Living Into Your Gifts with Shelly Hilgers

Lauren
You’re listening to Thank You for Being You, A very cheesy podcast where I thank the folks in my life who’ve made a positive change, and learn a little bit more about what makes them so great. This podcast is brought to you by me! And my content marketing company, Swee Videos. I’m Lauren Swee, your host and audience surrogate.

This week I’m talking to Shelly hilgers. Shelly is a pianist and arts administrator at Faith Lutheran Church in Waconia, Minnesota, and a Lorie Line superfan. She was my piano accompanist while I was in high school during my quest for trombone glory. Thanks to Shelly’s unwavering positivity and support, what normally would have been a very brief and uneventful partnership between a professional accompanist and an amateur musician has turned into one of the more meaningful relationships of my life. Let’s hear from her.

Shelly
Hi, Shelly. Hi, Lauren, how are you tonight?

Lauren
I’m doing great. You’re my first guest on this podcast. And I have to tell you, that was really purposeful on my part, because you’ve always been kind of this person who— I’ve never been afraid to fail around you. You’re so supportive. And for my listeners and viewers, we met when I was back in high school, when you were piano accompanist. I was a young musician who— a lot of times— was very nervous. You’re one of the most supportive, non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. So I’m really excited to talk to you tonight.

Shelly
Thank you, Lauren.

Lauren
Yeah. So going back to how we met with me as basically—did we play together when I was in middle school? Or was it only in high school?

Shelly
You came to the church with the Easter Brass Ensemble in ninth grade.

Lauren
Wow, that’s incredible. You really remember.

Shelly
I do. I do.

Lauren
So you play with these young musicians who are so nervous. And it’s kind of this coming of age moment for them— this first time that they’re playing a solo in front of a group of people. And I’m curious what it’s like on the other side of that?

Shelly
It’s really just like being their cheerleader, you are the one in their corner, rooting them on. And knowing that every effort is a victory. Every time you go out and try, you’ve won.

Lauren
Do you think that that’s kind of something that you’ve learned as an accompanist, or is that something that you’ve learned as a person and then kind of brought into being as an accompanist?

Shelly
A little bit of both. I was very lucky. I had some very influential music teachers growing up. My piano teacher, Rosemary Peterson, my choir director, Ron Larson. And then his accompanist Kathy Peterson. They were just a wonderful group of supportive people to be around me. So I just always remember feeling like… this is a safe spot. I’m here to try. I’m here to learn. I always knew that they were on my side. And I just hope I can bring that to all the younger musicians that come into my life now.

Lauren
That’s such a special role to get to play. You’re such a selfless performer. I mean, I believe one time I was playing with you and I like skipped, probably like a couple measures of a song, and you just picked up right with me. You’re so ready to make these massive adjustments. How is that? I mean, how do you get to the point where you’re such a good pianist that you can literally just, oh, they skipped five measures. I’ll go there.

Shelly
If you do anything confidently, the audience will never know. If you just have that look of confidence. Like, we were supposed to skip five measure. Don’t let him see you sweat! And we’ve always done so much preparation. We’ve always been so ready, that we’re ready to play every single measure. We’re ready to skip a few. We’re just ready. We’re ready to let it go live.

You always made me feel that way whenever I played with you… just so ready.

So I kind of stopped you, Shelly, I’m not gonna lie. I found out that you have an album. You put it out in 1995, and it’s called The Worlds Just Turned Twenty.

Back in high school, I started writing piano music. I love the Windham Hill label. I really like George Winston Lynn’s story. Phil arburg. So I just started playing and listening to a lot of their music. I went to Concordia in Morehead and studied music education and theater and I graduated in 1993. So the first year and a half or so out of college, I worked on an album.

And I also have always loved to read. The title comes from a poem by Octavio Paz called The Worlds Just Turned Twenty. And for some reason that that title just struck me. And I thought, great, that’s what I’m gonna call the album.

Lauren
I love that. What’s the poem about?

