Extended Bio

I was born in Union S.C. in 1952. My parents weren’t Southerners, which only means that we didn’t ‘talk Southern’ or ‘eat Southern’, but the South got inside us anyway and I most definitely identify as a Southerner today.

Times were so different then. Life was simple, at least it was for the kids. In the Summer we played outside all day and came home in time for supper. We ate lunches and snacks at whichever house we were near at the time. We rode our bikes everywhere. We explored creeks and woods and we climbed trees and pretended we were Tarzan. The worst things that happened to us in a day were bee stings, splinters, scraped knees, stubbed toes, or one time a neighbor girl got stuck inside a drainage pipe (we probably dared her to crawl through it) and it took several neighborhood men with a lot of grit to get her out.

There was a big gully down the road from our house with a long pipe that went all the way across. A favorite ‘dare devil’ thing was to shimmy across that pipe. I did lots of dare devilish things as a kid… shimmying across the pipe, riding my bike with no hands, and my biggest trick being to stand on my bike seat while riding down the street all the while yelling “Watch me Mama!” and my mother on the porch ringing her hands and shaking her head.

I was a fearless kid until Old Bell would walk down the street. We didn’t know her real name so we called her ‘Old Bell’. In reality she was an old woman who lived in a shack, literally, and had a cow with a bell that she walked down the street. As kids we imagined her to be someone sinister. Anytime she came along we ran inside and hid. Too bad. Now I’d love to know who she was and hear her story….

Another thing the struck fear in our hearts were the KKK rallies that happened sometimes on the other side of that big gully. I well remember cross burnings over there. It was part of growing up in the South in the 50’s, as were the signs in stores and restaurants saying who could enter and who could not. So many “Whites Only” signs – that was the South back then. None of it ever made sense to me and felt hugely wrong.

The biggest challenge I had as a kid was my glass eye. I lost my eye to cancer when I was 2 and got my first glass eye at age 3. These days ‘glass eyes’ aren’t really glass, they’re plexiglass, which is vastly different than the glass eyes I had as a kid. The challenge wasn’t so much physical as it was emotional, with other kids making fun of me at school, calling me names, etc. That was hard, but I’m sure it all worked together to make me the person that I am.

Other than that, I had an idyllic childhood with wonderful parents, activities I loved, hobbies I was passionate about – chief among my hobbies being rock collecting, exploring, and inventing – and although we weren’t wealthy in money we were wealthy in traditions, heritage, and learning opportunities. Mother was a first class musician/pianist and Daddy was a soil scientist. He loved music as much as she did and saw to it that their very first piece of furniture as a young struggling couple was a stereo. So the story goes, they ate meals on a cardboard box but they had music.

I did lots of things with my father when I was a kid. He took me roller skating, fishing, rock hunting, horseback riding. We walked in the woods together. We rescued turtles off the road together. Where we lived there were still Indian arrowheads quite plentiful in the red clay soil, also quartz crystals that we collected by the jarful. He had a telescope and we viewed the moon with its craters and Saturn’s rings. He had a sailboat and I was his first mate.

Mother was more the tutor, teaching us music, chores, housekeeping, manners, proper English, and a love for beauty and animals. Mother was a huge cat lover and we always had cats, also a mutt dog named Princess who had 9 puppies under our neighbors’ boat. Mother also accompanied me on all of my flute solos over many years of contests and recitals, and I know that my ability to ‘play by ear’ and improvise comes directly from her.

As children, my sister and I were surrounded by music and it most definitely informed our lives. When I was five I asked my father how to whistle. He said “Like this” and he proceeded to demonstrate whistling as we drove down the road. I tried it and was successful and have been whistling ever since. My father also loved a great variety of music and delighted in having records playing before, during, and after meals. Sundays after church were always accompanied by music from the record player. Russian music was some of his favorite and we were treated to lots of Rimsky-Korsakov, Kabalevsky, Borodin, Shostakovich, and of course Tschaikovsky. Mother taught piano and accompanied just about everyone in town so we were also treated to tons of great piano music. Our favorite times were when Mother improvised animal sounds at the piano and we acted out the animals as she played. Whether it was the whistling, the great recordings, or the piano lessons, music took hold in my life and I have my parents to thank.

