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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Schéry Collins: musician and mathematician

Schéry Collins (Photo by David Grace)
Schéry Collins (Photo by David Grace)

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2017

Schéry Collins is an accomplished musician who has shared her talent and expertise across the Tri-Cities region for her entire life. Her skills as a pianist, organist and flutist combine with her artistic spirit to spread musical joy throughout the community.

"When I was a little girl, both my parents, who were professors at ETSC (now ETSU), were interested in the arts. My father's father came from France to Newport, Rhode Island, where he played violin with little groups of musicians in rich people's homes. My father was a choir boy in an Episcopal church, studied the organ, and as a teenager played the organ in many churches in New England.

"When I was 5 years old, he began to teach me to play the piano. I often wonder today if my parents had let me quit my piano lessons the many times I wanted to, would I ever have taken up flute as a sixth grader, studied organ or even been interested in mathematics, which has so many things in common with music? And teaching mathematics at VHCC was my life's career for 43 years.

"With so many options for children today – from piano or other musical instruments, to dance lessons, to every kind of sport imaginable, to involvement in drama, to art classes, etc. — it is so easy for parents (including me) to let our children go from one thing to another, trying to find each child's passion. So, thank you to my parents for making me keep up my piano lessons. How many adults today have you heard say, "I wish I could play the piano. I took lessons as a child, but I got into something else and was allowed to quit.'? Also my parents took me as a young child to community concert series and plays in Johnson City and other cultural events at the college. It was not an option – we just went as a family.

"As a pre-teen, I studied flute with Eugene Orner at ETSU. He began taking me to play in the Kingsport Symphony and 60 years later I am still there. It has been wonderful to become friends with so many accomplished musicians and play the great repertoire over that time.

"We are so lucky in the Tri-Cities area to have hundreds of cultural events to attend – from symphonies and other instrumental groups to choral groups, museums and other art institutes, art and music festivals, Barter Theatre and other area theaters. It's an endless list. We are fortunate to have A! Magazine in our area. We count on it to be our own personal arts calendar for all those cultural events. Keep one by your bedside to read interesting stories about the artists and events. Keep one in your car, so you can choose things you want to hear and see – and places you want to go. Give one to someone you know. Tell your relatives and friends about A! Magazine.

"Support the arts in every way you can. It will add color, pure joy and pleasure to your life. Even if you're tired sometimes, go to that play, concert, museum or movie you've read about. You will leave there inspired, your adrenalin flowing, with wonderful memories and something to talk to your friends about," she says.

Collins began her career as a part-time instructor at Emory & Henry College. Then in 1970 when Virginia Highlands Community College opened its doors, she accepted a full-time position teaching mathematics there and remained for 43 years. It was there that she met David Collins, a fellow faculty member. Even though he taught economics and she taught mathematics, it was music that brought them together. Their first date was sitting at the piano, playing through an inch-thick book of Scott Joplin's rags.

"I think we both knew that night we would be together and be involved with the arts the rest of our lives. Together we were involved with musical theater productions at the college, concerts and other cultural events," Collins says.

She is co-founder of the Highlands Chamber Ensemble and the Meadowlark Trio, groups that play for weddings, parties and other events. She serves as organist and choir director at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Abingdon,Virginia, a position held for more than 40 years, where she has also composed music for the church liturgy.

Her accomplishments range into the field of musical theatre as well. She has served as piano accompanist for many musical plays at Barter Theatre, Virginia Highlands Community College, Virginia Intermont College, East Tennessee State University and Theatre Bristol.

She appreciates all genres of music. In recent years she has expanded her repertoire of instruments to include the string bass, which she plays in a bluegrass group she created called The Rock Hall Ramblers.

"What an honor to receive this award," she says. "How could a person be any happier and more privileged than to be recognized by fellow arts lovers for doing something my whole life that I have adored – playing music. It's not just my love, but my life's passion."

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