In the late ’90s, I decided I wanted to take piano lessons. By chance, a flyer at the Regulator Bookshop let me know about Mara Gibson, a Duke PhD student in composing, who taught piano on the side. I worked with her, I think, for about 2 years before she left Durham to finish her PhD.
A few memories I have from that period:
- Those big dogs!
- Chatting about art, the art instinct, the artist’s life, etc.
- I found that when I practiced every day, even if just for 15 minutes, my playing got better. Weird.
Mara held an annual recital for her students at the back of Boyce Piano Emporium on 15-501. I didn’t realize up till then that she mostly taught elementary- up to high school-age kids, who sat at the front of the room, with about 7 or 8 of her adult students sitting behind them (along with all the parents). After the last little person played his song, Mara called my name and I could hear the titters and amused murmurs from the audience as I lumbered up to the piano to announce my recital piece.
“Hi,” I said, “my name is Mike Brown and I started taking lessons with Mara about eight months ago. I’ll be playing three short pieces by Dmitry Kabalevsky. And,” I paused, looking around the room at the kids and parents, “I believe I’m the first person playing today who is over 6 feet tall.” That got a nice laugh and Liz said later it definitely broke the tension.
Many parents came up afterward to congratulate me and expressed their wonder and admiration at my performing a recital piece in front of a room full of people. I thanked them and then waved my hand at the kids — who had just done the same thing that I did. The parents seemed to think that performing was something children naturally did, whereas putting oneself in a position where one could fail (or succeed!) publicly was something they couldn’t conceive of an adult doing.
Mara eventually left Duke with her husband, the artist Brett Reif, to finish her PhD. Since 2004, she has been on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri-Kansas City. She leads the life of a busy artist, academic, and mother and I’m so happy to see her making so many big contributions to her art and her community.
Mara has also started selling some of her compositions digitally: Canopy and the hypnotic Map of Rain Hitting Water (embedded below). You can listen to the full pieces and then purchase and download them to your computer. It is so cool to have a Mara Gibson playlist on my iPod!