“Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death,” says Auntie Mame in the classic movie of the same name. This is not true for Sylvia Nygaard, who has been serving life’s banquet, from potato pancakes to piano playing, for more than 30 years. Is she a seasoned waitress? Is she an accomplished musician? She’s both!
Whether Sylvia’s wrists are hoisting huge food trays at Perkins Restaurant in Fergus Falls or artfully curved over the piano keyboard at countless musical performances in the area, this partnership of food and music has spanned three decades of her life.
Growing up in Pelican Rapids, Sylvia began as most pianists, with lessons at an early age. Her two older brothers were taking piano lessons and she wanted to do the same. At first, she hated the lessons, but after finding the right teacher, she began to blossom. Both brothers ultimately chose careers in music, one graduating from Julliard in opera and the other with a Doctorate of Music in choral work. Sylvia, however, is quick to say, with a smile, “I can tell you, with some certainty, that I can play piano better than either of them!”
A childhood filled with musical experiences is part of Sylvia’s history. She and her brothers performed frequently in numerous musical performances at school. Private programs for their parents on Christmas Eve included singing and playing, and Sylvia was usually the one seated at the piano. “I still have no idea where the musical talent comes from,” she said. “I don’t ever remember hearing any kind of note coming from my dad, and my mother can’t carry a tune. Mother always says she has the notes in her heart, but she just can’t get them out the right way.”
Sylvia has been a constant presence behind the piano at the community college in Fergus Falls since 1979. She was asked to accompany the Madrigal group that was part of the vocal program. She was, at the time, enrolled in the secretarial program and somehow ended up joining the college choir. Geneva Eschweiller, then long-time director of vocal music, had her playing for any performance that involved a piano. She played in the pit orchestra for musicals at the theater, and continued to accompany the Eschweiller Singers and each permutation of that group up to the present. “I guess I haven’t really left the college since then,” she chuckled.
The role of an accompanist is very much like serving food at a restaurant. Similar to the waitress delivering the meal prepared by the chef, Sylvia sees herself as the support or “backup” to a group or soloist. Teresa Ashworth, current director of vocal music at Moorhead State Community and Technical College, shares her thoughts on what makes an exceptional accompanist. “The accompanist’s concern must always be the enhancement of the performance and Sylvia epitomizes this. She is an incredible sight-reader, a very sensitive and expressive musician. She truly understands that the duet, between the performing group and the accompaniment, is such an integral part of the performance, but she also has the ability to ‘shine’ in solo portions." (Continued via The Fergus Falls Daily Journal, Sandra Thimgan) [Ergonomics Resources]