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A passion for music and a philanthropic legacy

Pictured (from top left clockwise): The author's grandmother Mimi Rolland playing piano for residents at Woodview Healthcare (Photo Credit: The Journal Gazette); The author's grandmother and father playing piano and clarinet at home; The author (right) participating in a youth orchestra

By Abby Rolland

From an early age, music has always been a part of my life. I sang in church, community, and school choirs, took violin and piano lessons, and played the handbells in a church group and violin in a community youth orchestra.

While my parents, particularly my mom (a trumpet player and singer in her youth), encouraged the playing of and listening to music, some of my strongest music memories involved my grandmother.

She recently passed away at the age of 90. As I sit here, thinking about my journey to philanthropy and working at harp-weaver’s client The Presser Foundation, which focuses on music, I can feel her presence and influence.

I spoke about her passion for philanthropy in a blog post I wrote in graduate school, and it seems fitting that this blog post focus on her love of music and the importance of it in our lives.

The author and her grandmother at the author's wedding

While never a professional musician, she was an exceptional piano player. She could sit down and play many pieces from memory and also read music well. She did not simply play just to play though; she always wanted her family members to join in for sing-alongs. Oftentimes, the songs she played were from well-known musicals and/or holiday songs so that we could easily sing with her as she played away.

Even without the piano, she often sang to us. Whether it was in the car, at her lake house, to our elementary school classrooms (she would come to read to us), or when we were in bed, she sang. Her nighttime lullaby sticks in my head to this day, and it’s a song I plan on singing to my child/ren as they lay down for the night.

Fast forward many years from my childhood. As I reviewed and pondered the Grants & Communications Manager position at The Presser Foundation through harp-weaver, I wondered about the feasibility of me, an individual without a music degree, accepting a position at a foundation solely focused on music.

But then, I remembered my grandma and the lessons that she directly, and perhaps indirectly, taught me.

Music is good for the soul. It rejuvenates, it inspires, it comforts.

Music brings people together and connects them. Whether it’s family in a private setting singing together, or diverse people coming together to experience or create music, music has the potential to create bridging and bonding ties that are vital to fostering and strengthening community.

Music sparks community change. It can be a fun way to bring people together, but it also questions current structures and systems, asks us to consider new possibilities, and creates opportunities for growth and learning.

Those are a few of the reasons why I love music and why I knew that accepting this position would not only lead to professional and personal growth, but provide opportunities to share my own love of music and enhance my knowledge of it.

I’m here in this position, growing and learning, due to the influence and mentorship of many people. But it was my grandma who fostered an early appreciation of music and the arts in general. You can see it via the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art Center at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana or through the endowed Mimi Rolland Professor in the Fine Arts position at her alma mater, North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

But you can see it more personally, through the career of her granddaughter. I’m eternally grateful for her passion for music, her love of the arts, and so much more. While she is not on Earth anymore, I know that her influence will live on in the lives of the many people she touched.

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