Tucked away in a little corner of the woods just outside Langley is an old chicken coop. Although it’s been a very long time since this coop has seen any chickens, you could say it’s seen its share of songbirds.
Remodeled years ago, the long, narrow space is now home to 88 Keys Piano Studio and Performance Space. Two grand pianos sit side by side at the far end, which is where you’ll usually find owner and musician Maureen Girard.
“Music is the truest expression of myself,” she said. “It’s who I am, what I’m meant to be.”
Girard, who began playing the piano even before she began taking formal lessons at age 7, has never stopped trying to perfect her craft. She won a scholarship to study at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., after a professor heard her play and suggested she audition. She transferred to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she made connections with Seattle musicians who are still friends today.
Those connections, as well as her considerable talent, led to an invitation for Girard to appear at the first ever Seattle Women in Jazz Festival to be held in April 2013. In celebration of the Seattle event, Girard, who has done “House Concerts” at her studio for several years, has put together her own Women in Jazz series, the first of which will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at 88 Keys Piano Studio.
The House Series will begin with, appropriately enough, the Maureen Girard Trio, featuring Girard on vocals and piano, Thomas Marriott on trumpet and flugelhorn and Brian Kirk on drums and vibes.
Other artists to be featured in the series include jazz pianist Karin Kajia and vocalist Emily McIntosh in October and award-winning jazz vocalist Gail Peters in November. An especially sweet treat next spring will be vocalist Sue Bell, who will give a Valentine’s House Concert on Feb. 16.
“These are people you’d see in the finest jazz clubs,” Girard said. “It’s the highest standard of music out there.”
And the most varied. Jazz can include bits and pieces of many different genres of music.
“Jazz is very broad,” said Girard. “I don’t just play jazz, either. It can be classical, country, blues. I play many different styles.”
A big part of what Girard does these days is teach. She sees about 25 students a week, a responsibility she takes seriously.
“It’s so amazing. A good teacher in your life can make a difference,” she said. “I still keep in touch with students I had 20 years ago.”
Girard, who credits that professor who heard her play long ago with fueling the fire for music already inside her, said she can also teach her students tenacity.
“Don’t give up, I tell them,” Girard said. “I’ve taken the opportunities I’ve been given and run with them and worked hard.
“I decided long ago that I would either make it as a musician or die trying,” she continued. “That’s a good quality to have, I think, and to pass along.”
In the same spirit, Girard is planning a future workshop for women and girls in jazz, although a date hasn’t been set.
“I’m an advocate of empowering women and girls. I’ve been able to use the skills I have to express myself,” she said. “It’s a great thing to be able to share with other people and my students.”
Anyone interested in sharing the jazz experience is welcome to make a reservation to attend Girard’s Women in Jazz House Series. The cost to attend is $25 and seating is limited. Tickets can be ordered online at www.maureengirard.com. Anyone with questions can call 360-221-0362.
Girard recommends trying this truly unique Whidbey Island experience.
“Be prepared to be surprised,” she said. “The quality, fun and whole experience of it is unexpected. It’s unique.”
She is likely correct — there’s probably not another chicken coop like it anywhere else.
If you go
House Concert Series: Women in Jazz
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29
88 Keys Piano Studio and Performance Space, 5024 Saratoga Road, Langley
Reservations required, go online to www.maureengirard.com