter of the accordion is Bernadette Conlon.
With a dazzling array of well over 100 first placings and awards
to her credit, Bernadette has almost single-handedly re-ignited
Melbourne's love for the accordion, through her remarkably varied
repertoire, which touches the hearts of audiences, young and old.
From her upbringing in country Victoria, facing the monumental
hurdles of being a visually impaired student, wanting to study
music, Bernadette overcame insurmountable odds to become the top
student, academically in her school, or Dux of her school,
Camperdown College, despite having travelled to Europe twice
during her final year for concert tours and study.
An unsympathetic school music teacher led her to take up and study
to grade 5 level, alto sax, flute and clarinet, which she used,
filling vacancies in the high school band.
When her parents found out she could not see well, they encouraged
her to consider music as a career. Bernadette started learning
the piano at the age of six, however she dreamed of being a concert
violinist. Her piano teacher suggested an accordion, which arrived
at Christmas. In spite of initial disappointment at the absence
of a violin, Bernadette has not looked back. Although she has
tried many instruments, which only intensify her understanding
and appreciation for music, the accordion and instruments of the
accordion family, remain her devoted passion.
Renowned in her local area, and having given hundreds of concerts
for charity, whilst still at school, Bernadette took her dream
to bring light and joy to the world through her music, to her
local capital city, Melbourne - and to the world. The rest is
the competitions in
June 1995, 1997, 1998 and 1999, she also competed in the South
Pacific Accordion Championships in Auckland (New Zealand),
and won the major class, the $1000 South Pacific Open Solo Championship,
in 1995, 1998 and 1999, and was placed equal first with Lin Yi Fan,
from the People's Republic of China, in 1997. These competitions
conducted by the New Zealand
Accordion Association are the largest in the Southern Hemisphere,
and Bernadette is believed to be the only Australian accordionist
to ever win an international accordion competition outside of Australia.
In all, Bernadette has won well over 100 first placings in competitions.
At home in Australia she was crowned National Champion on more occasions
than anyone in the history of the accordion bodies which exist in
Australia, the Australian
Accordion Teachers' Association of which she was champion on
7 consecutive years and the Accordion
Society of Australia. In addition she won numerous prizes for
classical playing, free bass, as well as stradella, folk, jazz and
Bernadette also won the Accordion Society's $1000 "Winner Take All"
International Accordion Championship, held in 1995, to commemorate
the A.S.A.'s 25th anniversary. This was the only major prize money
ever offered by the A.S.A.
receiving her prize at the Australian International Championships
Accordion Teachers Association
June 1996, Bernadette attending Accordion Masterclasses
in Remsheid, Germany, under a grant from the Australia Council.
Among her tutors during this trip were Fritz Dobler, Professor
Jurgen Lochter and Professor Geog Reidys.
Bernadette also attended the Accordion Teachers' seminar held
at the Music Education Centre in Auckland, in New Zealand.
She has given one hour recitals on A.B.C. National Classic F.M.,
as well as appearing on all Melbourne television stations, and
the National Nine, Seven, A.B.C. and SBS Networks.
Pacific Accordion Championship presentation by NZAA
President John Statham and Vice-President Harley
has appeared on drama shows, such as Good Guys, Bad Guys, and has
recorded numerous commercials. She also recorded the accordion track
for the very popular theme song in Sea Change.
She toured Europe in 1996, as solo artist and an orchestra member
with the Queensland Accordion Orchestra from Queensland, under the
baton of Ossie Mazzei.
Following the European tour, she was invited back to give concerts,
and in fact, returned in 1997 for a 3 week tour.
On an academic level, Bernadette was the
first person in Victoria to attain her Associate of Music Diploma
with the Australian Music Examination Board, (AMEB) Australia's
most prestigious music examination body, and in the following
two years at the age of only 16, became the only person to be
awarded the Licentiate of Music in both stradella and free
bass accordion systems with the AMEB. No one has yet been able
to emulate this feat. That this entailed playing on accordion
the same repertoire expected of a pianist, heightening her achievement.
Whilst in her final year of school, Bernadette received an Australia
Council grant to study at the Remcheid Academy of Music
in Germany, under Germany's leading professors.
that same year, she was solo artist and guest member of the legendary
Queensland Accordion Club Ossie Mazzei Orchestra, for its tour
of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The orchestra, and Bernadette
played to packed houses and received standing ovations wherever
they went, winning hearts and audiences at every stop.
A lack of teachers prevented her from taking the accordion to
a tertiary level in Australia, however she was the only accordion
teacher ever appointed by Melbourne University's secondary school,
the Victorian College of the Arts. This school had denied Bernadette
the opportunity of studying there ten years earlier, due to lack
of teachers to take her further, however, through her concerts,
busking and radio and television appearances with her beloved
accordion, the VCA's perception of the accordion changed and Bernadette
was appointed its first accordion tutor.
Many people question a blind person's ability to tutor students,
however Bernadette has produced Australia's two top young accordionists
at the moment, including the current Australian champion and Junior
Virtuoso, with many prodigies waiting in the wings with top exam
results to prove it. Her sight problem only heightens her sense
of musicianship for the accordion. But her knowledge is not without
She successfully applied to the Australia Council for a grant
to have an Australian composed Accordion Concerto (Concerto for
Bernadette), penned. The Naxos C.D (Classical Palette), containing
this concerto, performed by Bernadette and the State Orchestra
of Victoria, was launched in Ken Done's shop at The Rocks, Sydney,
on 30th July, 1998, by Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja.
