Michelle Harvey took an adult education class at the University of Utah and ended up spending hundreds of hours helping the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County fire departments teach children about fire prevention and fire safety.
Harvey, a professional singer with the Utah Opera Company, said she was despondent after her father died in a farm accident last year and decided to enroll in the clown class to help cheer her up. "I felt learning how to cheer up others might help me brighten my own spirits," she said.In the clown class she met Al Goldman, of the Salt Lake City Fire Department's public relations department, who is a clown and who was helping to teach the clown class; and Jay Miles, of the Salt Lake County Fire Department's public education department, who was, like Harvey, a student learning to become a clown.
The two firemen asked her to help them teach children about the dangers of fire, the proper ways to use fire as a tool and fire safety skills. She ended up writing the words and music to a fire prevention and safety song and then wrote another song about the emergency phone number 911. An accomplished guitarist, she played her own accompaniment and sang the songs, which were then tape recorded and played in about 30 Salt Lake City elementary schools.
In October, she went with Miles and other Salt Lake County firefighters and paramedics to 64 schools and sang her two songs and talked to more than 50,000 children.
Miles recently applauded her efforts, which were given to both fire departments free of charge. Surprisingly, she appeared as a clown in none of the programs. "The clowning will have to wait for next year," she said, smiling.
Harvey grew up in Huntington, Emery County, and graduated from Emery County High School in 1975. She earned a degree in education at Brigham Young University in 1979 and taught school three years in Emery County elementary schools and Emery County High School.
She and her husband, Carr, an engineer, moved to Salt Lake City six years ago, and four years ago she joined the opera company. She sings in the opera company's chorus and also plays the part of Little Red Riding Hood and the little girl's grandmother in the company's Opera in the Schools program.
Harvey hopes to publish her songs soon, so they will be able to help a greater number of children and, she said, she hopes to write more songs. Her next performances with the opera company will be next year in Die Fledermaus.