How embracing life shifted one musician’s perspective

By Katie Marie Chatham

Emily Spencer, mother of five, has built her world around her love for music.

Each of the experiences along her journey—she has an extensive background in the musical arts—has led her to a place of deep reverence and gratitude for the way music brings people together.

“I love the sound of hundreds of people raising their voices together – it can be so beautifully unifying,” Emily said.

She received her undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy at Brigham Young University, and later a master’s in Choral Conducting and Pedagogy from the University of Iowa. She has worked as an adjunct professor, coordinated several inter-faith festivals, and was the co-founder of the Tri-State Choral Society in Southeast Wisconsin. She has trained with the Associate Music Director of The Phantom of the Opera, Jamie Johns, and used to spend much of her time teaching voice and piano lessons.

In 2019, Emily and her husband moved from Iowa to Prescott for his career in radiology. As a busy mom, Emily carts four of her five kids to different schools, and three of them play two instruments each.

The family’s shared love of music keeps everyone busy; as if Emily wasn’t busy enough with her kids’ school needs, she also coordinates recitals for them at local retirement homes, especially around the holidays. She led the women’s group through her church and sings professionally, and as a continuing student herself, is learning to play the cello. She is also an inaugural member of the Prescott-based professional twelve-member ensemble, QUARTZ.

Emily shared that she has been able to learn something from every encounter she has had, which has helped her to refine her own church music practices.

“My musical exposure to many different faith traditions has opened my eyes to how people think and worship in different ways,” she said.

Music hasn’t been the only thing to open her eyes to a different way of thinking. Emily’s second-oldest son was born with special needs; he is on the autism spectrum. He is the one child of hers who has not been immediately drawn to playing an instrument, and this has been an experience in acceptance for Emily. “Watching him figure out what he is drawn to has been such a learning experience for my husband and I, and another of many lessons in trust,” Emily explained.

She reminisced about a day at the park:

“The family had gone flying kites together, and my autistic son was pacing the grass. As a mother, I was watching from the side, almost sad and thinking to myself, ‘This is how it will always be for my son. He will always be operating differently; always be – I hated to think it, but – struggling, and lost, unable to connect meaningfully with others.’ It was a little painful to watch and I remember being a bit tearful over it. Suddenly, he burst into a full sprint toward me with a bouquet of flowers in hand, and I realized, he wasn’t lost at all. He knew exactly what he was doing, and it didn’t matter what was happening around him; he was on a mission!”

This story is a metaphor for the way Emily learned to look at the world, first through the lens of music, and next through the eyes of her son: “People think differently,” Emily said, adding, “My heart has softened with time to how different we all are, and how beautiful that truly is.”