Follow the launch of this C.D., the Australia Council saw fit
to grant Bernadette yet another $5000, to commission a new work
for piano accordion, by an Australian composer.
Bernadette also received a scholarship from the Dartington Trust
in England, in 1999, enabling her to study at the Dartington International
Summer School of Music, with professor James Crabb, from the Royal
Academy of Music in Copenhagen (Denmark).
In 1999, Bernadette was awarded the Dame
Roma Mitchell, Winston Churchill Fellowship, to study in Kiev,
under five of Ukraine's top professors at the Tchaikovsky National
Ukrainian Academy of Music, Professors
Ivan Jashkewich, Vladimir Besfamilnov, Nikolai Rizol, Pavel
Fenuik and Evgenia Cherkazova.
being presented a Bronze medallion for being the 1996 Australian
Champion, by Jacob Norzig (left) and Hubert Kellerer. This was
after a solo performance at Karun Castle, Saalfalden, Austria,
September 1996. Bernadette was on tour with the Queensland Accordion
Despite all Bernadette's travels in 1996, she completed her Year
12 V.C.E. and was in fact, Dux of her school, Camperdown College.
She also completed an Enhancement Study (Solo Performance and
Literature), with Monash University the same year, gaining High
Distinction for both.
This unique experience, not only of studying with one of the best,
but five of the world's top professors, rendered Bernadette capable
of playing and teaching with a myriad of different styles and
methods, not to mention the wonderful technical knowledge she
gained from this experience.
In the same year, under a Dartington Trust Scholarship, she attended
masterclasses at the Dartington Summer School of Music,
studying under Professor James Crabb of the Royal Danish Academy
2001 saw Bernadette return to Kiev under an Elizabeth II Queen's
Trust Achievers' Award. Here, she returned to study under
Professors Fenuik and Davidov, head of accordion at the Tchaikovsky
Academy, before travelling to St Petersberg, to study under the
famous Russian bayanist, Oleg Sharov.
Other concert tours have included Texas in 2001 and China, with
the North Shore Musicale from Auckland, NZ., with whom she toured
both as guest soloist and as a member of the orchestra. Her inclusion
in this tour came as a result of her long and warm friendship
with New Zealand accordionists, during her innumerable trips for
concerts and competitions across the Tasman.
her youth, Bernadette has performed at numerous music festivals,
including Castlemaine State Festival, Port Fairy Spring Music
Festival, Bendigo Easter Arts Festival and the Port Fairy Folk
Festival (6 times).
Bernadette is well known in Australia, particularly Melbourne,
as she is often seen busking with her accordion. Upon request,
she performs requests in all genre of music, from Classical to
Contemporary, Folk, Jazz, popular, as well as the more notable
She has also developed a large following as a concert accordionist,
for Accordion Clubs, Musical Societies and Associations, Social,
Service and Ethnic Clubs, Schools, Retirement Homes, Corporate
Functions, as well as Weddings, Anniversaries and Birthday Parties.
Bernadette travels interstate to Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and over
to New Zealand in 2000, and is planning a concert tour to England
and Europe around September, 2001.
In addition, she is in demand as an accompanist, not only for
folk singers, but also some of Australia's famous Opera singers.
Bernadette released her first C.D. in April/May 2000. The recording
of Bernadette's arrangements of her most popular classical music
has been recorded, using her midi reed accordion.
She has recently commenced passing on her skills in her own music
school, in Caulfield North, a Melbourne suburb where she gives
individual tuition on accordion and theory to aspiring accordion
students of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and levels.
Apart from her accordion achievements, Bernadette also plays clarinet,
alto saxophone, flute and violin.
has also recently developed a passion for other instruments of
the reed organ family, which she has played in concert, from bandoneon,
which she has played with orchestra and on national television,
to English, Anglo and Duet concertinas, Melodeons, Flutinas, Harmony
Flutes, B and C system and Diatonic Button Accordions, and even
a Chinese Cheng, which was a forerunner to the accordion. With
a collection, which she has acquired through the generosity of
enthusiasts and admirers, who wish her to put their old instruments
to good use, she has learnt many different instruments to a high
level of proficiency which she can teach.
She has also gained a reputation as an intuitively sensitive accompanist
for some of Australia's top singers and instrumentalists.
The Accordion Orchestra of Melbourne is Bernadette's brainchild
and she is very proud of its progress, from its raw beginnings
two years ago, to the wonderful, friendly mateship she has nurtured,
not only fostering good technique and musicianship to her members
and students, but providing the only platform for Melbourne accordionist
to play, discuss and learn from each other the wonderful world
of free reed instruments. This is the first orchestra which has
come into existence in the past 20 years. Bernadette's incessant
enthusiasm has kept this orchestra alive, where others have failed.
New members are always welcome.
In short, a tremendous knowledge of instruments, combined with
a brilliant, cascading technique, poignantly sensitive or alternatively
joyous playing and a vivacious stage presence have seen her turn
parties, weddings, dinners and other functions and concerts, into
memorable events and occasions.
This courageous young lady will bring that special something to
any form of occasion, from highly formal, to the family BBQ.
5479 Wil-Acre Drive
Loves Park, Il 61111
Clubs interested in having Bernadette perform on tour should e-mail
her on email@example.com
Details of her concerts can be found in the Future Events Section
of the Accordion Yellow Pages: www.accordionworld.com
Conlon has several CD's that are for sale.
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