Shelly
You know, I would need to go back and reread it. It’s been, it’s been since 1995. I think after the podcast, I may go back and reread this poem! But from what I can remember, it was just like new beginnings. A fresh slate. It’s kind of like, this is your new young life, you can create it and do whatever you’d want from it.

One of the pieces I wrote was storm over George Washington Bridge. And I had taken that— and I love to travel too. So on a trip to New York, I was boating around the harbor— like on a tour boat, it wasn’t like it was my personal boat— And you go under the George Washington Bridge, this massive bridge. And I just remember it feeling so huge, so massive, just almost this… force. And so I went home, and I wrote, I wrote about that feeling of going under that bridge. Yeah, a lot of fun memories doing that that album.

The cover art is from a National Geographic artists that I saw in a book, and it’s amazing. And I read the credits, and I saw where he was from. So I looked him up, and I gave him a call. And I said, Any chance you want to let me use this picture? And he was like, yeah, that’s just fine. You know, as long as it just stays on this one project. So we got the rights for that and used it and it’s amazing. When you see something you like, and that you love, you know, do a little work. Reach out to the person, you kind of have to come to expect the Yes. And not say, oh, I’ll never get a chance to use this photo. But well, you you’ll never know until you try. Yeah, that’s how the cover art came to be. Art Wolfe is the photographer. I believe he was out of Seattle at that point.

Lauren
Do you know where that photo was taken?

Shelly
I want to say rural Italy. Don’t quote me on that. I would have to look that up.

Lauren
So a lot of the songs… their titles seem very southern-themed.

Shelly
I love to travel. I’ve just always had a fascination with different areas. So one of the tunes I wrote was “Southern One.” And then I wrote another one called Bellingrath Gardens, about some gardens in Alabama. Disclaimer, I’ve never been to Alabama, but I found pictures of these gardens. And I thought, I’m just gonna write about them.

Lauren
What was the rest of the recording process? Did you go into studio? Did you record it from home?

Shelly
In 1995 there weren’t a lot of home studios! So yeah, I was about 24 years old and it was just written a lot from home. And then a good friend of mine, Chris Siegel, who’s also from Waconia who had also has done a lot of sound audio work. He was doing his master’s degree at the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. So he actually was the audio engineer, and I went down to Champaign Urbana, Illinois, and we recorded everything on a piano in their Fine Arts Center. We did the whole album over a couple days.

Lauren
Do you think that you’ll ever put out another album?

Shelly
Possibly.

Lauren
I know that you’ve written recently.

Shelly
Yes, um, yeah, I think I would, you know, maybe do some more Christmas music.

Lauren
The world always needs more Christmas music.

Shelly
I agree.

Lauren
So I want to ask you about working with Lorie Line. For the listeners and viewers that don’t know Lorie Line is a very successful pianist. She’s very well known for her performance level.

Shelly
Yes, she’s very, very, very gifted. Very gifted pianist, plays a lot by ear, very multi sensory. So she has the music, the costuming, the set. She’s a very wonderful, very fascinating person to know.

I’m gonna back up another second. I’m also a church musician. I’ve been a church musician forever. And that’s how I met you, Lauren. And I started way back in the late 80s, just the accompanying the choir. And it’s grown from there. So I do all the service playing. But I also try to coordinate a lot of the music groups, and then try to bring in some special music and some special artists from outside of our walls.

Couple years ago, I had gone to a private home concert in her home. And I thought, you know, this may be a long shot, but I’m just going to ask her, would you be interested or willing or available to come to our church and do some special music? And there were a lot of people that night that you know, around, so it’s kind of like, you know, yeah, send me an email. We weren’t going to get into the details right then in there. So I sent her an email, and I thought, Well, think like a musician, as a musician, that email you don’t want is, do you want to come and play for us? And how much would that be? That tells you nothing. It’s like, what exactly are you looking for? Is it just one song or a whole concert? So I wrote a pretty specific email. And then I got a response. And she said, Yes, I would love to.

