The DNA Of Place

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You can take the girl out of the music building, but…

Recently I was back on the campus of Carson-Newman University for the senior piano recital of one of my Delta Omicron students.  As the Alpha Gamma Chapter Mother, I do my best to attend these students’ recitals and share a quick moment backstage beforehand for a picture and a prayer.  I remember my own recitals and all the preparation that went into them, and how grateful I was to have support from friends and family in the audience.

This particular evening I seemed especially nostalgic, remembering the hours I spent in the music building (often referred to in my circle simply as “The Building”), its classrooms, the recital hall, my voice teacher’s studio and especially my practice room.

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I describe it as “my” practice room, although other students practiced in there, of course.  I adopted it as my favorite because an older student, Anita,  whom I viewed as a mentor, used it more than any other room, and I hoped that by practicing in there, some of her good mojo would rub off on me!  I’m not sure that happened; however, I did a lot of good work in that tiny space during my student years.

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My practice room was located next door to Dr. Paul Ridgway’s piano studio.  The rooms, while decently insulated, were not soundproof.  I often felt sorry for him and his students as I caterwauled my way through various vocal exercises before the real work of “practice” could begin.  Sometimes the actual practice sounded like caterwauling, too!

Although my major was vocal performance, I was required to pass a basic piano proficiency in order to obtain my degree.  I had taken no piano lessons prior to college, and beginning class piano taught me in short order that I have no talent for the instrument.  My talent for colorful language as I struggled to learn the rudiments of piano, however, grew exponentially!  But I did love the bright sound of the piano in my practice room, even though my mistakes often made it seem to groan under my fingers.

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That same piano is still in my old practice room.  And it still has the bright sound that I loved so much.  That piano helped me find my pitches as I practiced my repertoire, from Schubert lieder to Italian art songs to the lush French jewels by Duparc that I loved so much.  Not to mention the operatic arias!  My accompanists and I worked through the musical periods, spanning centuries and continents from inside my practice room.

I joke that I kicked the walls out of frustration so many times that my footprints are in the drywall, and that I swore and sweated so much as I worked in there that my DNA is still embedded in its walls, never to be removed!  In truth, though, I did leave a great deal of myself inside those walls.  I sang, laughed, cried, stomped, cursed and made a lot of noise in that little room.

And, every once in a while, I made music.

I also prayed, gave and received encouragement, hugged friends and shared secrets in there.  Some of the most beautiful notes I ever sang happened in there, with no one but God to hear them.  I carry that little room inside me like my own DNA, part of the intricate web of elements and experiences that make me the woman I am becoming.

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