Since Louise Polay began teaching in the Knox College Music Department 30 years ago, it has been her policy to have her violin and viola students perform in a studio recital each term. Last Thursday, Polay accompanied her students on piano in this term’s recital.
“There are different types of musicians and some do solely play just for their own personal enjoyment,” Polay said. “But if you’re going to share music with other people, you have to get used to preparing to do it and then actually having the experience of seeing how well things go when others are listening.”
Polay has been playing the violin for almost 50 years. She began playing at a young age and pursued the instrument throughout her adult life because of the unique opportunities for collaboration it provides.
“Pianists don’t get to play a lot with other people, especially when they’re children and teenagers, but with the violin I was also involved in orchestra programs and those things made it so I stuck with the instrument because of the peer support,” she said.
Polay hopes to foster the same spirit of collaboration and cooperation among her students. She feels that building peer support is another important aspect of giving public performances.
Polay’s recitals are especially important on Knox’s relatively small campus, where opportunities to perform are scarcer than at large schools.
“They do have the String Ensemble that gives them the chance to play much more with each other and I think that’s where that peer support comes in. For the String Ensemble, most of them choose to do it one day a week with no credit for what they’re doing, just because they want to still have their instrument and that interaction.”
Many of the students who come to Polay for music lessons are not music majors. She stresses the importance of music as an emotional and creative outlet for all students. In the past, Polay has taken on students who regretted quitting a musical instrument or desired a creative outlet and she is thankful for the opportunities Knox offers these types of students to learn and play.
“I’m just grateful that Knox has continued to realize that this is something that enriches students’ lives from all spectrums of education — it’s not just the music majors … and they still have the great love of feeding the part of their soul that music touched, and I’m grateful that Knox has continued to value that.”
For students who spend the majority of their day in SMC, Polay’s practice room provides an ingenious departure. The therapeutic qualities of music lessons make them an invaluable resource on campus.
“Music can just be a peaceful moment, or a very structured moment,” she said. “It’s also very solitary … You can play for somebody else, but you can’t practice unless you kind of lock out that time and you’re by yourself and I think sometimes that’s really valuable, here on campus, when you start to feel like there’s always stuff.”
Polay’s one-on-one interactions with her students add another dimension to the deep sense of community within the Knox College Music Department. She is surprised and blessed by the ways in which relationships with her students have enriched her own life.
“When I was younger, I just enjoyed everything about my instrument and music, which I still do, but 30 plus years into it, after having had my own children, who’ve gone through college, and now getting to work with college students, I think my favorite part really is the interaction with my students. I have come to absolutely love sharing music with them, but also we meet one-on-one every week and sometimes it’s for four years that I get to see a student. And so I feel like their lessons also become a time when I get to know them as a person and they get to know me and I feel like I get to be a support to them outside of just music, that hopefully I can support them in the exciting, good things that happen.”