While food is the fuel of our bodies, it’s music that can feed the soul. It can transform, empower, encourage, or heal. It’s a universal language that breaks boundaries and connects us, whether one plays melodies, writes them, or simply listens. Basically, music is magic.
These four local musicians embody that notion. From bringing an outside world in to facilitating the personal growth of others, these instrumentalists are not only talented, they’re inspiring.
For example, singer/songwriter WHITNEY BLAYNE (above, whitneyblayne.com) found herself unable to sit at her piano – or anywhere else – without extreme pain following spinal fusion surgery. The then seventeen-year-old couldn’t bear the thought of months without creating music. So, she made a decision that, ultimately, impacted her life’s path.
“I don’t believe I ever would have started writing music had I not spent hours playing the guitar in bed and singing my feelings to the ceiling,” the indie-folk artist says. “Over the seven months that it took me to fully recover, I grew a deeply personal relationship with my guitar, and it began the journey and path of me finding my voice.”
Blayne committed to learning guitar since it was the only accessible instrument that she could play while lying down. In a sense, says the solo artist and half of the duo Chasing Opal, the instrument chose her, not the other way around.
“There was something soothing and comforting about being able to create and play music when I was unable to do the most simple of tasks,” she explains. “I was an active athlete and socialite in high school, so learning to play the guitar and having a creative outlet to focus my time on really helped me get through the mental struggle of being immobile during recovery.”
Now you’ll find Blayne paying music’s healing capacities forward. Through her songs and performances – like those at the local Carolina Pine Music Festival or on WHQR’s Soup to Nuts Live – Blayne “aims to help others with their individual healing journeys.”
For pianist ELIZABETH LOPARITS, learning an instrument began a transformative journey. Now a lecturer of music at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and staff accompanist, Loparits grew up in a remote village in Hungary, with little exposure to various instruments or even other parts of the world.
“Today’s world with internet access is so different than when I was growing up in a tiny village, completely isolated,” explains Loparits, who took up piano at age thirteen. “Interestingly, music deeply captured my heart, despite not being exposed to it much as a young person.”
In fact, Loparits says she “practiced” on the dining table after piano lessons until her parents were able to purchase a used piano. From there, Loparits went on to obtain her doctoral degree in musical arts, garnering numerous accolades and professional accomplishments along the way.
“Honestly, at the beginning, I never imagined or dared to dream that music (would) become such a huge part of my life,” she says. “I fell in love with (the piano’s) sound. I love the beautiful tone colors, the range and power of this instrument.”
Locally, Loparits has performed with a number of organizations including Wilmington Symphony Orchestra and Opera Wilmington. What’s more, top prizes include the National Bartók Piano Competition in Hungary (1995) and the North Carolina Symphony/UNCG concerto competition (2000) – but accolades, she says, aren’t her motivation.
“There are some, to me, special musical moments that happen, perhaps unnoticed by the world, but which keeps the magic of this musical profession alive in me,” she says. “I could say the most special moments are kind of a transformative experience … when I don’t only play with my body but also with my heart and soul, fully engaged in this art, with all who I am.”
Wilmington Symphony Orchestra principal harpist CHRISTINA BRIER (christinabrier.com) echoes similar sentiments. A journey that began at eleven years old – after beginning her musical studies on violin and piano at age five – Brier shares the elation of her craft
“I find two things most fulfilling in my musical work,” says the member of duo Lilac 94, which performs around the country. “One, watching my students grow personally and as musicians through private lessons; two, the moments when audience members come up to me after a performance and tell me that the music meant something special to them. I love to bring joy and transcendence to everyday life.”
In addition to teaching and opening a harp studio at UNCW, outreach is also a facet of Brier’s work. She accomplishes this through the Coastal Carolina Chapter of the American Harp Society.
“I helped found and now serve as president of this chapter,” Brier says. “We provide a community for local harpists to gather together and enjoy playing harp, organize workshops, and bring in world-class harpists to perform locally.”
Like Brier, Burgaw-based bagpiper ANN SIMPSON finds meaning through her music. A retired United States Navy Commander, Simpson – along with fellow-piping husband, Andy – says it’s “a joy to watch (their students’) progress."
“I think this is the most rewarding of all with the pipes,” Ann Simpson adds. “(And) to be able to pass forward the old Scottish idioms of pipe playing that get lost here in the Americas.”
Similar to her students, Ann Simpson found tackling the Great Highland bagpipes as an opportunity to grow. What’s more, it wasn’t until age sixty that the former flutist decided to play.
“No one told me the road to success would be a hard one for an older person, much less for a woman,” she says. “But, I am not one to quit when the wall of challenge is thrown up before me.”
Today, Simpson is the only female member of the Port City Pipes and Drums. In addition to performing with the band, she and her husband play the pipes together at weddings, parties, and the like.
For Ann Simpson, piping seems a passion, as she describes playing bagpipes during neighborhood strolls. It’s then, with her dog Abigail by her side that, “together, for a moment, (we) bring Scotland to Pender County.”
To view more of photographer Michael Cline's work, go to michaelclinephoto.com.