When I was a young girl, every day when I came home from school, my mother asked, “Jane, what questions did you have today?” My mother knew that if I asked my own questions and found the answers to them, I would have powerful preparation for life.
Every day after school (and on evenings and weekends), I practiced piano lessons. As a deaf child, my mother also had taken piano and she expected me to do the same. I learned notes, how to read music with all its symbolism, and acquired concepts like tempo, loudness, softness, rhythm, harmony, discord, conflict and resolution. I learned about the physics of sound and mathematics of music, all of which contributed to my ability to acquire spoken and written words and language as my parents and family wanted.
Eventually I advanced to chords and had a glimmer of their brilliant complexity. Chords frustrated me because I could not grasp their meaning, in as much as they were pure sound. So one afternoon, I asked my mother a good question. I turned to her, with some tears of frustration in my eyes, and said, “Mom, WHAT am I doing this for?”
So my mother started arranging for me to go to concerts. One night, I dressed in my first formal gown and went with my speech teacher, Katherine Madigan, to a Van Cliburn concert in Mechanics Hall. I sat very close to the stage and watched Van Cliburn. As he played, I saw his soul. I saw what chords meant when played by a musician who lived and breathed their meaning and essence. That night, my mother had answered my question, and I knew why I was practicing piano every afternoon.
Of course, with my sense of hearing being unusable, I eventually stepped out of music once I graduated from high school. Ironically, I learned so much about myself from studying it.
That’s why I am humbled and privileged that Guilford College is hosting our 56th Eastern Music Festival (EMF). This summer’s musicians are among the thousands of young musicians and dozens of maestros who have graced Guilford’s campus with their superb performances for 56 summers. It all started in 1961 when a Guilford College music faculty member, the late Sheldon Morgenstern, founded the music camp with the encouraging support of then-Guilford President Clyde Milner.
From modest beginnings of 72 students and 14 professional teaching musicians in that first year, the festival now attracts more than 230 students and 78 professionals from across the country and around the globe. The world-class talent that’s featured includes our own Kami Rowan, Associate Professor of Music at Guilford and creator of EMF’s widely touted guitar program. The innovative passion Kami brings to that endeavor mirrors how she inspires Guilford students to reach their untapped potential.
As we eagerly await and prepare for the return of our Guilford College students next month, EMF serves as a soul-soothing and spirit-lifting interlude. Not just for those of us fortunate to serve at Guilford but also for thousands of others across the Triad who come to campus every summer to savor the sweet sounds of these amazing musicians.
If you haven’t experienced an EMF performance at Guilford College yet, there’s still time — concerts continue through July 29. I urge you to add it to your summer must-dos. On any scale, EMF is always a 10.
EMF faculty member Randy Weiss, EMF Executive Director Chris Williams, Guilford College President Jane Fernandes, EMF Board Chair Timothy W. Lane and Music Director Gerard Schwarz at the EMF Opening Convocation