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Tracy Frank, Published August 14 2012

Vergas pianist travels world for art

VERGAS, Minn. – As soon as Rebecca Davis was able to crawl onto the piano bench, she started picking out notes and tunes.

Davis, who grew up in Philadelphia but now lives in Vergas, started taking serious lessons by the time she was 4 years old, and she was performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra by the time she was 13.

“Both of my older sisters took piano lessons, and when I came home from the hospital, my crib was by the piano, and so I heard them play all the time,” she said.

One day when Davis was a baby and one of her sisters was practicing, Davis started crying every time she stopped playing the piano.

Davis went on to study at The Juilliard School in New York City, and while working on her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she received a teaching fellowship. She then became a faculty member in the conservatory’s pre-college division teaching theory and ear training.

While she said it was a wonderful school where she excelled and learned so much, she also said it was incredibly competitive and didn’t foster a spirit of art within her.

“By the time I left, I had lost the joy of making music,” she said.

She stopped playing piano for seven years and didn’t even have a piano in her home, she said. She worked as an administrative assistant for a while and then earned a teaching certificate and worked as a substitute teacher.

Then her future husband found out about her background, saw an ad for a $250 upright piano and bought it for her.

The day the piano arrived, she sat down to play and didn’t stop for 10 hours.

“I just fell in love all over again,” she said.

Davis started setting up performances around the country. When her mom became ill, she took another break from music of four or five years to take care of her, she said.

After her mother died, she decided to give her piano career one more try, Davis said.

“For someone later in their career to have had the performance opportunities I’ve been blessed with is unusual,” she said. “I feel quite fortunate. There’s definitely a higher power at work.”

Davis has played at concerts throughout the United States as well as in France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, China, Brazil and Russia.

In addition to playing in renowned concert halls, Davis also performs at places like homeless shelters, hospitals, public schools and nursing homes, giving free performances where classical music is not readily accessible or affordable.

“They are just such appreciative audiences,” she said of the experience. “They are fabulous audiences. It is such a joy to exchange because I love spending time speaking with the people wherever I go, regardless of whether it’s Carnegie Hall or a school somewhere.”

Davis has received numerous awards for her performances at international competitions held in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, New York and Washington, D.C.

Having spent time all around the world, it might seem unusual that the Philly native would end up in Vergas (home of the world’s largest loon), but once she set foot in the small Minnesota town, she was hooked.

Davis was living in California when she met her husband, who was born in Minot, N.D., and lived in Fargo for a while.

One day a friend of his visited them and mentioned that his brother was selling a home in Vergas.

Davis said she’d always been a nature girl, so they went to visit and decided to buy it.

“I came, I saw, I was conquered,” she said. “I really do feel like a Minnesotan. I love it here. I love the winters. I love the rural nature of this area. It’s just perfect for me.”

Davis said it’s challenging to make a living in Vergas, but it’s worth it.

“I would rather make less money and enjoy my life more,” she said.

In addition to traveling for concerts, Davis also teaches piano lessons to students ages 4 to 84 from Bemidji, Fargo, Fergus Falls and the surrounding area.

“I love teaching. I learn so much when I teach,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that the best teachers make the best students. I’m constantly learning from my students.”

She takes anyone from a beginner-level student to an advanced pianist.

“I like the variety,” Davis said. “Working with a 4-year-old draws on different skills than working with a teenager or an adult. It keeps me sharp.”

For her performances, Davis is her own manager, which she said is extremely difficult, but she isn’t willing to be on the road 10 or 11 months a year.

“I was never willing to sacrifice spending more time at home for the success of my career,” she said. “I’ve been so blessed.

“It’s not really about how often I perform, even though I do perform quite a bit; it’s more of what fits into my lifestyle.”

Davis is working on a CD. Friends set up a place on her website to take donations to help Davis record and market her CDs. According to the site, Davis resisted the idea of requesting donations, but her friends insisted she give others the chance to support and sponsor her career.

Make a donation or listen to a sample of Davis’ live performances at http://rebeccadavispianist.com.