Keys to happiness: Rosie Sauvageau finds freedom in playing her music off the pageFARGO - When her oldest of three children, Rosemary Elizabeth, was an infant, Sharon Sauvageau would regularly sit down at the piano and plunk out tunes she’d learned during her short fling with music lessons.
FARGO - When her oldest of three children, Rosemary Elizabeth, was an infant, Sharon Sauvageau would regularly sit down at the piano and plunk out tunes she’d learned during her short fling with music lessons.
She may not have been proficient, but her love of melody was evident – in the music she played, the songs she sang and the instruments she kept around the house.
In a crib nearby, her tiny, newly adopted daughter was quiet and wide-eyed, taking it all in.
Eventually, the stay-at-home mom began to plop little “Rosie” on her lap while at the keyboard. “She’d put her fingers on my hand, and we’d play that way,” Sharon says. “I wasn’t very good, but she didn’t know the difference. And I could tell she liked it.”
When she was more mobile, Rosie would sit in her highchair near the piano while her mother played, and they’d sing together.
Though Sharon had always dreamed of having a child who would share her love of ebony and ivory, she couldn’t begin to imagine the magnitude of the gift hidden within her young daughter.
What she did know is that little Rosie’s fingers were more slender than most – possibly piano material.
Everything came to light one day when Rosie was 2. She’d been watching “Sesame Street” and had toddled over to the piano and reached up to the keyboard.
Sharon was flabbergasted by what she was hearing: the first couple measures of the show’s theme song.
“She didn’t know what to think,” Rosie says. “She’s told me, ‘I was so confused, but excited, too.’ ”
Over time, Sharon started to wonder how to best channel her daughter’s talent. She learned that most piano teachers won’t start students until they can read. When Rosie was barely 5, she found one willing to try.
“I remember really, really wanting to start lessons, and I took them all through high school,” Rosie says, noting that by age 11, she was playing at her home parish, Holy Spirit Catholic Church. She received around $5 a weekend at first, eventually garnering raises.
Unlike some kids who start lessons and quit a couple years into it, Sharon says, Rosie’s desire never seemed to wane, and she progressed rapidly.
By high school, Rosie was playing for theater and choral productions and competitions. As a senior in 2006, she won a music scholarship that brought her to the Fargo Theatre stage for the annual Celebration of Women and Their Music event, where she performed before the local community.
By outside accounts, it seemed as though Rosie was heading straight into a career as a classical pianist.
While searching out colleges, she zeroed in on those with strong music programs, and landed at St. Benedict’s in St. Joseph, Minn. After realizing the school’s education-oriented emphasis, she transferred to Concordia College in Moorhead midway through her first year to focus on performance.
A year and a half later, something within Rosie began to shift. Before the end of her sophomore year, she’d dropped her music major and decided to take a hiatus from playing for a couple months.
“I was so burned out,” Rosie admits. “I was practicing eight hours a day my freshman year. If I wasn’t practicing I was studying, if I wasn’t studying I was in class.”
An extrovert by nature, Rosie was feeling boxed in and resenting the very thing that had previously brought her so much joy. “It’s different if you have a drive to keep playing Bach all day, but I just didn’t.”
Many in her life were surprised by her decision. One classmate, a highly trained musician, commented that she could never imagine abandoning her music major. The remark rubbed Rosie the wrong way.
“There are so many amazing musicians who have no education in music. They just have raw, natural, amazing talent,” she says. “And then there are the people who are so, so educated. … They’re equally as amazing, but I don’t think that should diminish the musician that has less education.”
Rosie needed to figure out what she really wanted. She didn’t see herself being a music liturgist or teaching or just accompanying others. She’d already done those things. She was ready for new challenges.
“Around that time, I found myself composing more, and that kind of took on a whole new life,” Rosie says. “I love classical music, but I realized I didn’t want to play it forever and make it be my job and my life and my hobby.”
The time was freeing for Rosie, allowing her to discover new passions. She took a class on design on a whim that appealed to her fashion sense and found she loved it.
In 2010, she graduated with two degrees – apparel and design, and communications and theater.
Looking back to go forward
Rosie credits her parents, Sharon and Bill, for their steady support, along with others who’ve helped shape her as a musician and person; notably Joan Teichmann, her piano teacher from ages 6 to 17, and Rebecca Raber, her high school choir teacher.
Teichmann was both teacher and friend who, Rosie says, would push her when necessary, especially in high school when she was too busy to practice.
“She’d say, ‘I’m not going to just sit here and watch you practice.’ So we’d have listening lessons and listen to different things, like jazz artists or whatever,” Rosie says. “And she’d always encourage us to go to different (musical) events.”
She’ll never forget how Raber, the new instructor at Shanley High School her freshman year, helped her overcome her phobia of public singing.
“I remember that first day, we stood up and sang a scale or two, and it was all over the place, and you could just see in Mrs. Raber’s face, ‘Oh man, we have lots of work to do,’ ” Rosie says. “But that was my favorite year of choir, hands down, growing so much but growing with her, going through that process together.”
Her friend Jane Eisenbeis, Fargo, also names high school choir as a highlight, thanks to Rosie.
“She enhanced my love for choral music and made my experience and memories of high school so much better,” Jane says. “She’s just very generous in the way she shares her knowledge with others.”
As early as sixth grade, Jane recalls, she would hang out with Rosie and ask her to play songs and jingles they’d just heard on television. “She would be able to do that, just by ear, and I was just so amazed,” Jane says.
She still has the very first recording Rosie gave her of a song she composed that year called “Stargazing,” her all-time favorite “Rosie original.”
What makes Rosie most special, however, according to Jane, is her ability to brighten any room. “Nothing can ever knock her down or cause her to go off her path. She’s very resilient in that way,” Jane says. “I also think Rosie is very funny, not in a tell-jokes kind of way, but she just can make you smile at anything. She’s just a very loving person.”
But, Jane adds, at the end of the day, her longtime friend is still most comfortable behind a keyboard.
Rosie agrees that there’s nothing like being in the zone – just a girl and her piano.
“Usually when I’m just playing piano by myself, it’s not a certain song but something I’m making up as I go,” she says. “It’s very freeing. It’s like you don’t have any limitations as to what you can do or create because you’re just playing. You’re not being judged or compared, and that’s the best feeling.”
Currently, she’s drawing on several strengths as an employee of My Best Friend’s Closet clothing store in Moorhead, and her job at the North Dakota State University theater department, where she accompanies student lessons and theater classes.
As for what’s next, Rosie says at 24, she’s far from being settled in her life, and that’s OK.
“I have a lot of interests, and I want to be able to do them and do them well and kind of exhaust them,” she says, noting that she’s thinking of moving someplace else for a while to find fresh inspiration. “I’m restless, and I want to stay restless.”
For now, she’s taking in the local music scene, playing with fellow musicians on occasion, and doing a show or two of her own when the chance arises.
Rosie’s next gig, a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, is set for 7:30 p.m. on May 19 at the Spirit Room in Fargo. The event is part of her involvement in the Miss North Dakota scholarship pageant to take place in early June in Williston.