Dr. Elizabeth Child transitions from fundraising back to classical piano

Published 3:00 am Friday, July 3, 2009

In a time when many people are wondering about job security, Beth Child has made a bold choice to leave behind her &dquo;day job&dquo; at Hospice and return to her passion with classical piano. I took a moment one afternoon to sit down and visit with her about this courageous transition. You just left Hospice. How long did you work with them? I&squo;ve been with them two years. I&squo;ve been with St. Luke&squo;s Hospital Foundation for five. I look at it as a seven year chunk where I worked in the non-profit area. I started part-time at St. Luke&squo;s. I needed to leave music for a while for a lot of reasons. I thought, &dquo;I think maybe this is a job I can do!&dquo; I took courses, learned a lot, and did a lot. They were both wonderful jobs, great organizations. It took me seven years to realize it just didn&squo;t fit me and the music did and always had. I needed to go back to it. Did you go to college for music? I started piano lessons in first grade. I started Converse College and got my Bachelors in Performance, then went to University of Michigan for a Masters in Performance, and then the Julliard School for a Doctorate in Performance. I loved doing it. Have you taught? I did teach at Furman just before starting work at St. Luke&squo;s Hospital. For six months I took the place of a faculty member that was on sabbatical. I had a taste of college teaching and it was great. I knew at that point that I had to step aside from what I had done my whole life because my heart just wasn&squo;t in it. I had lived in New York a long time and had gone through a divorce and the music just wasn&squo;t speaking to me like it had. Sometimes life is like that, you&squo;ve got to put something down and then you end up growing and changing in this other place that you went. Then you can come back to it. It&squo;s scary, but I feel it&squo;s something I have to try. What types of performances were you doing before you got into the fundraising world? I was living in New York, so I was playing some chamber music with friends and library series performances in New Jersey and Connecticut. I was teaching a lot. I had a private studio at my home in Brooklyn and taught all ages except beginners. I got concerts down here because I have ties in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.&bsp; You can do pretty well managing a career for yourself. It&squo;s not quite like acting where you really have to have a manager. It&squo;s hard now because my home is Tryon. What I have done in the last two months since I got out of the non-profit arena is network like crazy to set up some concerts. I have one in Spartanburg and one in Greenville in the fall, one at Tryon Estates next March, and for The Hobbit this summer. I played a couple years ago for Alice in Wonderland and it&squo;s a lot of fun. There&squo;s no music written for it, but the fun part is you get to read the script and then talk with everybody else on the team and see what composers might fit. You get to work with little kids, which is wonderful. Will you actually pick specific pieces for The Hobbit? Since I can&squo;t improvise very well, I go through all the music I have in the house. First, I read the script. Some music does come to mind and then I&squo;ll go find it. For this one I&squo;ve settled on Grieg who&squo;s Norwegian. I love Grieg&squo;s lyric piano pieces. Yeah, he&squo;s written a ton of stuff. Also, Bartok and Debussy.&bsp; I&squo;m going to stick to those three because then you really have to hunt. Probably the most time consuming thing is finding the music and finding where to put it. Gandalf the wizard raises his sword and there&squo;s this blue light on him. I&squo;ve found music for the blue light. Wow! How do you pick blue light music? It&squo;s hard. We&squo;ve had good production meetings where we sit with the set designer, the costume designer, and the lighting designer. They tell me what they&squo;re concept is and we bat things about. I&squo;m really just using my own instincts and creativity. I think it helped doing Alice and Wonderland before. It also helps having in your brain an array of classical melodies. This Hobbit has a little bit of Asian influence in the costumes. It&squo;s not your typical English shire. I don&squo;t want to say anymore because I can&squo;t put it into words like the director and other people can do. Will there be any Asian influences in the music? A little bit. Debussy wrote a piece called Pagodes. There&squo;s some of that in there. Really, I think Chinese and Japanese music influenced a lot of European composers. Are you a strictly classical player? Yeah, and that&squo;s tough to get work. If only I could play like Fred Whiskin. If only I could play good party piano. I can read anything, but I just don&squo;t play by ear and jazz doesn&squo;t come that easily. Who are your favorite composers? That is so hard to answer. I&squo;m asked that a lot and it changes from year to year. It used to be Mozart and then Bach. I think right now it&squo;s the romantic era. That&squo;s where I really want to spend all my time. I&squo;m practicing Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Schuman, and Liszt. How did you make the leap from Brooklyn to Tryon? Elizabeth Child (photo submitted)&bsp;My grandparents had retired here in the 1970s and so I&squo;ve been coming for a long time. They&squo;re no longer living, but my parents then retired here in the 1980s and my mom is still here. I came back home so to speak. My father&squo;s from Spartanburg. I still have a few relatives there. I need a new headshot. I need a new demo CD. The ones I have from New York are too old. I need a new glossy flyer. It&squo;s very different. It&squo;s taken two months just to get back in the swing of this. The clothes are different. You&squo;ve got to think about how your hair looks. I won&squo;t use Beth Child; it will be Elizabeth Child because that sounds better for a stage name. It