Pamela Bridges, a graduate student in the piano pedagogy program at Eastern Kentucky University, never thought she would memorize another piece. It had been too long since she had tried. She proved herself wrong this semester when she memorized an hour’s worth of musical arrangements for her master’s recital.
Bridges earned a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, but then spent the next 30 years mostly away from the piano. Recently, she rekindled her love for music and began taking private lessons from Dr. Rachel Taylor, a piano professor in the EKU School of Music, who suggested she enroll in the graduate piano pedagogy program. Now, as she nears the end of the program, she is seeing her career and education come full circle.
“I love music. It’s been kind of like circling back to what I loved in the beginning,” said Bridges.
As a young child, Bridges had taken some piano lessons, but her Air Force family moved frequently, preventing her from staying with one teacher for too long. When she was a junior in high school, she began studying piano once in earnest and soon realized she wanted to continue studying music in college. Though her limited piano background made preparation difficult, her mind was set.
“I knew I didn’t want to do anything else,” she said. “I felt like I had a lot to communicate through music. I think that's one of my strengths.”
Though Bridges had hoped to pursue a career teaching piano after graduation, circumstances led her down a different path. She took a position as a medical administrator for a group of doctors in Knoxville, where she and her husband lived until four years ago. The work ethic she developed as a music student, practicing for eight or nine hours a day, propelled her up the corporate ladder.
“Being in music makes you dedicated,” she reflected. “If you have a good work ethic in one area, it transfers into whatever you do.”
She earned her master’s in business administration and accepted a management position, overseeing 11 medical providers in two locations. Once her family moved to Lexington, Ky., she continued working for the Knoxville medical providers remotely, commuting once a week.
While she enjoys her career, Bridges never forgot her first love. She began taking private lessons from Taylor after moving to Lexington, to sharpen her skills as a church pianist. It was Taylor who encouraged her to apply to the graduate program in piano pedagogy, believing Bridges would make a wonderful teacher.
To say that Bridges is grateful for the advice would be an understatement — she has no shortage of positive things to say about her experience in the program, especially about her instructors. Even in so tense a situation as her recital hearing, Bridges felt support from the piano faculty.
In particular, Taylor’s support has been especially meaningful, Bridges said: “No matter what your struggles are, she figures out how to get you where you need to be.”
After graduation, Bridges hopes to become a piano teacher in Lexington. She was recently elected to the board of the Central Music Academy in Lexington, an organization that provides music lessons to local underprivileged children. Armed with her new degree, she hopes to teach for the academy, as well. “I want to use my music for good things,” she shared.
To anyone else considering changing educational or career directions, Bridges’ advice is simple: “Do it.”
Her advice rings especially true for those in her shoes, wanting to return to their love of music. “This is a wonderful program that's very reachable for any musician, undergrad or graduate.”