"My mother was the church organist, my father sang sometimes, and my first love of music came out of that little country church. I can still remember hearing those voices, with that strong and wonderful Appalachian mountain / valley timbre coming through. That music shaped me. It was part of my Sundays, part of my week, and part of what I inherited.
"As I learned to play the piano myself, my mother told me, You have to listen very hard if you’re accompanying someone else. You have to listen to where they breathe and where they get soft or loud. I found that I loved those musical conversations more so than solo work. I studied piano over the years, eventually majored in music in college, and have worked in that field all of my life. Her advice has stayed with me and informed not only my music, but my writing and teaching as well. It is so important to pay attention, to really listen. Listening can build bridges and help us cross the lines that divide us, whether those lines are racial, religious, or political. Those conversations can bring us together.
"Just as the music in that tiny church was deeply rooted in history and a sense of place, so the music of Memphis is reflective of this city. I’ve lived here for two years; I’ve been fortunate to play classical music in Memphis, and I’ve been fortunate to hear its blues. As much as I know Beale Street has changed over the years, there’s still so much good music there. I can just walk down the street and hear it through doorway after doorway. I’ve been reminded that people equate ‘singing the blues’ with sadness, but blues music isn’t just about sadness; it’s about joy in sadness. It’s amazing music. Organic. Real. There’s an emotional immediacy to it. It’s not easy music, and it’s not fluffy music. It’s hard to do. But there’s nothing like those voices. I love Memphis. Not despite its challenges or complexity, but inclusive of those things. No person is entirely good or bad or happy or sad or anything, and neither is a city like Memphis. It’s why my heart breaks sometimes, but it’s also why I feel overjoyed sometimes. It’s all here. Music can root you to the place you’re in but it can also bring you back to places that you’re far away from. I was walking past Celtic Crossing one evening and heard bluegrass and Irish music. I just stood there on the sidewalk and cried. It sounded like my mountains."