Michele Simon has been involved with music all of her life, and with Balkan folk music for most of it, as a dancer, singer, drummer and teacher. She was raised surrounded by music of all kinds, including classical (especially Bach), standards (especially Margaret Whiting, Frank Sinatra and Ella ), and American folk music. She sang before she talked, played cello and guitar, and most formatively, enjoyed trading harmonies with her mother's rich alto.
Her relationship with Balkan music started with folk dancing as a teenager. After a fifteen-year acting career, she was thrilled to join Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble in 1989, and attend EEFC’s Balkan Music & Dance Camp in 1990, both of which changed the direction of her life. She became fascinated by the traditional music of Eastern Europe and has been studying it ever since. Since her first trip to Bulgaria in 1991, she has been struck by the beauty of the land, in all its variety, that seems to be at the root of the singing, in all its variety. From beneath the snowcapped mountain peaks, a single a capella melody above multiple drones, sounds like what granite should sound like; the haunting unison melodies from the pine forested hills carry depth and darkness; the wide plains of fertile fields, the sparkling seaside, every stony village, yields voices rich with bright sharp resonance, infinitely complex and diverse ornaments, and stark lyrics, poems to everyday life. She travels to the southern Balkans - Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Croatia - as often as possible, and remains enthralled by the richness
and beauty of the land and cultures.
She has been inspired by countless musicians, both in the US and abroad, and has been lucky to study with, to name just a few, the late Nadezhda Hvoinova, from the Bulgarian Rhodope region; the late Esma Redzhepova, Queen of Romany music; Serbian folk specialist Svetlana Spajic; Mary Sherhart of Seattle; Jane Sharp of Berkeley; and Bulgarian master singer Tatiana Sarbinska, with whom she also trained as a teacher. Over the last thirty years she has been steeped in the complex odd-metered Balkan rhythms, singing and playing percussion in folk dance bands, including Anoush, Brass Menažeri, Helladelics and Zabava!. She has appeared on recordings and stages across America and in Bulgaria, as well as on Bulgarian and Serbian TV.
Michele didn’t set out to be a teacher, but after suffering a vocal injury, she worked with speech pathologist Tracy Baldwin to heal her voice, and then to learn about vocal anatomy and physiology, to learn the mechanics of how to "sound Balkan" without injury. She is an eager investigator in all things vocal, and she is grateful for her laboratory of private students, ensembles, and music camps up and down the west coast, and especially to EEFC’s Balkan Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino, CA, where she has been a staple for almost 20 years.
As a singing teacher, Michele's specialty is integrating Balkan vocal styles with American voices. With humor, warmth and patience, she focuses on placement and sound fundamentals, using innovative exercises and imagery, as well as her model skull, Bartholomew.