And we had a great time. People really enjoyed it. And then a few days afterwards, she said, you know, you, you’re very organized. You did a great job. Would you like to come and work for me? I would. I’m looking for someone to kind of be my office assistant while I’m out on tour. And I thought, great, yes, it was a pretty immediate Yes. I didn’t have to think too hard about that. And it’s been just wonderful. I mean, I get to do really detailed computer work, which I actually enjoy. I’m around musicians, I’m around Christmas music, a lot of ideas. It’s really fun. I’ve gotten to see some of the costumes in the different stages as they’re being created. But just a very, very creative, very hardworking, very gifted person. She really lives into all of her gifts.

Lauren
Yeah, she seems like somebody who just like lives so fully.

Shelly
I think that’s a lesson we can take from her. Seeing what your gifts are, and then thinking big and leaning into your, into your gifts. take the initiative to make things happen.

Lauren
So then you’ve gone to quite a few for shows now, right?

Shelly
Mm hmm.

Lauren
So what have been some of the more fun shows that you’ve been able to see?

Shelly
Night after night on her tour, she’ll do an instant medley. People will shout things out. They’ll go… “Silent Night,” “Oh, Holy Night,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Unchained Melody,” and she will take about 15 of those songs. And on the spot she’ll create a medley. You just never know. There’s always someone that’ll shout out “The Beer Barrel Polka”, or something or “Wisconsin Fight Song.” And it’s just amazing how you can take “Oh, Holy Night” and a polka and somehow string them together. You’re seeing a live, living, breathing thing. So that’s always a highlight… watching that be created, literally on the spot.

Lauren
So let’s talk a little bit about road tripping. You love road tripping. In 2015, you did a big trip down south. You went to St. Louis, you went to Kansas City, you went to Nashville. You saw the Grand Ole Opry, you saw the Royals play. What were some of the unexpected gems that you found when you were traveling around down there?

Shelly
There’s just a feeling when you hit 35W or interstate 94. You just go. I just feel so fully alive when I’m taking on that trip. I’m also a baseball fan. I love the Twins. So I kind of plan this around when the Twins were playing in Kansas City. And I was a little adventurous— almost too adventure to start. I thought, I’m just gonna go and see what happens. I’m not even going to make a hotel reservation.

Lauren
Brave. Brave.

Shelly
Ummmmmm, well! I got to Kansas City, I could not find a hotel. I wound up kind of in a bad section, in a motel in the bad part of town. And I thought this is the only place I can find! I think I’m gonna wind up staying here. And you know you’re in trouble when you park your car, and then there’s a big disclaimer sign that says “we are not responsible if your vehicles broken.” Oh, oh no. So that was kind of my one thing. I probably won’t go totally rogue without even a reservation. So. Yeah.

And then I drove in from Kansas City. I think it’s I70, you just take over to St. Louis. I was able to hit a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game there. I also like history, and there was a lot to take in. And I was there actually just about the time a few months after the Ferguson riots happened. So, yeah, there was definitely a kind of attention going through that area.

But I believe I went to Memphis after that. If you like music hit Nashville and hit Memphis. They’re two very different towns. Nashville is kind of… very pop, very country. Very fun. A lot of music history there too. Memphis you get a little more gritty with the blues. But they’ve got a different history.

You of course have Graceland there and I thought, you know, I’m the average Elvis fan. Everyone kind of likes Elvis a little, but by the time I left, I thought, Oh my goodness. I think I have a crush on Elvis. Even though he’s 100 years old. You go there liking Elvis, you leave loving Elvis.

Lauren
What about Elvis charmed you?

Shelly
I mean, he was a total performer. You know, he had the outfits and the music. And his upbringing was very humble. He went to sun cities and Philips discovered him— Sun City is a very famous recording studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Johnny Lee Lewis, some great people came through. It was actually the secretary at Sun City who really noticed him. Elvis came in for his audition. And she was the one that kind of stood up and said after he left, you know, hey, like, we better call him back. He’s something special. She’s probably one of the most unsung heroes in music, because she really she heard that even more than Sam Phillips did.

