Music as the Architecture of my Life

April 11, 2014

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Catherine Avery speaking Charisma 2014

Catherine Avery at Charisma 2014


Wednesday night, I gave my first speech, the ice breaker, for my public speaking group. Like many, I have found the idea of public speaking terrifying. But with the encouragement of Ruth Sherman, last month at her Charisma 2014 event as shown above, and Nancy Moon, I signed up for a Toastmasters style group. I still have quite a bit to learn but I am no longer terrified to stand up in front of a group to speak. I thought it would be fun for you to get to know me a little better outside the world of commercial interior design, so following is my speech from that night.


Joni Mitchell said “I see music as fluid architecture.” As an interior designer I resonate with this. Music has been one of the building blocks of my life – one that has been ever changing (or fluid). Music is so important to me that I even incorporate it into my office design work with my clients.


I don’t remember a time in my life without music. My mother was a classically trained and accomplished pianist and vocalist. I remember everyone gathering around my mother at the piano – singing while my aunt played ukulele. Growing up, I was in the church choir and then in the high school Chorale and Chamber Singers. Each year at the holidays we would put on a school wide production called The Star which was performed over the course of two nights.

Kent Place School Washington DC trip

Seniors were invited to blind audition (meaning we sang to the judges’ backs – nerve wracking at best) for the coveted solo part in Minuit Chretiens which you would know as O Holy Night. I practiced fervently with Mr. Heyne the music director. Jennifer Thomas was the best vocalist in school so was a shoo-in for one of the spots. There were three of us competing for the other. Imagine my surprise when I won the spot!


The night of the performance I was so nervous. My friend Ellen was nearby and said imagine a string rising up out of your head and you are being held up by an unseen force. I did and it worked. It was the perfect posture trick – one from her dancing experience. It’s hard to feel afraid when your body is unable to be closed in and small.


Flash forward through years in college, Wall Street, an MBA, Wall Street again and then moving to the suburbs of CT in 2000. My friends thought I was crazy to leave the city in my early thirties without a man. At that point, I was spending every weekend in CT sailing and dating, so while I was meeting them in the city my personal life had moved to the burbs. And at age 34, I had decided I was not going to get married, but just in case I chose five non-negotiable attributes my guy had to have. They were integrity, family values, sense of humor, intelligence and appreciation of music. I put that list on the shelf and got back to sailing.

Bob and Catherine Avery Wedding

Four months later with a brand new condo, two cats and my acceptance of a permanently single life, I met my husband. We make plans and God laughs. My husband, Bob, had all five qualities on my list but even better than appreciating music, he plays lead guitar in a band as his hobby.


In December of 2002, we traveled to Orlando to see Penn State (his alma mater) play in the Capital One Bowl. Did I mention I am an avid football fan? Even though I was sick, we were running around Disney World having an amazing time! The game was a shouting match all the way through and the cheering did in the last of my voice.


After we came back home, I saw a specialist who informed me that I had a nodule on my vocal chord and if I wanted to sing lullabies to my future children I had best stop talking immediately. My more immediate concern was the wedding vows I would say just five months later! I didn’t speak a word for three months. Hard to imagine I know.


One night I was taking out the trash and a large animal came bounding up to me in the darkness. I was terrified and started screaming “Bob!” But it sounded like a gasp. He flung open the door and shouted at the animal to get away. I said to him “I have no voice. How did you know to come help me?” He shrugged his shoulders completely baffled and said “I just did.” You know you are marrying the right person when that happens. Yes I did say my wedding vows – loud and clear and memorized!


Our daughter was born two years and one week to the date from when we were married. C is nearly 9, left handed, creative, smart as a whip, kind, generous, spirited and extremely persistent – the dig in your heels kind of persistent. She is also musical. You saw that coming.


Unquowa School Chorus


In the summer of 2012 she informed me that she wanted to sing at School of Rock here in Fairfield, CT. This was a very different kind of music education than I had received so I was wary. However she was very convincing, read persistent, and within the week I took her in for her first lesson. She loved it! She has performed everything from The Who to Pink Floyd to Black Keys, including performing twice at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan.

Frank Perrouna and C School of Rock

Frank Perrouna and C School of Rock The Wall

Frank, the managing director, pulled me aside one day and said C will be the teenage kid who everyone in the band hates. I asked why and his response was that she had natural talent but would need the music theory and structure – the building blocks as it were – in order to be a great musician. We immediately added keyboards to her lessons.


School of Rock Highline Ballroom The Wall

School of Rock Highline Ballroom The Wall


One afternoon this fall, C and I were in the car and I was singing part of We Don’t Need No Education from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Unbeknownst to me C had pulled her recorder out of her backpack. From the back, I heard her play those notes perfectly the first time she heard them. I nearly drove the car off the road. She has not only inherited my voice and my passion for music, but also has inherited Bob’s ear and mathematical ability around music. Yes we get a huge kick out of our daughter’s love of music.

Bob and I rocking DD

Dropping Deuce

Our daughter’s being at School Of Rock has brought other unexpected benefits. Bob and I follow the bands of the instructors and get out for an occasional very late night on the town. This has given us a renewed interest in music and certainly makes me feel a lot younger as I creep up near 50. It also gives us a chance to date and have a lot of fun around a shared passion!

With the Girls at the Dropping Deuce Gig

I have realized from these experiences that just because I can no longer sing doesn’t mean I can’t express myself again through music. So the next step in my journey is to take keyboard lessons.  I am sure Joni Mitchell would say that it’s never too late to learn something new.


(top photo credit: Britt Olson Ecker Photography)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy April 11, 2014 at 11:06 am

Learning brightens life so glad you realized and have shared these experiences. Looking forward to hearing about your keyboard lessons!


Tricia April 11, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Thank you so much for giving me a glimpse into your bountiful life. Those months of vocal rest must have been torture. You are amazing. And how wonderful that your daughter is finding so much joy in music! Very awesome! Best wishes withe keyboard lessons – that will be fun! Much love to you and your family!


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