About Bernadette
Bernadette 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 history.

Competitions & Tours

For 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 pop music.

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.

Bernadette receiving her prize at the Australian International Championships
with Australian Accordion Teachers Association
President Tania Lukic-Marx.

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.

South Pacific Accordion Championship presentation by NZAA
President John Statham and Vice-President Harley Jones

She 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.

Academic Achievements

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.

Later 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 backup.

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.

Bernadette 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 Orchestra

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 of Music.

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.

Bernadette the Performer

Despite 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 musicals.

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.

She 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.

Bernadette Zabawa
5479 Wil-Acre Drive
Loves Park, Il 61111

Phone: +1-815-885-8179
Email: bernadette.zabawa@hotmail.com

Clubs interested in having Bernadette perform on tour should e-mail her on accordionbernadette@bigpond.com.au
Details of her concerts can be found in the Future Events Section of the Accordion Yellow Pages: www.accordionworld.com

Bernadette Conlon has several CD's that are for sale.

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