Lauren
Do I think you’d ever like to play in any of those types of venues in Memphis or Nashville?

Shelly
Not for the long haul. But sure, I would. I’m pretty settled here in Minnesota, but it’s very different there. I feel like Minnesota is more… you know, you wouldn’t jump up on stage and start playing in Minnesota. We’re Minnesota nice. We’re kind of reserved, we stick to a plan. We just don’t have a lot of outsiders.

Out there, I think they’re pretty, they’re a little bit more open to having outsiders just come up and join in right on the spot. Yeah.

And I think from there, I went to Asheville, North Carolina. Talk about a little bit lack of a plan. I got to North Carolina, and then looked at the map and I thought, Wow, I’ve really driven a long way. I’m a lot further from home than I thought. But beautiful, beautiful part of the country. You get into those Blue Ridge Mountains and there’s just clean, fresh air. And then there’s The Biltmore—

Lauren
Those photos almost looked like you were in Europe. Like old money.

Shelly
Yes, the Biltmore was built by the vanderbilts. So that is some old, old old American money.

Lauren
Yeah. That’s gorgeous. All right. So second to last question. We’re going to talk about baseball. You’re a huge fan. Imagine that I’ve never watched a game of baseball. Pitch me, if you would, baseball. Why should I watch baseball?

Shelly
It’s a game of anticipation. You’re always waiting for that next thing to happen. You’re always wondering how is this pitching matchup going to work? How are they going to play everyone? And then once again, you’ve got such a great history before baseball. Horse racing was really kind of, from what I understand, the sport of choice before baseball.

Lauren
Really?

Shelly
Mm hmm. I learned that on one of my road trips. So down in Nashville, if you go to the Belle Meade horse museums, you’ll see that baseball kind of overtook horse racing.

You’ve also go the history of the great ballparks. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field. And some of the players too, you’ve got Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Rod Carew, up to you know, present day and of course, Jackie Robinson. You know, that reflected a lot of what was going on in our nation. Now everything is very mixed. We have Latin American players, African American, white, Asian, so it’s really kind of reflects more of our diverse country too. And then it’s just such a great sport to sit outside to on summer night. Just baseball and summer, go together.

Lauren
Oh, 100%

Thank you for come or for letting me interview you. Now I’m just going to ask you if there’s anybody that you would like to thank for being themselves.

Shelly
I’m going to start with your generation of the young musicians that kind of came through church. You and your brother Colin and Marya Haugland— Grant Johnson. It’s so wonderful to have that group involved. That’s been one of my highlights.

Some of the teachers that I’ve had. I’ve just loved that they’ve let me be authentic, that they’ve been authentic with me. Some great friends and… I taught during my first 12 years, and I taught with some great teachers and I had some great students. All just very inspiring.

And I will have to shout out to you, Lauren. You inspire me. Starting your own video production company, starting your podcast, taking the initiative, and I really see you living into your gifts, like what we talked about with Lorie. You’re very creative. You’re very articulate. You’re thinking big. You know, you’re starting your own business using your gifts that you have. So I’m taking a lot of inspiration from you right now. Lauren.

Lauren
Aw, shucks. Well, thanks so much. And thanks again for you know, being on my podcast.

Unknown Speaker
I enjoyed it. Have a great night. We’ll talk soon.

Shelly
Of course.

Lauren
You just listened to Than You for Being You. Intro and outro music is Cooper Ave by The Westerlies. This podcast is brought to you by me, and my business, Swee Videos, a social video production and content marketing business. At Swee Videos we— and by we I mean I— pride ourselves on authentic human connection, great storytelling, and effective, research-based strategy. If you’re a business owner looking to establish or grow your online presence in our increasingly digital world, check me out at sweevideos.wordpress.com or email me at sweevideos@gmail.com

Thanks for listening, and take the time today to tell someone how you feel.

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