Keynote Address

Musical Journey

Denise Lavigne

Denise Lavigne, our 2008 Keynote Speaker
Many of you know me, but for those of you who don't, I'm going to give you a little background about my childhood and my road as a musician and a large person. I was born and raised in Southern California. I grew up in an upper class, snobby neighborhood where everyone was thin and rich. Those who were not, weren't accepted.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother died and we inherited her old piano. I immediately took a liking to the piano and began playing by ear. As I got older, music became a more and more important part of my life. My first major milestone as a musician and composer was when I was about twelve. I wrote a song about graduating from the sixth grade called "Hey, Hey." It was my first and last attempt at writing lyric, but was just the beginning of my composing.

When I was fourteen, I played a very difficult Beethoven sonata in a recital. I played about five bars and completely lost my place and stopped. I was very upset with myself, but it was the beginning of my realization that music had to be part of my life. It is the most important and special part of my life, because it allows me to express my emotions and it is a reflection of what is in my heart and soul. After this recital, I was complemented by an accomplished musician who felt I had a great deal of talent.

I have always been heavy, but it did not really affect my musical journey until I was in high school. In addition to being a composer and pianist, I am also a singer. When I was a sophomore in high school I tried out for the advanced choir and felt that perhaps more was going on than just not passing the audition when I was turned down. My dad spoke to the choir director and was told that the reason I did not get into the choir was because I was too fat and did not fit the image of the choir. The director said I was blond and pretty like many of the others in choir, but I was just too big.

For graduation from high school I wrote a song called "New Beginnings" and I tried out for the entertainment at graduation. Again, I was told that I was too heavy and did not fit into their cookie cutter mold.

After high school I went to college and really concentrated on music. I got into the advanced choir and wrote a great deal of music. I always felt okay about my weight in college and I was accepted and admire for my talent. I did not get my degree in music, but it is my true love. After I graduated from college, I wrote many songs and I lived and breathed and wrote music. I applied to a couple of record companies, but nothing came of it.

Nature inspires my creativity. I have been to many national parks and scenic places in the United States and Canada. When I was in my mid-twenties, I went to Alaska by myself to write music. I did a lot of hiking and spent time enjoying nature. Picture this: a fat girl hiking in Alaska!

In 1996, right after my thirtieth birthday, my dad passed away. This was a huge turning point in my life. I had always wanted to record an album of my original pieces and now I finally had enough money to record an independent album. The first thing I did was to hire a recording engineer and an arranger to collaborate with me. The album took about a year to record, master and complete.

The recording engineer and others involved with the production of the album advised me to lose weight. They felt that they would see more success if I were thinner. I remember being upset by the comment, but I realized that my music was what was more important, not my image.

Even though the recording engineer felt I would be more successful if thinner, he loved my music and gave me some good opportunities to further my career. He used one of my songs for a book on CD by John Grey. John Grey is the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

Shortly after the release of my album a friend told me that there was going to be a beauty pageant for large women on the Roseanne Barr show. I tried out and made it. I played one of my songs on national television. Well, I didn't win the pageant but a couple of weeks later, the producers of the Roseanne show called me and asked me to come on again and play because they had so many positive comments about me.

In 2000 I moved to Austin, Texas, to pursue music. Austin was an interesting place, but my type of music never really went over well there. In 2004, I moved to Dallas and married my husband Rob. I currently live in Dallas with Rob and a spoiled cat, Cleopatra. Someday I hope to record another CD and possibly write music for films.

I am going to end tonight by playing some songs from my CD, Stillwater.

Thank you.

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