It was 2001. I was a newly appointed keyboard (NOT to be confused with piano!) faculty member in the music theory department at Peabody. I now had a regular paycheck, health benefits, a 403(b), a new apartment with actual bedrooms, and a roommate (the long-distance relationship had become an in-person relationship). I also had a pet–Igor the hedgehog, brought back from a pet store in Nebraska. Nebraska, by the way, is another story for another very distant day.
I also now had wheels; my friend Audrey sold me her 1991 Dodge Caravan (“Lady”) for $500, and I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it made, having a car. No longer was I tied to the Light Rail, the Hopkins shuttle buses which would drop me off near the overpriced, crummy Safeway but wouldn’t pick me up, the Metro which took you to the Reisterstown Mall and that was about it, or my own two feet. I now had a bicycle, too, but I was so afraid of either having the bike stolen or being hit by a car that I rarely rode it anywhere. The perks of owning a ten-year-old van included not worrying about bumps or scratches (hey, bumpers are there for a reason), and I even had a “Club” for the steering wheel. Quaint, I know.
Having a car meant I could now drive myself to piano gigs that were a result of Peabody’s referral service; anyone seeking musicians for an event would call the school and be given a list of names and phone numbers of available players. I played for private parties, weddings, students, you name it. It was work I absolutely loved doing, not only because it paid extremely well for the amount of time and effort it took, but it was fun and I was good at it, and I accepted gigs whenever I could. I was also a paid alto section leader at First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church, blocks away from Peabody, so I was still singing. My life was full of the things I loved, and what a relief it was to no longer be a slave to a student’s schedule.
Instead I was responsible for five sections of keyboard studies, both graduate and undergraduate levels. The undergraduate classes were no problem–even though several of these students could play circles around me, I could still harmonize “Amazing Grace” in all twelve keys and secondary dominant chords and they couldn’t, so that was okay. The graduate students were trickier. Let me remind you that in 2001, I was twenty-four years old. Many of my students were my age or older, which might not make a difference for some people, but for me it was difficult to get past the fear that maybe I didn’t know anything that they didn’t already know. I think my first task was to make sure that anyone who studied with Ann Schein or Leon Fleisher was automatically exempt from my class.
The year went smoothly enough; there were the usual bumps and missteps on both teacher and student ends, but for the most part I enjoyed what I was doing. I took a few lessons with my teacher, who encouraged me to consider working on a GPD (Graduate Performance Diploma, also known as a Graduation Postponement Degree) while I taught. It was an opportunity I should have taken, but I was still reeling from the rigors of the previous year, and I doubted my ability to juggle full-time teaching and another degree, albeit a much lighter load academically, and do well at either.
I went ahead and applied for the permanent faculty position because it would have been foolish to not do so. I spent weeks honing my résumé and writing my personal statement, and I remember submitting the application with a sense of accomplishment, accompanied by a dull feeling of dread. Was this really what I wanted to do? What an honor to be considered as an educator at such an esteemed institution! But I knew that along with my teaching duties, I would be expected to do much more. There would be a push for me to continue playing and performing at an extremely high level, something I felt I could barely do without having a recital or a jury deadline looming over me. Perhaps I’d be expected to compile a book, or present at conferences, or do all of those professional things that “real” music educators did. I felt too young and inexperienced; I didn’t have the maturity or wisdom at the time to know that I would grow into any situation, to understand that my worst enemies were self-doubt and a lack of belief in my abilities. So I withdrew my application, and ended up helping the committee select the candidate who was ultimately hired. Summer 2002 arrived, and I was free.
I was free to leave Baltimore and move to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I got married, had a baby right away (Connor, born July 1st, 2003), fiddled around with some music here and there (accompanying students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, singing at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, singing with the incredible vocal group Dulces Voces, teaching a handful of private students), and decided I needed to move back east, back to my hometown of Buffalo, where I would soon embark upon the next eight years of my musical career: Director of Music at Sacred Heart Academy, a private girls’ Catholic high school. Peabody had only been the beginning.