How I “Accidentally” Became a University Music Student

They say that life never moves in a straight line. Although I’ve always been an industrious student, I’ve never really had a clear sense about where I was going when it came to a career. At one point in time I wanted to become a pilot, I even did the ground school for it. But for some reason that, like many things, never materialized. In my final year of high school it came time to decide what to do next.

Of course, there was always music. I had played piano most of my life, and when I wasn’t busy with coursework, I was always taking part in the Music Program at John F. Ross here in Guelph, Ontario. I was in both the Junior and Senior Bands, Dixie Land Band, Spirit Band and Choir. Yeah I was a music geek. Tuba was my instrument of choice, but I dabbled in others including the clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone, French horn, flute and was also taking electric guitar lessons outside of school. I had the greatest music teacher, Mr. Andrew Cherry, who was a source of inspiration to myself and all of his students.

But music??? Honestly, who in their right mind would pursue music for a living? Although I gave it some thought, I concluded that making my hobby my career was a very bad idea. I didn’t want to wreck the one thing that I truly loved by studying it at a high level and then making it my main bread and butter. Besides, I knew what those university entrance auditions required, and it just didn’t seem realistic to get it together in time for next year.

During the past year I was also studying piano with Anya Laurence and Andreas Thiel in Kitchener. Anya helped me progress by leaps and bounds by playing and interpreting more challenging music. It was with her that my interest in playing Rachmaninoff really started to flourish. I also became a lot more confident as a performer playing at school events as well as taking part in advanced classes for the Kiwanis Music Festival. But then came the sad news: Anya and Andreas were moving to the US to pursue a position at a church in Vermont.

I was very disappointed. This was the era before Skype so we agreed on continuing lessons by sending VHS tapes back and forth. I would set up the camera, play through my pieces, discussing any issues I was having and then we would have our lesson over the telephone. We did this for about a year. Though it was better than no lessons, it was not the same as doing it in person.

So, musically things were a little up in the air for me.

I needed to make a decision about university. One subject I really enjoyed in high school was History. So it seemed like the logical choice. I was interested in it, and maybe I could become a teacher or prof one day. Yay. But I soon realized I was doing it more from my head than my heart although I didn’t want to accept it. So I applied and got accepted to a few local universities.

Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario was one of them.

Before I accepted their offer I went to an open house in which students could check out the campus and the Faculties they were interested in. I was on my way to the history department when I walked past a sign at the music school’s Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, which read, “Recital this afternoon at 1 – free admission.”

Well, I’ve got some time, so why don’t I check this out for a little while before I make it to the history building, I thought.

I never made it to the history building.

I remember the recital was hosted by faculty members, and featured an alumnus who was now a surgeon. He had studied Music at Laurier before going to medical school. He performed a couple pieces on piano (by Schubert I believe) and explained how music helped him be focused, patient, systematic and think outside the box in his profession.

After the recital, I went upstairs and toured the rest of the music building. I came across Dr. Jamie Parker’s Studio where he was giving an open door lesson. The student was working on the D minor Mozart Piano Concerto, and Jamie filled in the orchestral parts on the other piano (two grand pianos, wow!!!). I don’t know a better way to say this – I melted right then and there. I just knew it – this is where I belonged.

But, I was going to Laurier for History 🙁 Maybe somehow in the next year or two I could transfer to music. I didn’t know how I could ever get into the program in the near future.

Some time passed and it was the end of the school year at John F. Ross. It was time for the Spring Concert in 2001, my last concert of high school. For me this was a combination of all my musical activities in the past five years. I played in the bands, sang in the choirs, and even played a piano solo, Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableau in D minor. It was so bittersweet. I walked out of there on such a high that I had to tell Anya on the phone how amazing the experience was and how much I truly loved music.

But the auditions at Laurier came and went and that was that. Oh well, History can’t be that bad.

Then one morning I woke up and checked my emails.

“Jamie Parker is expecting a phone call from you.” -Anya

I could not bend down far enough to pick up my jaw. Jamie Parker? The prof I met at the open house? Him???

Not long after I ranted to Anya about the glory of music, she happened to hear Jamie’s trio, the Gryphon Trio, play in Westport, Connecticut. Apparently she had approached him, told him about me, and he said that he would be willing to hear me audition. Talk about synchronicity!

The only problem was the late audition was in three weeks, and was not much time to prepare. The gods must have been smiling down on me on audition day, or maybe it was Rachmaninoff’s ghost who lent me a hand, but I got in!

To this day, despite the many challenges I’ve faced in this profession, I still know that it’s where I belong.

Who knows what would have happened to this indecisive fellow had things not happened the way they did. I may have been making more money, but would also be hounded by the question “what if….”

Sometimes what you are meant to do chooses you.

One thought on “How I “Accidentally” Became a University Music Student

  1. Awesome Darryl! Totally awesome 🙂

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