My Story

August 27, 2012

Maggie C Harper

Music comes from a place so deep within that we can only access it through breath. Breathe in and feel those around you. I feel my dad, whom I never met and never will meet after the accident. I feel my family’s nurturing gaze and I feel the path that my dad has lain for me.

Growing up with my grieving mother and sister is a blur. I remember running to my grandparent’s house which was perfectly placed behind ours and eating devil’s food cookies. Grandma would say “don’t get crumbs on your britches”and I would giggle as my sister would brush my pants and scarf down a few more cookies. We fed the fish with my Grandpa’s shaking, sickly hands around ours. I heard his song about the Blackbirds and her song about the trapeze artist as we swung on the monkey bars. These tunes soothed me. My mom sang too and gave me every children’s movie with a song to watch and listen to. Cookies=grandma’s house. Cookie monster=grandma’s house.

My mother’s grandparents adopted my mom and 2 other children and also lived close to us in Kansas City. Now that I think about it, I am not really related to most of my “family”. Maybe that is why I feel so warm when I am with the Harpers eating devil’s food cookies. My mother’s side of the family is also quite religious.  We would go to their church almost every Sunday, which was hard to sit through as a toddler. My cousin reminded me the other day of when I started belting out the “C is for cookie and cookie is for me” song during a service at that lutheran church. I simply wanted to be eating cookies instead of sitting in the hard pews of a very lutheran church…I wanted to feel warm.

Music can take me to a different place, as I realized when I was two years old in church. It made me feel closer to the family that used to include my dad. They were the equivalent to my dad in my mind. The fact that my dad had passed away and would never truly see me started to hit me at points that I didn’t understand at the time.

After almost every musical performance that I did from 5th grade as Cinderella to my junior year as Marion the Librarian, I would sink into this very bitter and depressed state. Everyone in my family, from the Harpers, to my mom’s parents to my step dad’s family, would come to my performances and give me hugs and kisses and flowers. They thought that I was crying tears of joy after a great performance, but they were really tears of grief. I selfishly wished that my dad could have been the only one in that theater.

I still don’t really know how to start listening when people say “he was watching over you during that performance”. But maybe this logic explains why I feel sort of possessed when I am on stage doing a big show. Is it that my hours of practice have become my body and or is my dad really “watching over me”?

Believing that he and I have a connection through music has made my outlook on his death much more positive. I looked for ways to strengthen that bond with him and went to Michigan. It was all by chance that I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for a summer and then my senior year of high school.

I was in a voice lesson (one of about 12 before I was a senior) and my teacher suggested that I go to a camp for the summer. I decided that spending another 3 months on the lifeguard stand might be a little redundant and agreed. She had gone to Interlochen for 8 summers as a youth, which was fairly convincing. We put together 2 classical songs and my step dad filmed me singing them in October of my junior year to be submitted as an audition. Here they are: and

So I ended up getting into the Vocal Soloist program at Interlochen summer camp and had no idea what that meant. I bought the camp uniform off of ebay and hoped for the best. My mom’s parents sweetly agreed to drive me all the way up to Interlochen, Michigan, on the way to a Lutheran convention, of course.

As we drove up the very rural roads of Michigan I thought of my dad and how he lived here with my mom and sister. I pictured my mom getting the phone call that her husband had died in a plane accident as she sat just a few miles away from where her unborn child would go to camp and, eventually, school. I had been to his grave in Kansas annually but nothing made me feel as close to my dad than being near my parent’s old house in Michigan.

I realized how powerful this sense of bond with my dad was when I was able to ignore all of the pitfalls that happened at camp and have the best summer of my life.

My summer camp voice teacher and I did not get off to a great start. She had me start singing the song that I had prepared the least for and, immediately after my first lesson, changed my part from Susana in the Figaro scenes to Dorabella in a much shorter Cosi fan tutte scene. It took me a long phone conversation with my mom to realize that it was okay to be discouraged. But I knew that I was just as good as everyone else at the camp, I had just been distracted by sports, family and friends at home and did not get enough practice singing. This was the motivation that I needed. I knew that I had to get focused quickly if I wanted to go to college for music. The head of the summer program, who became my amazing voice teacher at school, mentioned that there was an Academy and if we wanted to hear more about it we should come to the meeting. I went to the meeting and called my mom immediately after to tell her that I was going to audition for the Academy and she would need to go to a meeting with the admissions department when she came to pick me up in 2 weeks. She was supportive but had never ever thought that I would leave home a whole year earlier for school.

After my mom came to our final performance and saw me in this new and invigorating environment, she was sold. I came home and told my best friend in the world that I wasn’t going to finish high school in Kansas City, that as long as I got a bit of money from Interlochen, I was going there for my senior year. She cried and I cried.  I ended up writing one of my college essays about this experience and drafted a title “the summer of tears”. Deciding to leave everyone was horrible but to tell you the truth, I had never envisioned myself graduating from Pembroke. When I pictured myself as an older student, it was never there. I had squeezed every drop of artistic opportunity from Pembroke and it was simply time to take a leap of faith. I knew that my dad would have supported me and my mom was so proud of me for following my heart.

My time at Interlochen was filled with practicing, meeting people, improvement and auditions. I could never have gotten into 6/8 music schools if it wasn’t for my teacher, Mr. Norris. Being that concentrated on music was the best thing for me at that time. I cannot imagine going for more than one year, it was extremely isolated and lonely at times, but I also cannot imagine not going!

When I was hearing back from schools I made at least 10 pros and cons lists. I ended up visiting 4 final schools and found that SMU was extremely nurturing, in a great city, and incredibly fun. I said yes to a scholarship that I couldn’t do without.

note:during this process my whole entire family was unbelievably supportive, as always!

I really appreciated Liz Lerman’s motives to get back to the free and emotional side of one’s art. For me, singing gives me an incredible feeling of accomplishment and a connection to my dad. Because of all the ups and downs in my life I believe that I am a much stronger and more mature person. I still have a lot to learn about music and cannot wait for the next 4 years! Please write back if you have any sort of urge to!

4 Responses

  1. I think it is wonderful that you can be so in touch with your feelings, express them, and have a perspective on life when you are such a young person. I can’t wait to see the next blog. Hope you are having a great start to your year.

  2. Dearest Maggie! You are a wise young woman to write so perceptively. Every time I have heard you sing I am overcome with the strong emotional impression of how very, very proud your dad would have been. It always brings me to tears. I can’t say that I believe he is “watching you”, yet I’m sure that, as you described, there is a definite connection, perhaps because of the part of him that’s inherent within you–part of his spirit, perhaps?
    Interestingly, I have also had a similar sense of a connection between you and my (our) Grandma Harper–not that you look like her, but more that you carry some of the essence of who she was. And above all, she was all about music. You remind me of her in intangible ways that none of her other great-grands do. (And she was always my favorite person in the whole world!)
    I hope you continue to write!
    Much love,
    Aunt Jan

  3. You tell a truly moving story, Maggie. I would love to hear a song about the road you have taken! I’m looking forward to watching this exciting year unfold for you.

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