feels like the right place to be even though the economy has made things tough. I&squo;m going to keep an open mind. It seems like in this economy people are moving toward things they know they are passionate about. I think so. It just makes me so mad that these companies did such stupid things and lost people&squo;s money. I&squo;m going to something that is very real and meaningful to me, because you just don&squo;t know what&squo;s going to happen tomorrow. I think as far as people wanting lessons and wanting to hear good music and concerts, that&squo;s still in demand. People need the arts. It speaks to everybody whether it&squo;s visual arts, the performing arts, or writing. What would you say to somebody who&squo;s thinking about a career in music and college for music? I would go for it and realize that there are a lot of good careers in music. It may not be performing. It may be working with music and media. It may be teaching people over the age of 65 who want to learn new things. I think today&squo;s musician is just going to have to think very broadly. Doing more than one thing is good. Branching out and even being able to play other instruments is good. Did you ever play Carnegie Hall or have dreams of playing in Carnegie Hall? I&squo;ve played in Carnegie Recital Hall twice. I made my New York debut there. That&squo;s the gorgeous small hall that&squo;s attached to Carnegie Hall. It&squo;s called Weill Recital Hall now. In 1984 when I made my debut it was called Carnegie Recital Hall which of course sounded really good. That&squo;s where everybody made their debut at the time. I got a New York Times review. Playing in &dquo;the&dquo; Carnegie Hall, I would love that. That&squo;s every performers dream because the acoustics are so incredible and of course the history of all the people who have played there. That&squo;s not in my sights right now. I
have to kind of start small right now just to get my feet wet again. I&squo;m President of Rotary Club until the end of June and one of the Rotarians asked what it was like getting back into it. &dquo;Aren&squo;t your fingers stiff?&dquo; I was trying to describe it. The fingers part is like riding a bike, but my brain is seven years older and playing from memory and under pressure you have to do a lot of it. Do you practice on a regular basis? I do. How much time do you put into practice? I&squo;m trying four hours a day, five days a week right now. That&squo;s just to build repertoire and get it in good enough shape to play like I was used to playing. That&squo;s like a part time job and you don&squo;t get paid to practice. That&squo;s right. I think the tougher thing for me will be teaching. I love teaching and I would like to have some intermediate and advanced students. In September I&squo;ll know more about adjunct work at colleges. Furman may have need for accompanists and teachers of piano minors. I think that&squo;s the hardest thing. How do I teach and what does that look like? I want to be teaching and performing in some manner and slowing build up gigs and make money at it. I have a few now, but I need more. I&squo;m just going to take my time. I poured my heart and soul into learning about fundraising. I want to do things all the way when I do them. It&squo;s putting on the brakes with that and going back takes time. You can&squo;t just flip a switch. You&squo;ll be doing a demo. Do you have a studio for that? I do not. That&squo;s brand new too because everything I did before was in New York. That&squo;s why the networking is so important. Somebody told me about someone very good in Spartanburg who does head shots. I&squo;m going to need a lot more than that. I&squo;m just starting this process. I have poured myself into this Rotary year as president. June 25 is my last Thursday as president. I expect to really pour myself into music. How was it being President of Rotary? I started with Rotary when I started with St. Luke&squo;s Hospital. It was important to my boss at the time. My mother reminded me that my grandfather had been a Rotarian. I really liked it. I think it does a tremendous amount of good for the community and also for the world. They&squo;re known for helping eradicate polio. I have grown at the two jobs and in Rotary because I&squo;ve had leadership positions and had to do public speaking. It really helped build confidence. I think that&squo;s made it easier to go back and have that confidence on the stage. I had that to some extent before, but I think it&squo;s better now. I&squo;ve loved the piano since I was a little girl. When I was ten I was already practicing three hours a day. I&squo;ve heard music lessons as a child is one of the key pieces to keeping kids away from risky behaviors. I read a good article in Clavier that music lessons, because of the discipline required, can really help the kids that are so into their computers and the video games where their attention span is so short. You have to learn how to be a good listener. It&squo;s a skill they may not get in school. Music lessons can do a lot for today&squo;s child. When you mention that you won&squo;t take beginning students, is it because of age or level? Just a certain level, I really don&squo;t take beginners anymore. I don&squo;t have the patience to teach the note names and the staff. You want students who can already read music&ellip; &ellip;and know their rhythms. Age doesn&squo;t really matter. Early intermediate is fine. When is The Hobbit? It&squo;s the very end of July. Is there anything else local coming up? Hospice is doing a fundraiser October 10. It&squo;s a choral concert at Tryon Fine Arts Center and I am accompanying for that, but I&squo;m playing one solo piece. It&squo;s a Liszt piano piece that&squo;s a transcription of a Schumann song. It&squo;s gorgeous. The only problem is that it&squo;s three and half minutes and then it&squo;s gone. It&squo;s so beautiful. You can reach Dr. Elizabeth Child by calling 828-859-6508 or emailing mechild@windstream.net.

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