Playing - and living - with passion

“When something gets in my way I go round it.
Don’t let life get me down
Gonna take life the way that I found it.”
“I’ve Got the Music in Me” - The Kiki Dee Band

Music has been part of my life for my entire life.

I was blessed to grow up in a family where music was simply part of how we functioned. Family sing-a-longs were part of holidays. Singing the doxology before a large family meal (in harmony!) was not surprising.

I was encouraged into music from many angles - singing, piano, band - from a young age, but I had a lot of “head” knowledge about music until someone very special came into my life that really gave me permission to let the music in my “heart” show on the outside as well as the inside.

I was pondering the best way to honor a person as special as Geri Peterson when her husband Hans sparked it on his Facebook page with a simple post of her playing the piano.

There Geri was, playing…swaying…and making the most beautiful music you could hear come out of those keys.

Geri didn’t arrive at Wolsey until I was nearly out the door, already a senior. I had one year with her as my band director, but she was so much more.

Geri played the piano for the high school choir, and when she did, she would sway along with the music. High school students being what high school students are, snickers and comments ruminated among those who had seen her about how “weird” it was that she was moving as she played.

That’s not what I noticed.

I knew where in the music she was moving. I could tell that she was feeling the way the song should move and using her physical form to aid her in pushing the tune along its path.

That wasn’t weird to me…she got what I got in music, and it was the first time that I noticed that someone else really did.

Later that fall, my 18th birthday present was a guitar, partially spurred by my strong interest in learning the guitar and partially in the fact that Geri had offered herself up to teach the instrument to those who were willing to give of their own time to take lessons.

She worked with me to understand the fret board like a piano keyboard, then showed me how to adapt the instrument specifically for my large fingers, helping me to move quickly between chords, a skill that would come in handy as I would later go on to play at camps and churches.

I went on to study voice in college with instructors who nurtured that flame of music and allowed me to be unashamed of expressing my love of singing, playing, or even listening to music in the manner that best suited me.

I returned to Huron as an adult and joined a production being done by the local theater of Godspell. My friend Geri was the musical director of the production.

“We just keep bumping into each other,” she said on the first night as we began running songs.

One day during rehearsal, a scene required that “men go out to the field to work” and I decided, being a smart alec during practice, that I would start singing the theme to the “2-and-a-Half Men” TV show.

“Men, men, men, men.
Manly men, men, men.”

The group of actors that were in the scene with me joined in singing, and the rest of the cast, the director, and the backstage crew were laughing, but the laugh that finally got me laughing too hard to keep singing was hearing Geri laugh from the piano.

The joke in practice would stay in the musical - our add-in to Godspell - and as that moment came up in practices and eventually performances, I noticed that Geri would play the bass line for that little quip on the piano as we sang it.

Anyone who had the blessing of hearing Geri play the organ, the flute, or the piano knows how passionately she played her music, but she also knew how to have fun with that same music and give music a personality and purpose beyond simple notes on paper.

Geri passed December 4, after battling cancer. Throughout it all, she never lost her fighting spirit and, most of all, she kept on playing beautiful music.

Good musicians know how to make music that reaches others’ minds.

Great musicians know how to make music that reaches others’ hearts and souls.

The best musicians? They internalize music, mold it, make it their own, and then perform it in a way that changes lives.

Geri had a way of doing that…and not just with music. RIP.


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