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Musical career leads OHS grad to the Great Pyramid and beyond

No geographical limit on alum's creative, musical horizons

One day after Christmas, Stephanie Quinn jetted off to China with the South Shore Orchestra for a cultural exchange concert tour, after releasing a CD of music, “Saqqara Suite (Inside the Great Pyramid),” recorded in the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

“Like most toddlers, I loved dancing around to music,” Quinn joked.

Quinn, a violinist, violist and pianist who trained at the Fine Arts Building Studios in Chicago, the Eastman School of Music of New York, and the Juilliard School in New York, got her start in music at the age of 9, thanks to an elementary school teacher.

John Bennett, the school’s band director, demonstrated a variety of instruments for his young students, as the school had no orchestra. One day, he brought in a violin to play for his students.

“I remember feeling my jaw relax, and having a hard time closing my mouth as I listened. Finally he stopped, and told us it was a violin. Like a broken record, I pestered my parents to get a violin and put me into the program,” Quinn said.

Bennett encouraged her parents to nurture Quinn’s talent, and persuaded them to enroll her with the “best violin teacher at the Fine Arts Building.”

Quinn’s love of music continued into her time at Oswego High School in the mid-1970s, which she called, “An essential part of my ability to support myself as a musician.” Quinn’s French teacher, Mr. Isbell, was a key factor in her graduation, and her work as a musician.

Quinn said that she struggled in high school, due to undiagnosed dyslexia and low logic scores. “I struggled endlessly. My brain worked differently, and I asked strange questions. Peers laughed and teased me a lot,” she said.

Until Isbell caught on to the problem. He bet Quinn that she couldn’t play the first movement (section) of a violin concerto by Felix Mendelssohn from memory. She said she could do it up to tempo, but Isbell didn’t believe her. So, he bet her that if she played it for him at the end of the semester, he would give her a B in his class.

She passed the class, and met the graduation requirement.

In the years following, Quinn worked to overcome her limitations. She has been published as a writer, and has also composed music, thanks in part to the influence of two other OHS instructors: her favorite teachers, Gail Mitchell and Marsha Friedman.

As a musician, Quinn often played the piano to accompany the choir, and Friedman, the choir director, was “most supportive,” and encouraged Quinn’s musical future. Mitchell, a writing teacher, affirmed Quinn’s nature, calling her an “enigma,” and encouraged her writing, which led to composing.

“Inside myself, I felt shy and insecure. These two teachers’ encouragement and affirmation gave me the guts to shoot high in my goals,” Quinn said.

Those high goals recently took Quinn beyond the Eastman School and Juilliard, all the way to Egypt and Israel, where she took her music to the people. After engaging in several workshops, Quinn developed an idea for a workshop for untrained musicians to reveal what she described as “our common emotional tone.” She tested the idea in New York City, inviting members of the public to join the activity.

“I wanted to share this in groups of high conflict, and Israel came to mind,” she said. Quinn traveled to Jerusalem, where she held similar workshops for Jewish people and Palestinians. She intended to take the workshop to other areas of the country, and even other parts of the world, but life intervened.

A trip to Egypt turned to a learning and creative opportunity for Quinn for the production of her album, “Saqqara Suite (Inside the Great Pyramid).”

She visited Saqqara, which served as a burial ground, and a music school and site of therapeutic sound healing run by Imhotep, chancellor to the pharaoh Djoser, architect of the step pyramid, physician and musician.

“It was extremely exciting and I could probably write 100 pages about it,” Quinn said. During her time at Saqqara, she developed sketches of her compositions, but when she began recording inside of the King’s Chamber, she discovered the natural reverberations of the room.

“Some tones would remain for three seconds, other pitches would resonate for around 13 seconds,” Quinn said. “At first, this was a problem because the harmonies didn’t work with my melodies when I played them. So I needed to adjust the meter and timing in a huge way.”

After she struggled for more than an hour, Quinn said she began to use the pyramid “as my instrument,” and allowed the environment to dictate how the music would emerge.

The story of Quinn’s music, she said, is best shown in the sixth, eighth and ninth tracks on the album, “Dance of the Animals Part II,” “Nomadic Hymns,” and “Oneness Part I.” Quinn refers to the three tracks, a live ensemble performance from June 19, 2015, as “Saqqara’s Story.” The songs premiered a few hours after the parishioners and family members of the Emanuel AME Church shooting victims publicly stated their forgiveness of now-convicted shooter Dylann Roof.

“The story is about healing prejudice and racism,” Quinn said. In the story, she said, three tribes that didn’t know they were different went to battle upon realizing it. A mediator arrives to the stage, and shows the three warring tribes a new way of interacting, and the groups celebrate their “Oneness.”

Quinn has advice for those listening to Saqqara Suite. “I would say, just like with any work of art, first you experience it from the outside. Then listen again from the inside, allowing it to reflect impressions of your inner emotions and spiritual awareness,” she said.

“Saqqara Suite (Inside the Great Pyramid),” is available for download on Amazon, iTunes, and from Quinn’s publisher, CDBaby also features preview clips, downloads and production stories. CDBaby is the only option to purchase the physical disc, which Quinn said features higher sound quality, allowing for the full effect from the pyramid.

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