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HED:Tupelo resients makes annual trip for "Big Apple" performance

By Bobby Pepper

Daily Journal

As a child growing up in Tennessee, Margaret Hight had aspirations of attending the famed Juilliard School in New York City to become a concert pianist.

Hight finally made it to Juilliard after years of planning. The Tupelo resident went even further and made stops at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Opera and Carnegie Hall. But when she visited each place, not once did she set foot on stage.

A retired United Methodist deaconess, Hight spends two weeks each year visiting New York City to attend the opera, musical and dance performances at the Lincoln Center and other sites. The trip, which she makes by herself, gives Hight an opportunity to renew her love for the performing arts.

"I'm real close to all sorts of music and opera," said Hight, who turned 82 on Nov. 4. "That's what I love more than anything else."

Hight has been making annual trips since her retirement in 1981 as director of social services at Cedars Health Center. She made periodic trips in 1974, the year she left Pontotoc to join the staff at Traceway Retirement Community.

"I have been there in different times over the year," said Hight, who resides at Traceway and has never married. "I started out going in November, but it's beginning to get treacherous weather about this time. Then I started going to the Mozart Festivals in the summertime, but they're not the same now. I go sometimes in early October and stay a couple of weeks. Then other times I go in April. I went last April and I'm hoping to go again next April."

Hight begins planning for her trip nearly six months in advance, when the theaters, recital halls and operas announce their schedules. She decides which performances she wants to see and then reserves a room at the Hotel Empire, a short walk from the Lincoln Center.

One year she couldn't get a room at the Empire, so she had to settle for another hotel about six blocks away. Luckily for her, it was across the street from Carnegie Hall.

She said there are enough performances at the Lincoln Center area to keep one busy the entire day.

"You can go to something early in the afternoon and still run there to one at 4 or 6, and then go to something that night," she said. "I like to get out, meet people and be with them. When I go in and sit down in one of these halls and the person sitting next to me doesn't start a conversation, I do. We have just some real nice conversations about music, and where they're from."

Hight returns home with programs and memories of great performances that in the past have included famous singers like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. Another way she is reminded of her love for music is her extensive LP collection featuring classical, opera, chamber, organ and similar forms of music.

Even though she has seen some of the greatest stars in classical music and opera, another highlight for Hight is to attend the student recitals at Juilliard.

"Some of them were really far advanced in their studies and just about ready for the concert stage," she said. "I've been able to follow their careers. I remember hearing one girl sing and the next time I went to the Metropolitan Opera, she was singing in the Met."

The visits to Juilliard remind Hight, who was born in Jackson, Tenn., of how much music influenced her at an early age. She said she learned how to play the piano by ear.

"I know my family told me so often about how early I showed signs of loving music," she said. "They had some records of the music of the day, and they had one record that had two Verdi favorites, and they said every time they'd play the record I begged to hear those two pieces."

At age 13, Hight moved with her family to Memphis, where she performed for local orchestras. She had dreams of studying music at Juilliard, but never got that opportunity. Instead she turned to the ministry, utilizing her musical skills during her church work.

"I remember dreaming one night that I was on stage at the Juilliard and I was performing," she said. "I was wearing a green dress; I can almost see that dress now. I was just sure I could be a concert pianist, but things got in the way and I never got to study music. I played the piano in my work and I would play if there was not anybody in the church who could play."

When she began visiting New York, Hight found out she could enter Juilliard after all - as a spectator.

"I found out the students had to give recitals at the end of the year, and they're free to the public," she said. "I started going to hear the young people and to get acquainted with the Juilliard.

"When I heard the students playing, I thought, 'Well, I made it to Juilliard after all.' I'm getting to enjoy vicariously through these young people what I had dreamed and hoped of in my younger days."

Despite slowed by age, Hight is undergoing physical therapy to give her more strength. She hopes the treatment will give her enough energy to move from performance to performance around Lincoln Center when she returns there next spring.

"The doctors all urge me to keep going," she said. "They said that's the reason I've gotten along as well as I have, because I'm interested in so many things and I make these trips. ... As long as I can walk, I'll go."

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