You deserve happiness — Here’s an idea

By Richard Ploch | Aug 01, 2014
Photo by: Donated Haywood County resident Sarah Cifani plays her flute.

When I was in junior high, I had a friend named George who wanted to be an airplane pilot. Starting at the age of 14, he hung around the local airport, and as soon as George was old enough, earned his pilot’s license. Flying became George’s life work.

And then there was me and maybe you, too. I both envied and resented friends like George. Through my teens and twenties, I was floundering in search of a career that grabbed me. I wasn’t worried about the money; I just wanted to find excitement at something I could do well. It took some years and eventually both journalism and the ministry were the right choice.

There are an abundance of fine vocations, but for me the people I have long admired are those who have lived all their lives creating a living in the arts. As I tell you about one of these talented people, you can think about the unexplored artistic creativity that is likely lying somewhere deep in your heart.

When Haywood County resident Sarah Cifani was in seventh grade, she wanted to play a musical instrument. She grew up in a music-loving family and since grandmother’s flute was sitting there and Sarah’s parents couldn’t afford to buy anything else, that’s what she learned to play. By ninth grade, “I decided I wanted to play professionally and have been studying and performing on the flute and piccolo ever since,” she said. Like many artists, Sarah knew early on what she wanted for the rest of her life.

After graduating with a degree in music from Northwestern University and studying with a member of the Chicago Symphony, Sarah spent the first few years teaching flute, at one point traveling over 400 miles each week to teach 70 students scattered around the Chicago area.

A few years later, she was a professional performer and for 25 years played in concerts with Chicago’s famous Lyric Opera, the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Dutch Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the Chicago Pops Orchestra, and performances several times with the world-renowned Chicago Symphony. I was amazed when I heard about all this, but what really impressed me was to know that she also performed with singing superstars Luciano Pavarotti, Rod Stewart, Mel Torme, and summer concerts at Chicago’s lakefront Lincoln Park Zoo in front of the seals! That’s a wonderful life — to be paid for doing what you love.

Then at the age of 50, Sarah completed her masters degree and spent 10 years as a public school band director for children from fourth through eighth grade until retiring to Waynesville in 2005 with her oboe and clarinet professional musician husband, Tom Cifani. Retirement hasn’t slowed her down, though. She plays and sings with a number of local music groups and is also one of the conductor/performers with the Haywood Community Band along with Mary Thomas and Pat Stone. The community is fortunate to have them all. If you’d like to meet Sarah and hear a free concert, she will conduct the Haywood Community Band in performances at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at the Maggie Valley Pavilion, and a lakeside concert at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at  Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Maybe you also wish you could have made a living as an artist, actress, potter or piccolo player. For many of us, our working days are behind us, but Haywood County is filled with opportunities to learn a craft or play an instrument even in retirement. It’s never too late for yourself or to provide lessons in the arts for a child or grandchild. It might open a whole new world of creativity and joy.