BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
February 5, 2014
If anyone falls in love at “A Valentine’s Evening of Jazz, Wine and Chocolate” on Friday, Feb. 14, Maureen Girard could legitimately claim to have shot the arrow.
Of course, Holmes Harbor Cellars’ venue owners, Greg and Theresa Martinez are also playing Cupid, as are vocalist Emily McIntosh and jazz pianist Karin Kajita; the pair will cast a romantic spell with their music from 7 to 9 p.m.
The event is an expansion of the house concert series of primarily jazz and classical music that Girard has hosted at her 88 Keys Studio for the past 10 years. The winery provides increased seating capacity, a permanent stage with lighting and sound, and an ample selection of varietals and blended wines.
“It’s our first event together,” said Theresa Martinez, speaking of the Holmes Harbor Cellars collaboration with Girard. “We’ve organized the venue to spotlight the kind of artists that she brings in.”
A masterful piano player in her own right, Girard has been teaching music and producing concerts on Whidbey Island since she moved here in 1987. She’s taught piano to hundreds of students at 88 Keys and was the artistic director of last year’s inaugural WICA PianoFest. She will open for, and host, Latino/World night at PianoFest 2014 on Friday, April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Brazilian jazz pianist Jovino Santos Neto headlines that particular night of the four-day festival which is scheduled to open on Thursday, April 17 at WICA.
Girard grew up in the show business world. Her father sold Cadillacs to celebrities who performed at the Ed Sullivan Theater across the street from his business. His brother, Eddie Lynch, worked backstage at the theater and would steer the stars over to Girard’s father. For a while, the Lynch family owned a Cadillac that had formerly belonged to Jackie Gleason.
“That’s just how we rolled,” said Girard with a laugh.
Her Uncle Eddie went on to become the stage manager at Caesar’s Palace, a position he held for 30 years. As a teenager, Girard joined him there in Las Vegas where she met some of the most famous entertainers in the country. Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, Buddy Rich and others strongly influenced her development as a young musician. One of the things she learned from them was to set high standards.
“I strive to do my very best in every aspect of what I do,” she said.
What she loves to do the most except, perhaps, for mentoring her students is performing.
“As soon as I start to play onstage, I’m the most relaxed, the most at peace I can be. It’s who I am, it’s when I am myself the most,” she said.
The imperative to be herself is one of those high standards that Girard strives to maintain in her personal and professional life. By living according to that fundamental precept she also sets an example for others, her students in particular.
“By living my truest expression,” she said, “it sets the example of what I’m working to develop in them.”
Attaining that level of true being is not an easy goal.
“I was always willing to die for it. And I almost did – several times. But I kept going until I wound up where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
No stranger to adversity, Girard has steadfastly refused, throughout her life, to complain about any obstacles in her journey to become a professional musician. Instead, she looks at setbacks, tragedy and hard times in a positive way, as opportunities to overcome challenges, to strengthen her character and to grow.
“I have been on my own since I was 17,” she said. “You can go through hard knocks, but you don’t have to view them in a negative light.”
She has said that her career path could be titled “Mrs. Magoo’s Perilous Piano Adventures” in which she would be the character walking oblivious to the explosions overhead and the thin ice cracking below her feet. She was once left on an island 500 miles from the North Pole by a cruise ship that later sank. As a very young woman, she once successfully completed an important, life-altering audition despite cutting off the end of her thumb two days beforehand.
“The scar is still visible, and it still hurts sometimes,” she said.
However, her performance that day landed her a talent award scholarship to Willamette University in Oregon. That ultimately led to studies at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, followed by 10 years performing in night clubs and on cruise ships.
She counts her work with her students as the most rewarding aspect of her career in music. The opportunity to help others advance in musical knowledge and to learn some of the life lessons that a music education can provide motivates her to be even more determined to be a good example for them. One of her greatest aspirations is to be a good mentor for those who come to her to learn music, especially the young ones who she believes to be our greatest resource.
“I live my life as an example. When you do what I do,” she said, “that’s what you are.”
For tickets and more information about “A Valentine’s Evening of Jazz” call 360-331-3544 or 360-221-0362 or visit the websites listed below.
Additional information about PianoFest 2014 will soon be posted on WICA’s website.
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He is also a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
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