A Romanian musician who is head of CIT Cork School of Music’s department of keyboard studies, Gabriela Mayer tells Roisin Burke why she loves Cork’s ‘rebel’ vibe
A TALENTED musician who speaks five languages, Gabriela Mayer is a force to be reckoned with and is happy that she settled in Cork two decades ago.
Living in Cork with her Canadian husband David Whitla and their two children, Alina, 19, and Sylvan, 14, Gabriela is the head of the department of keyboard studies at the CIT Cork School of Music, where she has worked for the past 19 years.
Born in Romania, Gabriela spent time in Italy as a teenager, before moving to America to live with her aunt.
She speaks Romanian, Italian, French, German, and English.
In 1997, Dr Mayer received a Fulbright Graduate Fellowship to Germany, where she studied piano performance at the Hochschule für Musik ‘Hanns Eisler’ in Berlin.
She also completed a doctorate in musical arts at the University of Maryland in the USA, where she met her husband, and taught at the American University in Washington DC.
Dr Mayer formed the Cork Piano Forum in 2005, during the Capital of Culture year, to promote concerts and masterclasses in Cork for local students and audiences, including the Piano Portraits series in the Crawford Gallery.
She performs in many concerts in the Crawford Art Gallery summer concert series, as well as at CIT CSM and other venues in Ireland and abroad.
Gabriela is also a member of Douglas Lawn Tennis Club and Carrigaline Badminton Club.
Discussing why she has spent almost two decades in the Rebel county, the academic musician said: “Cork is a vibrant city, and I love the variety of people and events that coexist here.
“I also love the ‘rebel vibe’ — it makes me feel like I fit right in.
“Even before we moved here, I realised that Cork had a reputation as a cosmopolitan city, and this translated into a lovely cultural urban atmosphere.
“Over the years, I felt that Cork embraced becoming a European city and certainly, there are a lot of tourists very happy to travel here,” she said.
“One of my American relatives spoke of Cork as the ‘Irish Riviera’. On a sunny day, it can really feel that way.”
Gabriela is also the president of WPTA Ireland, a subsection of the World Piano Teachers’ Association, and the mother of two is also a member of the Feis Ceoil sub- committee as well.
When not organising, teaching, or playing music, Gabriela said she loves walking and biking.
She also mentioned that she has a passion for cooking and enjoys picking up her ingredients at the English Market.
“I think Cork people have a real foodie culture,” she said.
“People really love and respect good food and good ingredients here and there is a great sense of pride and belonging that Cork people have, which is probably why so many return here.”
Walking the family labradoodle Luna is also a key pastime for Gabriela, and when she and the family want a break from the kitchen, Cork restaurants such as Isaacs and The Cornstore are top choices.
Although she spent a number of years in Italy and America, Gabriela said she often gets teased about her Cork inflections and expressions, which she has picked up over the past two decades thanks to her musical ear.
“I think I just pick up what is around me,” she said.
“It was the same when I was in Italy; I had the accent.
“I often get teased by my friends and colleagues about my Corkisms, as well as by any American or Canadian relatives.
“I also picked up the deep meaning and use of ‘I will, yeah’, meaning quite the opposite. Very funny.”
A truly multicultural personality, Gabriela enjoys visiting her relations across Europe and in the US and Canada when she can, including her mother, who lives in Germany.
“My father died 20 years ago and my mother is a German citizen so she lives there now,” she said.
“I try to visit once to twice a year. I’m hoping Germany will be on the green list for travel and we can visit in August.”
An accomplished musician, married to another accomplished musician, it is likely to be no surprise that both her children have followed in their footsteps and are musically talented.
“My daughter Alina, who just turned 19, is a serious cellist,” she said.
“She was musical director for the UCC musical theatre production of Legally Blonde in Firkin Crane in early March 2020.
“She has successfully auditioned and will be starting a full-time performance course in Switzerland this September.
“Sylvan, my son, is a keen pianist and percussionist.
“He has represented Cork in international competitions and performance courses in Germany and Austria, and performed in the RDS in a Rising Stars concert featuring talented students from Cork.”
The musician said she and her family have a great endearment with all things Cork and feel very settled here.
“I have lived in many places, and felt enriched by all my experiences, but home is here now, with my family,” she said.
“We made a life here, having moved to Ireland as newlyweds, and having and raising our children here.
“They are Irish citizens, and this is our home now. We have fulfilling work in a great place, and are happy with our quality of life.”