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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Rhodes: Singing is about ‘creating a bond between people’

For Terry Rhodes, music is more than a way to make a living.

It is a way of life. Somehow, she finds a way to make music an integral part of almost every thing she does. She really has no choice – music is in her blood.

“My father was one of 11 children growing up in the North Carolina mountains during the Great Depression,” Rhodes said. “Making music together was the family’s main entertainment.”

Her father is gone now, but when Rhodes and her daughter go to family reunions to see aunts, uncles and cousins, the family celebrates together in the same way.

“We spend a couple of hours talking and catching up with each other, but when somebody pulls out a guitar, the talking stops and the singing starts,” Rhodes said. “Making music connects us to each other like nothing else can.”

Music is also what has connected Rhodes to Carolina.

She arrived in 1974 with scholarships in both piano and voice and planned to major in both. But she quickly gravitated to voice once she discovered opera.

“I found the theatrical element of opera compelling, as well as the language and poetry of art song,” Rhodes said. “I enjoy the drama and the heightened expression demanded by opera, musical theater and recital work.”

She went on to earn her master of music and doctor of musical arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

Rhodes then married former Carolina basketball star Tom LaGarde (they were undergrads together at UNC). During LaGarde’s decade-long NBA career, Rhodes pursued her career in classical music in cities from Seattle to Dallas to New York City.

And when LaGarde played professional basketball in Italy, a whole new realm of musical and cultural opportunities opened up to Rhodes.

Although their marriage ended in the 1980s, the two remain friends. Rhodes credits those years of travel, with the eclectic mix of people, professions and cultures, as an invaluable period of learning and growing. She continues to spend her summers in Italy, performing and teaching.

But as much as she learned by singing around the world, she never forgot a fundamental lesson from an early age: At its best, singing is about creating a bond between people. Rhodes cherishes those transformational moments in her performance career.

For the past three years, she has served as chair of the Department of Music in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her office is the same place where, in June 1987, Tom Warburton (a former professor of hers) offered Rhodes a one-year position as a visiting assistant professor.

Twenty-five years later, she can think of no other place she would rather be.

“I love living here, and I’ve lived in a lot of places,” Rhodes said. “I love the institution and being a part of such an incredible community of brilliant, talented and generous people. And I love the opportunity to interact with such people on an almost daily basis.”

Rhodes soon will be a new voice in South Building when she replaces Bill Andrews, who will retire this summer from his position as senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.

To her surprise, Rhodes has enjoyed being an administrator. One reason, she believes, is that it requires many of the same skills a musician has to master.

“You have to be a good listener, to really hear what the people around you are trying to communicate,” Rhodes said. “Listening well is what makes collaboration work.”

It is not a position she sought, Rhodes said, but it is an opportunity she is eager to take on, despite the fact that the oft-used acronym for senior associate dean is SAD.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t take the joy out of my life,” she said.

That prospect is unlikely, as anyone who has met her knows.

Joy is a quality that seems to characterize Rhodes, as she demonstrated earlier this month when she spoke during the Sixth Annual Campus Dialogue on Engagement.

She will co-chair the steering committee for the University’s newly adopted two-year theme, “H2O Carolina: Water in Our World.” When it was her turn to speak, Rhodes began with a song to fit the occasion, “Singing in the Rain.”

I’m singing in the rain

Just singing in the rain

What a glorious feeling

I’m happy again…

From the opening note, Rhodes had a smile on her face that lit up the room.

For more about Rhodes’ singing career, see music.unc.edu/faculty-staff/terry-rhodes.