Pretty soon I was ‘pretend conducting’ symphonies in front of our stereo and imagining myself as a great conductor. The imaginary conducting career gave way to the more realistic pursuit of band in the fifth grade. My first choice of an instrument was the drum but my extremely small size prevented me from carrying the large marching snare. The flute eventually won out after the three days it took for me to get my first sound. Awards I won in high school and college for my flute playing weren’t the result of any dazzling technique. I just worked hard and felt the music deeply. The flute became an extension of me, although it was a piccolo solo I played at a high school band concert which won me the nickname “Chirpy.”

After completing a Bachelor’s of Music Education from East Carolina University and a Masters of Flute Performance from Kent State University, God broke in upon my life and replaced a performance focus with a ministry focus. I taught flute for many years, including at a small college in Pennsylvania, but I returned to school in 1989 and earned a Master’s of Divinity from Regent University with a focus in world missions. A graduate internship in Ghana West Africa fueled my love for ethnic music. The African influence can be heard sprinkled here and there in my arranging and especially in “The Gift Of Love” on my first album “Refreshing.”

I was raised in the Methodist church but didn’t know the Lord personally until I started searching in my college years. My search for “Who am I?” and “What is the truth?” led me through Transcendental Meditation, Animistic Nature worship, and eventually to Jesus, in whom I found the lover of my soul. It was through the persistent prayers and patient sharing of a particularly loving and joyful music major friend that I eventually succumbed to the love of Christ and began experiencing his life-changing impact. After my light-bulb moment I understood very little about the Christian faith, but I knew 100% that Jesus was real and that He and I were instant friends.

There have been so many challenges to my faith over the years and I credit all of them as the building blocks for my relationship with God as well as the fabric of my music. If there’s anything good, unique or honest in the music I write and play, it’s only because of the relentless love of God and outpouring of mercy upon my life.

For some 25 years music was my full-time work, with teaching, performing, and working various church music jobs keeping me quite busy. As seasons changed so did responsibilities. The mid 90’s through 2005 found me caring for my aging parents until both of their passings. It would require a full length book to begin to share the richness of those years with my parents. They are sorely missed every day by me, my sister, and anyone who was fortunate to know them.

Grieving years gave way to decisions about work and a desire to do something other than teach and work in a church setting. A series of ‘starving artist jobs’ were as enriching as they were challenging and ultimately propelled me to seek the Lord about making a move to the mountains. My mother was from the Rockies and I always believed that somehow, through her, the mountains were simply in my blood. When God opened the doors for me to move to Western N.C. I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.

I love my life in the mountains and know I’ll never tire of the healing beauty that surrounds me here. God has blessed me to live in a small no-frills country house set in a most scenic valley with views out each window. I take long walks in the pasture and hill behind my house and allow my senses to come alive all over again every day.

For five years, I worked for the Great Smoky Mountain Association at a visitor center north of Cherokee. It was an idyllic setting where my soul and spirit were nurtured by simply being there. I was fortunate to not only work for the most visited National Park in the country, but also to work with such a great staff and visitors from all over the world.

On the music front, live performing has given way to more “at home” work with songwriting and recording in my extremely humble set-up, with cats routinely jumping on my keyboard and altering songs, knocking equipment over, and complaining about my high notes on flute or whistling. I performed for 17 years with Bill Leslie, found here – http://www.billleslie.com. And I’ve played with many local bluegrass jams here in the mountains. The flute isn’t exactly a bluegrass instrument, but I’ve been received warmly for my fluting.

My most recent venture has been the writing and publishing of my first novel, Pierre and the Rise of the Kitty Nation. If you’re a cat lover, animal lover, or fiction lover, you might take a look, read the blurb, and consider giving it a read. I think you would be entertained. You can also learn more by visiting the kitties’ website https://thekittynation.com.

In closing, it’s a beautiful day in the mountains, and I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are, too!