Singer. Pianist. Songwriter.
Music Director. Music Educator. Studio Owner.
Tomboy. Dalmatian Caretaker. Harley Owner.
There are moments of pure joy that I tangibly feel in my heart and gut, moments when I know the music is connecting with people. I love it when my song touches someone. When I’m singing and I hear my voice in the room I get chills just from feeling it all coming back at me.
Then I can let go, I can relax and enjoy the moments of performance, be with my audience. There is no place I would rather be!
I was fortunate to find music as a language and a vehicle for expressing myself before I could even read. In our house every day was music day.
Watching my mother play and teach piano every day, I naturally thought of piano as part of Life. She taught in our home after school; I wanted to learn! One day I finally asked her: “When do I get my own piano lesson, Mommy?” She had promised herself never to push me to play, but when I asked, our journey began.
From the moment I put my hands on the first keyboard, singing and playing came naturally and brought me a life-defining kind of fulfillment. I eventually wrote a song for my mom, called The Treasure.
MY DADDY WAS A K.U. MAN
K.U. is Kentucky Utilities. That means that every day, for as long as I can remember, my Daddy helped bring light and electricity into our world every day, climbing poles, working with the line crew, setting poles, and the other brutishly hard work of being a utility man.
He was also a part of my wonderful musical child’s life. He led the congregation in song every Sunday!
My mother played the organ and helped him to study each song well before he worked with the choir. And, if anyone knew the Chitwood family, they knew my Daddy sang Bass in the family quartet on the radio.
His love of music ran deep, which was probably one of the many reasons he loved my mother. He would listen to her play the piano as he rested on the couch. I would be on the floor coloring, listening to her play. We were all happy. Those were the days.
Thank you Daddy.
Classical piano and beyond
Although classical was originally my mainstay, I became interested in rock music in high school. We put together an “Audition Only” band where I learned to direct a group of singers and musicians, which has come in handy many times since. At the age of 12 I began singing, playing and planning the music for Weddings, which I still do to this day.
Later, while enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University, I won the classical piano competition with my performance of the Shostakovich Concerto No. 2. This victory earned me the right to play the entire piece with the orchestra, completing my degree in Piano Performance.
I loved playing classical piano, and the music, but after college I soon realized that I didn’t want to practice six hours every day for the rest of my life, and I began to turn more toward contemporary music.
A Personal Note: Tom Boy to Harley
As a young girl, even though I was committed to evolving as a classical musician and living an artist’s life, l was also a tom boy, riding a skateboard, bicycling all over town, hanging by my feet from the swing set, being a daredevil whenever I had the chance. Eventually I left the skateboard behind and turned to riding motorcycles, which culminated in a love affair and cross-country trips on my Harley Davidson!
I’ve always had sleek and beloved Dalmatians enriching my household. At times my dogs have felt like my best friends, and they’re always a big part of my mental health.
Crash course in Catholicism
After college, life intervened. I got married, earned a teaching certificate, and began teaching K-8 music at Mary Queen Elementary School in Lexington.
I went into that job not knowing much about Catholicism. Because I was raised Southern Baptist, being at Mary Queen was like living in a foreign land. (Inevitably, I made a few mistakes of protocol that got me in a lot of trouble, such as inadvertently pouring the Holy Water down the sink!)
Most importantly, I had to learn to play the mass, so one of the sisters sat beside me every day for nearly a month saying, “Play now. Stop now. Play now,” until I learned it. Ironically, later it became my job to teach students how to sing the mass!
Growing from 5 to 50, with 3,500 listeners
One day I walked into Crossroads Church in Lexington where they had a band in the corner playing contemporary music. I started playing with them almost immediately and soon they hired me to help with the band.
Over the next ten years I built a team of fifty musicians where there had originally only been five.
Our audience grew, too, to well over 3,500 listeners every Sunday. I found again and again that if I just followed my musical instincts, and encouraged all the players to give it their all, people would come, and they would respond positively to us. It worked!
Recording in progress
These days I’m either teaching, rehearsing, writing, performing, or crafting recordings of both original and cover songs, sometimes in Lexington, Kentucky, and often in Nashville. The high point currently is recording a new album, both in Lexington and in Peter Frampton’s Nashville studio.
Recording in Nashville is like being at a feast, where so many of the players are seasoned professionals, award-winners, producers, and songwriters. It’s easy and a joy to work with real music professionals who, in addition to knowing the ropes, also tend to be very kind people.
To work on the first four cuts, I recruited a dream team of well-known musicians: Glenn Worf on upright bass, Greg Morrow on drums and Tom Bukovac on guitar. All three have played for multiple albums, won Grammys, toured and played with superstars such as Dolly Parton, Reba… the list goes on.
COVID slowed down our progress on the album since we couldn’t all be together often, but the work has recently continued again. Wish me luck!
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My James Bond Moment
Music has led me down many unexpected paths.
When the World Equestrian Games came to Lexington in 2010, I was invited to perform for Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal, who asked me to play classical piano for a lavish event he hosted at The Kentucky Castle in Versailles. I call it my James Bond moment.
The Castle is near the Lexington airport (LEX), and because of the World Equestrian Games being held in Lexington that year, Faisal’s international friends flew into Lexington on their private jets, arriving at The Castle in a parade of limousines and escalades.
I played for 3 days in the foyer of the The Castle, wearing an evening gown, all alone, as wealthy horsemen and celebrities mingled in their colorful multi-cultural attire, visiting and negotiating with each other in a cacophony of languages. At the end of each night, Prince Faisal came to the piano and applauded for me. On the final evening I was invited to join everyone for dinner, where I mingled with actresses, international horsemen, and Saudi royalty.
There’s a big difference between being a keyboard player and a musician
In my early 30’s I felt a calling to open a music studio. I was motivated to teach people what it is to really be a musician.
Why? Because there’s a big difference between being a keyboard player and being a musician, and I thought, “This needs to be taught.” So, in 2006 I rented a studio, resigned from my position at Crossroads, and formed Studio 88.
(You may wonder…Where did this name come from? The 88 keys on the piano!)
I’m proud to be recognized as an award-winning teaching studio. Among other accolades, I won the Jay Flippin Award for Music Educators in 2014. I personally train pianists and vocalists for the stage and have a team of working artists who teach in other disciplines such as vocal music, recording and producing, acting and drama, guitar, drums, art, and music theory.
55 sessions a week during lockdown!
In 2020 things were going so well I moved the studio into a larger space. My rent almost doubled, but I was optimistic.
And then COVID hit!
I wasn’t one of those people who got a long break during COVID – I did Zoom sessions for 55 children a week during the entire lockdown!
After my students and faculty could get out again, we hung clear shower curtains throughout the studio so students would each have their own practice space. I created a coffee house downstairs where the students hone their performance skills and have fun making music together.
Studio 88 made it through a hard time. It took just about everything out of me, but we’re still here where the beat goes on and the music continues to grow.
I thank you for joining me here today. I hope you will find my music uplifting, soothing, interesting or inspiring. Your support is greatly appreciated and your questions are welcome.