Carol Young plays her passions by heart

Carol Young plays the piano.
Carol Young started playing piano three years ago.

The first time I met Carol Young we were both attending the launch of a new women’s book group focused solely on Classic Literature. I liked her from the moment she sat down next to me. She was wearing rectangular glasses of a shine and color that perfectly matched her auburn hair and sparkly brown eyes. I found her to be sassy, smart, and unafraid to be herself.

Over the year and a half that I have gotten to know her, I have seen that she is as frank and honest with herself as she is with anyone else. She is a person who sees what’s in front of her, determines if it is something she wishes to achieve, and if the answer is yes, she moves mountains to make it happen.

Three years ago she began doing just that after an “A-ha” moment at the mental health clinic where she worked. “We had a piano in our clinic and two clients went to it and started playing. That’s when it hit me. I could learn how to play the piano. There’s nothing stopping me.”

There was just one thing stopping her, though. “I didn’t want anyone to hear me,” she admits. Still, once she knew what she wanted to do, she pressed forward with her dream. She immediately started cleaning out space in her office for a keyboard–a keyboard into which she could plug headphones so that it would mute the sound from the outside but still make it possible to hear herself practice.

To learn that Carol could be afraid of anything was surprising, so when I asked her about it, she said, “Passion doesn’t have to be played out in public.” This was something I had never thought about. Instead of letting the idea that someone might hear her stop her from even trying her dream, she honed her actions toward the most important part of the goal: she wanted to learn to play the piano. It didn’t matter if anyone else heard her. In using headphones, then, she was able to deal with the fear she had and accomplish her dream at the same time.

“It took about a year and a half before I stopped sweating in front of my teacher,” she said with honesty. “I don’t get quite as nervous anymore. I think I just wore myself out.” Like a lot of us, though, she still wrestles with those critical voices that try to tell us we’re not really any good or we’re not as far along as we’d like to be. She says the question she asks herself when she starts hearing those doubts is, “Are you having fun?” And, if the answer is yes, she tells those voices to shut up.

A video of Carol playing “Beauty and the Beast” by memory.

This constant vigilance and focus has taken her far in her dream to master the piano. These days, the headphones are off and there is a shiny piano sitting in her living room. She still doesn’t play for the public, but she does practice, even when her husband is at home.

Following her interest for the piano took her into other passions she never knew she had.

“I have pitch!” she exclaimed to me one day with a measure of surprise in her voice. “Who knew that I have pitch!” After taking a class in piano at Phoenix College, she learned about a choir that didn’t require auditions. Before long, she was standing with a group of other students, learning music, and gearing up for concerts.

Carol Young stands with friends before a concert.
Carol Young before a concert, with husband Gene Holmerud, and friend, Margo Brown.

Paying attention to one passion, learning to play the piano, has blossomed into a love and talent for music she didn’t know she had. Now she sings in two choirs at the college, The Phoenix Community Chorus and the McConnell Singers Women’s Choir. She has also started taking music classes at the school, and she even said she’s started to work out at the gym to get in better shape so she can breathe more deeply and sing more strongly.

A lifetime habit of following inspiration

Almost from the moment I met Carol I learned about her love of music, but it was in getting to know her better that I learned she has always been one to follow what calls her.  Take for example, the career as a therapist she had before retiring. Early on, she worked an office job in insurance, something she had little interest in at all, but which paid the bills. During this time, she started volunteering at a crisis center.  It was here that she realized what her real passion was–to become a therapist and work with the people suffering most with mental illnesses. She left her job at the insurance company, worked several part-time jobs to pay the bills, lived hand-to-mouth for several years, and worked with abandon toward her Masters degree and certification. After all that focus and years of hard work, she became a therapist and never looked back, at least not until she was ready to retire and move on to other passions, like music.

Carol says part of what drives her is the fear of being bored or being boring. She doesn’t do these things for other people’s entertainment, though. She does them for herself. “I always felt I had to create my own excitement,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be big.”

For example, after her divorce, she started facing the everyday things, like going to the movies or going on vacation by herself, by jumping in with both feet. For her, she says, “the alternative was unacceptable.” As a result, she has seen the world, and not to mention, some really great movies.

She admits that it can be scary to do these things on your own. The first time she went to see a movie by herself, she says it was “earth-shattering”. She chose a matinee because going during “prime time” was just too much. In her head, she was sure everyone would be pointing and laughing at her. Eventually, though, she even got over that fear and these days she has no trouble going to a movie by herself at any time. In fact, she says she prefers it.

“If you truly have the passion [to do something],” she says, “you don’t care what other people think. You don’t do it for other people. You do it for you. When you find the love of your life, you make room for them, don’t you? That’s true with other sorts of passions too.”

This is where Carol defines passion, as something, some activity, that moves to the top of the list, for which she will move around her schedule. She says, “Given a choice of that or something else, I choose that.” She doesn’t describe her passions as having a physical reaction, rather “it’s a very grounded sensation.” For her it’s about commitment; what she is willing to commit to above all else.

Nowadays, between the piano and singing, her schedule is all but full. For this, she has reprioritized her life, a sure sign that she has stumbled onto something that speaks to her soul.

If you would like to see Carol in action, you can see both choirs in concert several times a year, starting with Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 3:00pm at Faith Lutheran Church, which is located at 801 E Camelback Road in Phoenix. This concert is free to the public, although a donation is requested. For more information about these choirs, visit the Phoenix College website and check back here for announcements of future concerts.