Iris

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In a small town in Missouri, it’s rare to meet someone that you can consider to be a true eccentric, and such an incredible musician. When I met Iris*, she seemed to be the epitome of unconventionality. I don’t mean that in a bad way, its actually quite a complement- Iris is unique in her splendor, and that is what makes her so incredible.

As I sit down with Iris, I realize that even without knowing her personally, you can tell how full of life she is. She’s so small and slender you imagine that a puff of wind may blow her away, but then her jolly face breaks into a full, deep laugh, and her bright copper hair flies back as she lets her euphoria explode from within her. She has a way of explaining things that make the ordinary seem fantastic, and make the complex seem quite simple. After meeting her, you realize she is the opposite of the average person. Its not every day that you meet someone who is such a genius musician, and who has lived such an amazing life.



I was enthralled with Iris’s life story as she wove it all together, telling me of her fortunes and low points. She began by talking about her start as a musician when she was 3 years old, where she learned to play by ear before beginning piano lessons at seven. Later on she was accepted into a musical College, where she attended by way of winning a composition contest. Her life as a musician really began few years later when she applied to Julliard and was admitted. According to Iris, the students were very competitive, and were “trained to compete.” she says; “ I definitely had things against me. I was not foreign, I was American. And, I was female.”She wisely tells me that “the amount of talent in the world is the size of the Mississippi river, and the amount of people who succeed is the amount of that water that fits through the eye of a needle.” before promptly going back to describing her life at Julliard. “I graduated with a masters degree in ‘74.” She says, with a dispirited look. “I just wasn’t spectacular enough.”



The ambiance that normally lights up Iriss’s face comes back quickly though, as she recalls when she played in Carnegie hall, and makes it seem like no big deal that she performed there. After suffering from depression (because she didn’t feel like she made it in the music business), a concert that huge was just what she needed.

“A friend convinced me to do it, and made me believe in myself again.” What was it like, performing there? “Oh, it was really thrilling.” Iris says closing her eyes, as if savoring the taste of the words- “my friends made the most beautiful dress for me, and my mother and father came all the way from San Francisco to hear me play. The stage was gorgeous, the piano was exquisite. It went really well.”



However, after New York City’s environment had taken a toll on Iris, she came back to Columbia in 1994. She says, “I hit rock bottom. When I didn’t become the biggest household name in the country, I felt that I had failed a lot of people. I wasn’t sure if I was talking correctly because of my alcoholism, and I couldn’t hear the music on the piano.” When I ask if coming back to Columbia felt like a fresh start, she replied with a loud, emphatic “Oh god, jeezus yes! I moved in with my friend here, and she sort of adopted me.


Even though she had already been through a lot, even more obstacles slowed her down.”When I came back, I played so strong and with the wrong fingering, and I was overcome with tendinitis.” Iris had to stop playing the piano because her arm was paralyzed for nine months. She figured that her piano playing days were over, and this brought about another battle with depression. However, “One day,” she recalls with a wide smile on her face, “ I was playing piano with a friend, and he told me to play a song using my right hand. I said, I don’t use my right hand. Eventually he coaxed me into it, and I began to play again!” She went on to achieve success in the community by creating a musical variety show. She frequently plays concerts where she lights up the stage with refreshing bursts of personality.

After taking time to comprehend the complexity and enormity of her life, I ask her what the most important thing she has learned from her experiences is. She replies, after a moment of unusual silence, “Never give up. No matter what happens in your life, keep right on playing.”

*Name has been changed.





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