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Kathy’s story: conquering fears through music

Posted on July 17, 2015


“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is to be understood.”

- Marie Curie

For the majority of Kathy Griffin’s life, she struggled with fear. Whether starting a new job, using a new technology or even doing activities at school, Kathy believes that self-doubt consistently held her back from true achievement. “I was always afraid of looking stupid,” she says. “I thought if I looked stupid then people wouldn’t like me, and if they didn’t like me then they wouldn’t want to be around me. Which means I would be abandoned. I would be alone.”

Having grown up in a musical family, Kathy always had a passion for singing. It wasn’t until the age of 47, however, that she found the courage—and the opportunity—to pursue music in earnest. Today, after two years as a vocal jazz student in VCC’s music diploma program, Kathy’s story is one of inspiring personal growth and revelation.

Carrying a tune

Despite debilitating insecurity, especially at school, Kathy’s home life was filled with the joy of music. She remembers her mother, a pianist, “getting lost in her own world” as she practiced in the house. Kathy herself, a self-described “harmony geek” remembers singing in three-part harmony with her father and sister. When they weren’t around, Kathy would switch to two-part harmony with anything that provided a tone—the blender, the dishwasher, even passing airplanes!

Throughout her life, Kathy has taken up the trombone, the guitar, sang in choirs, a folk group and even contributed her smooth, deep voice to a “men’s” barbershop chorus. Looking back, Kathy finds that auditioning for community choirs as a tenor was one of the few ways in which she actually did confront her anxieties. “Back in the ‘90s, a woman singing tenor just wasn’t heard of. The guys would look at me funny,” she says, “and the girls would think I was just trying to pick up the guys!”

After “barely” graduating from high school, Kathy got married, had a daughter and began a long, successful career in customer service. When her daughter eventually left home to begin her own career as a veterinary technician, Kathy, with enthusiastic support from her husband Curtis, made one of the most drastic decisions of her life; she quit her job to study music full-time.

One of the kids

Kathy says her choice to study at VCC was based on the Music department’s supportive environment. “People here aren’t trying to be better than each other,” she says. “They’re trying to better themselves.” Kathy also has nothing but praise for the teachers as well as her fellow students. “These are all astounding musicians yet they’re incredibly humble. It’s so refreshing,” she says.

Even in the most positive setting, however, entering college as a mature student—especially for someone who’s struggled in education all her life—takes an emotional toll. “Every day I felt stupid, every day I was crying,” says Kathy, adding that her fellow students of all ages would often tear up alongside her.

Still early on in the program, Kathy decided to take advantage of VCC’s free counselling services to help build her confidence. She says the sessions helped her tremendously by unearthing the root of her lifelong insecurity. “I was in Grade one. I was six years old and I couldn’t put the blocks together,” she recalls. “The principal looked at me and said I was ‘retarded.’ Until I came here, I never realized how much this statement affected my whole life.”

Music for life

With only a few courses to go before completing the comprehensive two-year music diploma program (and already with a Jack Cullen Award under her belt), Kathy, like any other student, is now considering her career options. While VCC offers numerous courses to prepare students for the music industry, such as Commercial Ear Training and Music and Media, Kathy finds herself mostly drawn to careers in which music is used to help and to heal, such as music therapy or hospice work.

This interest also stems back to Kathy’s childhood and memories of her mother. Once an in-demand professional piano player, Kathy’s mother now suffers from schizophrenia. At the age of 73, she still plays from time to time, and when she does, Kathy sees its calming effects. “Her music has always been the one thing that grounded her,” says Kathy. “I truly believe that music helps troubled people reach places they might not otherwise be able to go.”

Kathy herself has also reached new heights over the past two years. While still battling lifelong insecurity, she now knows the fulfillment that comes from following her dreams, and has started encouraging those around her to do so as well. “There’s always fear,” she says. Then adds, with a hint of wonder in her voice, “But just imagine if everyone did what they really wanted in the world? There would be a lot more happy people. Seriously, it would be amazing.”


VCC’s music programs are highly regarded for their academic and skills curricula, as well as emphasis on music and media, career opportunities and performance techniques. Applications are still being accpeted for September 2015! Auditions to be held in August. Email for registration info.