Kathy Briggs, lead instructor for St. Mary’s music department is used to the big stage— leading the award-winning Marian Singers to the White House, directing some of the highest performing students in the state to national competitions, and chaperoning SMA’s aspiring musicians to musical concerts around the world – so when something impresses her, it has to be just as big. That’s why last month, when the opportunity arose to go to Los Angeles to see global star, Julie Andrews, talk about her new book entitled Homework, she knew it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “I kept an eye on her fan websites for any Midwest or West Coast dates and was thrilled when it was announced she was giving one in LA on a date that didn’t conflict with any of my performances here at SMA. I made sure that as soon as the tickets went on sale that I was first in queue and was beyond thrilled to be able to buy second row seats,” Briggs described. It was no coincidence Briggs went to great lengths to see Andrews. Anyone who knows Briggs is fully aware of her long-time admiration for the Mary Poppins star, and those who don’t know her could easily learn that just from reading her bio on St. Mary’s website which concludes with “Ms. Briggs’ lifelong dream is to meet Julie Andrews."
“I grew up in a small, rural town and although I loved my music teachers, there weren’t many opportunities for voice lessons, so I grew up just trying to sound like Julie Andrews. I listened to her records – the original Broadway cast of My Fair Lady, along with the movie soundtracks to Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. I’ve always thought she had the most beautiful voice. I can’t tell you how many times I sang along with “I Could Have Danced All Night” or “Do, A Deer” striving to hit the high notes at the end and make them ring like a bell, just like her voice.”
Just when Briggs thought the moment couldn’t get any more surreal as she was sitting just feet away from her all-time inspiration, “a larger amount of luck” as she describes, struck. A week before the event, the LA Times, who was one of the main sponsors, announced a meet and greet contest for six guests. Briggs entered the contest, pleading her case, and while they didn’t announce her right away as a winner, they “wished her luck” before passing her submission off to an LA Times reporter who loved her story and requested to interview her. “After the phone interview, I asked if they might be able to get me a backstage pass and they kindly said ‘that wasn’t their department’. After that, it is a mystery to me what happened. All I know is that my friends and I showed up to the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA, scanned our tickets, and headed to the check-in table to pick up our pre-signed books. Upon check-in, the woman behind the table told me we were selected to go backstage. I instantly burst into tears! A photographer from the LA Times was at the table to catch my response. It was magic.”
Growing up watching Andrews star in Academy Award winning films not only paid off for Briggs with free singing lessons, but students in Briggs’ classes experience some of Andrews’ magic themselves. “I think my approach to teaching is similar to both Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins. They both love the children they are working with, just as I love my students. They are firm, but kind. I am honest with feedback, I have high expectations, and I try to be clear and direct. But I am understanding and I do my best to always be compassionate and put the students’ best interests first. I like to think both Maria and Mary would approve.”