Tucked away on Oak street, concealed from the road by multiple houses, lies the Halfway House – a hidden house of authentic community, contagious laughter, and lots of music.
Halfway House is home to seven senior women, all who have known each other since freshman year. The community of the house sprung from their love for each other, and has been strengthened by their passion for music.
This past weekend, four of them competed and won awards in the concerto competition. Though they continuously compete alongside one another, their friendship has allowed them to grow closer with one another as they pursue music.
Although an obvious divide between coffee and tea sparked the early morning conversation, pianist Anne Ziegler – the only coffee-drinker in the house – and sopranos Zsanna Bodor and Michaela Stiles, both with tea mugs in hand, all piled onto the living room couch to share their story.
“We really just love welcoming people into our home,” Bodor said. Bodor won the Aria competition with her rendition of “Prendi” by Donizetti. “There’s a certain atmosphere here that is very rare among friend groups. We just love having people over and joining our community.”
Halfway House is home to many different musical interests and passions, including voice, piano, violin, viola, and even harp. Stiles even bought a $40 piano off of Facebook to have in the house.
“There’s always music in our house,” said senior Emma Dawe. Dawe sang her way to victory with a selection from Handel’s “Rinaldo.” “Every single one of us is involved in music to some degree. It’s such a love for all of us that there’s always someone listening to music, or often it’s someone singing to themselves, or playing our out-of-tune piano.”
Ziegler often practiced her winning performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F on those very ivories.
Music has shaped the culture of the house, which offers open invitations to music nights and house concerts throughout the semester.
“We’ve all seen each other as musicians, and so we all know each other really, really well through music,” Ziegler said. “We’ve seen each other grow and get a lot better, both personally and musically.”
Though music has been a centerpiece of the house, many of the women saw themselves giving music up and only pursuing their intended academic major.
“I thought I was giving music up by coming here,” Bodor said. “I tell people this a lot, but I thought by choosing Hillsdale I was not going down the path of music because I came here primarily for the academics and for the community. I never thought I would become a music major and spend the majority of my time here doing music.”
Whether the women are performing solos, joining each other in duos or trios, or accompanying one other, the spirit of celebration and inspiration beats out any natural competition.
“We celebrate each other a lot,” Stiles said. “It’s like we’re competitive in a very uplifting space where we want everyone to perform well.” Stiles competed and won with a piece by Gimènez.
The day after the concerto competition, the women loved and admired seeing each other win awards, but also felt the difficulty of seeing others not win.
“In a sense, the competitiveness has grown, simply because, as musicians, we spur one another on,” Ziegler said. “It’s just inspiring rather than competitive. It feels natural to keep in step with your friends. Friendship comes first and always will come first.”
At nearly every concert, the women of Halfway House and their friends are a constant support for everyone’s performances.
“It felt less like I was competing against my friends than like I was just going and doing this thing alongside them,” Dawe said. “We were all so excited to be there for each other in that.”
Throughout the dozens of recitals on campus, there is always a group of friends in the audience with flowers and applause ready to cheer each other on.
“At the end of the day, you spend so much time in a practice room and you just want to share your music,” Bodor said. “You just want to share the gift because it’s supposed to be a gift.”
Stiles agreed with Bodor, and said that this mindset of gratitude and gifting music has deepened her own faith.
“We pray for each other a lot, and I think for a lot of us when we approach music it’s from this mindset of giving a unique gift,” Stiles said. “Even though we’re competing in the same competition, I always know that we’re all praying for each other.”
Music is so powerful in that way because it helps us realize our humanity, Stiles said. Our end is to be with God and through music we provide a platform of beauty that words cannot express, Ziegler said.
“God is the Artist, and we get to participate in that through our art, we’re co-creators in a way,” Bodor said. “I would say one thing for me that’s grown in my view of music is that I see this artistic aspect of sharing in God’s beauty, and it blows my mind.”
Through every celebration, performance, and conversation, the women of Halfway House have created an everlasting culture of music that will carry them far through every musical venture they have in the future.