I recently travelled to Mars Hill University in beautiful western North Carolina with my soprano colleague to give masterclasses and perform a recital. I visit several universities in a given year, but this was special; this is where I spent nine years of my life at the beginning of my college teaching career. Nine years of learning, growing, making dear friends, completing my doctoral study, and ending with the dissolution of a long marriage. I left this place where I thought I would stay forever. It was perfect for me in so many ways, but I needed a fresh start on my own and new opportunities to learn and grow in a different environment.
My heart began to sing as it always does when we saw the mountains rising in the distance. There is something hardwired into my heart and soul about these mountains; they are a part of me just as I am a part of them. It’s the same exact feeling that I had when I went there to interview for the position twenty-five years ago, straight out of the University of North Texas after completing my Masters. Home.
So many memories washed over me as we drove into the small town; many joyful, some heartbreaking. I noticed a few changes here and there; an additional stoplight (now there were three!), a new restaurant and gas station, and several updates to the university (formerly Mars Hill College). Once I was on campus, though, it had the same wonderful feeling that I remembered. Such a great place to live and work- a slice of another time, a gentler time.
Masterclass…working on keeping a student from playing with his shoulder lifted.
With every experience we have, no matter how wonderful or how challenging, comes opportunities to grow and change- and to learn and evolve. I am deeply grateful for the friends I made, the amazing students I had the opportunity to teach, the wonderful music we made, and for the experiences I had- both good and bad- that shaped me into the person, musician, and teacher I am today.
With my dear ‘Momma’ Carol and former student, Jessica. I love these ladies!
I make it a point to never live in regret, however, I have to admit that I have carried some regrets about Mars Hill. I can’t go back and change anything, but I can recognize my personal growth. I can walk onto that campus and feel ghosts swirling around me, but those ghosts are at peace now. I feel the love of former colleagues and students, and can recognize the importance of the experience I gained there that set me on a trajectory of success in my career.
Most importantly, I can recognize the gifts I gained by trusting my heart and being open to moving to Birmingham to start over- a place that I grew to love just as much. After sixteen years away, I finally felt all of those memories crystallize into gratitude, a path I had to walk to find where I was ultimately meant to me. A healing visit, and one in which I was able to give my own gift of music back to a place that will always have a special piece of my heart.