CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

Front porch performer finds her voice, fulfills dream

Posted Feb. 12, 2013, at 6:09 p.m.
Molly Pitcher sings jazz with the new band, Interplay" at Nocturnem Draft Haus in Bangor last month.
Courtesy of Bruce Cassaday
Molly Pitcher sings jazz with the new band, Interplay" at Nocturnem Draft Haus in Bangor last month.
Molly Pitcher, certified prosthetist/orthotist and jazz singer, at home in Bangor with her dog, Dizzy.
Molly Pitcher, certified prosthetist/orthotist and jazz singer, at home in Bangor with her dog, Dizzy.

When she was a little girl, Molly Pitcher and her friends used to “perform” on the front steps of a neighbor’s home. It was an unused front entrance that had the feel of a stage, and Molly remembers the excitement in her childish heart when she stood on those steps, even though it was only play.

“That little girl wanted to perform like that for real some day,” Molly said.

It took a few decades and a lot of persistence, but Molly, now in her 60s, performs like that for real on a regular basis.

Molly always loved music. She was a music major for a while at the University of Maine as an undergraduate, but she was painfully shy about performing. Also, the pragmatist in her knew that she needed something more dependable to live on. While she searched for her path and eventually devoted many years to a highly skilled and successful career, music stayed in the wings. But she kept coming back to it when she could, pushing herself to learn more, improve, and tackle her performance fears.

I recently sat in the audience at Nocturnem Draft Haus in downtown Bangor listening to the new band Interplay. That’s where I first saw Molly. It’s hard to believe that classy, sparkling jazz singer playing to the crowd used to tremble at the idea of singing a solo. It was also startling to learn that she had worked as a professional orthotist and prosthetist for nearly 30 years. The multifaceted nature of people never ceases to amaze me.

A week after Interplay’s performance, I spent a snowy morning at Molly’s home in Bangor. Exuberantly welcomed by Dizzy the poodle and warmed by Molly’s excellent coffee, I learned more of her story.

Molly’s parents, residents of New Jersey, fell in love with Maine summers and in 1960 bought a house in East Boothbay.

“I first came to Maine when I was 10,” said Molly. “And that was it. I said, ‘Wow. This is where I want to live.’” Some years later, she enrolled at UMaine.

After three semesters as a vocal performance major, Molly changed tracks for two reasons: she found performing extremely difficult and she wanted to earn a dependable living. Molly browsed the course catalog, became a child development major and got a job after graduation as an elementary level reading teacher.

Unfulfilled by teaching, Molly left work and wandered for several months. Eventually, she returned to Maine to take a job at the Helen P. Knight School, a school for children with disabilities, in the Aroostook County town of Caribou. Molly stayed for three years.

Two big things came out of Molly’s time in The County. First, she discovered an array of diverse musical opportunities. She joined a renaissance-baroque chorus at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, sang with a country-western band, and served as a music teacher in her school.

“We’d sing Bob Dylan songs together while I played my guitar.”

Molly’s second discovery was a fascination for the orthotic devices worn by the children at her school. Many students wore leg braces which had to be serviced and inspected every month by a visiting specialist. Molly’s first inquiries into the field of orthotics were met with dismissal, but eventually an enthusiastic mentor encouraged her to pursue her interest.

Molly spent a summer at Eastern Maine Medical Center working in the orthotics and prosthetics department. There were only four certification programs in the country at that time, one of which was in Seattle, Wash. She moved to Seattle, completed the required prerequisites, and went on to earn her second degree in Rehabilitation Medicine. In 1980, Molly moved to back to Maine and started working as a certified prosthetist and orthotist.

“I liked working with my hands, with machinery and construction. Plus, I loved working as a team with physical therapists and others,” she said.

Starting in 1983, Molly was in private practice for 22 years, after which she worked for a large orthotics and prosthetics company for another six. She retired last June.

Meanwhile, the bug to sing stayed under Molly’s skin. During her years in practice, she joined the Bagaduce Chorale, became part of a vocal trio called Wild Ginger, and started taking vocal workshops, slowly evolving toward an interest in jazz.

After one jazz for adults camp about 18 months ago, the instructor told everyone, “If you go home and don’t do anything with this experience, then it’s your own fault.”

That’s when Nocturnem launched their Tuesday night “jazz jams,” Molly told me, and she started to show up. She has performed all over the state ever since.

“You get to meet and play with all kinds of different people,” she said.

As a singer, Molly says, her goal is to be a player more than a performer — another instrument in the band. She is even taking bass lessons so that she might contribute with more than her voice. Being part of the band and making music now fill Molly’s life with joy and purpose. I think, perhaps, the origins of that joy can be traced to a little girl on a neighbor’s front steps, who never gave up her dream.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

 

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