Mom was a concert pianist and church organist. One of her gifts was she could read any piece of music put in front of her. She especially loved playing Debussy, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bach, and Franck. Mom was frequently called upon to accompany vocalists and instrumentalists for recitals and auditions.
Dad played sax, clarinet, and boom-chick piano. In high school, he played in a dance band, gigging on weekends with pals from his small-town school. One of his gifts is he can play anything by ear. When I was growing up he often played at the piano after dinner and on weekends, especially after finishing chores with my younger brothers. Dad enjoyed writing original vocal and instrumental compositions, and vocal arrangements for his barber shoppe quartet and for the religious in the convent on the far side of the fairgrounds in the small rural coal-mining town in Pennsylvania where we lived until I was ten.
I grew up in a time when arts education was the pride of every community, whether in public schools or in the public square, and I was encouraged to participate in all of it: music, drawing & painting, poetry & creative writing, dance, photography. I began creating clothes for my dolls at age 5. Mom signed me up for piano lessons in first grade, when I was 6. Over time, I added to my portfolio the needle arts, calligraphy & book arts, cooking, costumery, collaborative arts. When I had worked for a while on a calligraphy project, a creative writing project beckoned; after working on that for a time, a knitting or sewing project next.
We moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio when I was ten, into a bigger pool of arts offerings, with more and different things to try. I was in my element. We moved again when I was fourteen, just before beginning high school, from Ohio to Massachusetts. The nascent arts and music programming in the school left me wanting, and my heart sank as I came to realize that I wouldn’t be expanding my arts education there. I felt defeated and frustrated and, initially, resentful, what with no big choruses to sing in or musicals to perform in.
But what ended up happening was that I became part of the group that built and led the music program there. Singing in newly established a capella and concert choral groups and learning to play a range of styles and instruments: piano in jazz band, oboe in concert band, trombone in the marching band. I took every music elective that was offered and invited others to join me. Ultimately, we took part in every musical we were finally able to produce in my last two years of high school. I became student conductor for concert band and took to arranging and transcribing Bach two- and three-part keyboard Inventions for brass and woodwind ensembles. I sang in District and All-State Choruses and was a founding member of an elite ensemble of high school vocal and instrumental musicians that met every Sunday at Northeastern University for an afternoon of rehearsing original arrangements that we then performed in Symphony Hall and in other venues across the Commonwealth.
Despite the paucity of music and arts programming offered in my high school (lo those many years ago!), what was offered got me up and to school on the rainiest of days. The affect the arts has had on me throughout my life has been boundless, but it was in those early, formative years that I developed an attachment to the arts and they became a lifeline to me as we relocated from the rural mountains of PA, to urban, central OH, and then to the quiet, reserved community in MA.
A personal connection with arts, culture, and creativity has an immeasurable impact on one’s life and well-being, place, and view of community. Among other things, my engagement has taught me patience, perspective, sequencing, problem-solving, persistence, and the joy of self-expression.
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