Giving Thanksgiving to The Arts

“I’m a disabled woman who didn’t think I’d amount to much, but now I have an instructional hand drum DVD/Book published that just became an instant play on Carl Fischer Music published it in 2008.”

Jill Sager, a contributor to The First 100 Stories Campaign (Testimonial #17), lends her voice to validate the transformational power of The Arts.  We can be thankful for her tenacity, her courage, her contribution to our world.  And, why, on  this Thanksgiving celebration, we can all be grateful for the wondrous gift The Arts bestow on us as a people.

In thanksgiving, give yourself the gift of reading her inspirational story.  And then, let’s hear from you…Why are you thankful for The Arts?

Let’s keep The Arts the fabric of our existence.  Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Music and Me

by Jill Sager

I grew up in NYC and started playing piano at age 6 and loved it.   But I was also born with a disability and at age 9, I had surgery, which meant music, and just about everything else took a back seat.  From the age of nine to thirteen I was in and out of hospitals and spent 4th, 5th and 6th grades between home tutors and a segregated “Health Class” in a Bronx public school.

1966 was a time before a civil rights act for disabled people was even an idea.  It was a time before disabled children were mainstreamed in our public schools, and it was a time when being called “handicapped” was still the norm.  It was a difficult time for kids like me; kids who wore braces, used wheelchairs, or couldn’t sit still or stay focused in a classroom.

It was a time when I endured the gawks and shouts from my peers who yelled, “small fry, big shoe, and gimp” from across the playground.  I survived questions from adults, “what’s wrong with you?” and embarrassment from well meaning parents who scolded their children for staring at me.  I learned how to ignore the bus driver who asked if I was “mentally retarded” and learned how to cope with the deep hurt of rejection when my sister left for sleepovers without me.

My life as an outsider was sealed and so too were my worries about trying to compete in a world that didn’t accept me.  I spent hours alone pouring over album covers, listening to Beethoven, Joni Mitchell, and Ella Fitzgerald on a record player my mom traded Plaid Stamps for at the A&P.  Music was my sanctuary, my serenity, and my support.

At 14, the braces and crutches were finally gone and I took piano lessons again.  Playing music was something I could do.  It took focus away from all the things I couldn’t and all the things I had no control over, like the limp and disfigurements that remained.  By my last year of Junior High School I submitted an application to New York’s High School of Music and Art.

The world had been a challenging place and even today I have no idea how I found the courage to ride the subway into Manhattan and take that audition.  Even now I can remember all my fear, but I also remember that Music and Art represented freedom, and I needed to escape.

I waited for the letter and when it came I read it over and over.  The letter of acceptance from Music and Art helped me believe my life could be better and in the three years I was there I grew as a musician.  The real gift however, was how much I grew as a person.  Going to Music and Art expanded my awareness of the world and I was surrounded by people who valued unique expression.  I had new confidence and new hope.

I started to leave the Bronx for Manhattan on the weekends too.  I went to free concerts, museums, and galleries.  I discovered the library at LincolnCenter and the collection of instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I was still by myself, but it didn’t matter anymore.  With every new painting or score or book I found,  I was rescued from a world where I’d felt confined, to one brilliant with opportunity.  As I had expected, that time did bring a new beginning for my life and it did change my fate.

Playing music and all that I was exposed to couldn’t erase all my fears or self doubts as a teenager but I was lucky.   I had a place to go for High School where music and art were a revered common denominator.  A place where creativity, self-expression and individuality were encouraged.   I benefitted from that support and ever since, I’ve been the recipient of a life filled with that inspired grace.  A life where I do fit in.