Louise Page

Pianist and singer-songwriter Louise Page reminisces about finding herself through a bit of luck, persistence, optimism and betting on herself.

Photos by Houston Cofield, Photos by Robbie Eubanks

Fun fact, I was born in Wisconsin. I don’t remember it because we moved to Central Pennsylvania when I was one. I grew up in a little town called State College, or as the locals call it, ‘Happy Valley,’ because State College is a silly name for a city.

It’s where Penn State University is. So, it’s literally the state college town. It’s one of those classic college towns that is very tiny, but with a huge University that doubles the population when school is in session.

It’s really different from Memphis, State College has an almost ‘Pleasantville’ energy to it. There is not a lot of crime there, and I remember being 10 or 11 and being able to go on walks at night without having to be worried. There was only one highschool. When I moved to Memphis everyone would ask what highschool I was from and I had no idea what they were talking about because we only had one in the whole city. It was just a very different world.

Both of my parents are originally from the South, my mom is from Memphis and my dad is from Greensboro, North Carolina. My mom ended up meeting my dad when she went to Davidson in North Carolina. They landed in Central Pennsylvania because my dad is a German professor.

The reason being, Central Pennsylvania is where a really huge population of native Pennsylvania-Dutch speakers live. You know how you’ll see crossing signs for deer or children playing? Back home they’ll have signs with Amish buggies on them. You’ll literally see people in buggies going down the street. So, yeah, that’s where I grew up.

My dad teaches at the college and my mom works for the university as a lawyer. I have two siblings, my oldest sibling, Briar, is an artist and an author, and my middle sibling, Charlie, is a dentist.

There are a lot of music lovers in my family, but not a lot of musicians. My dad loves to sing and he played the trombone in high school, but he’s not a professional musician.

When I was five years old, my family got a piano. They bought it for my older siblings, but I was really into it. I’ve always loved things that made noises, bleeps and bloops. So when we got the piano, it was like, the best version of a toy I could ever think of.

‘Oh, my God, every single thing on this, you press it and noise comes out. This is the best toy of my life.’

I was like, ‘Oh, my God, every single thing on this, you press it and noise comes out. This is the best toy of my life.’ I absolutely loved it. I ended up being the only one that was really into the piano lessons.

Our piano story was a classic tale of a woman from our church, Mrs. Nancy Willis, who taught us lessons. All three of us would go together. My siblings lasted a couple of years, but I stuck with the lessons. When I was in high school, I began taking lessons from a very talented pianist named Koya Ohmoto, and my skills soared. I took piano lessons until I was 20, and now I’m 27, so I’ve been playing piano for the past 22 years.

As far as seeing live music, my only real experience with live music growing up was in church.We went every Sunday growing up, and to like a youth group type thing once a week. I am not very religious anymore. I’m spiritual, but not religious.

Regardless, I had a great experience in church growing up. Honestly, it was a really positive place for me. It was a very accepting church and I got to sing in the children’s choir, which I loved to do. When I was in elementary school I got really into musicals. I tried out for a couple of parts in our little local theater productions. The biggest part I ever got was playing Mrs. Darling in our school’s production of Peter Pan in eighth grade.

If you google Louise Page ‘Tender Shepherd,’ which is the solo Mrs. Darling has in Peter Pan, there’s a YouTube video of me from like, 2007. It’s pretty cute.

The town I grew up in is about three hours away from New York City. My mom also really loves musicals and musical theater, so we always went to a ton of local productions. I always felt really lucky about that. But one year, for either my 11th or 12th birthday, my mom took me to see Wicked on Broadway and it blew my mind.

A couple of birthdays later I asked, ‘Can we go see Wicked again?’ Those memories are some of my favorites. I always thought, ‘Wow I have the coolest mom ever, I can’t believe she’s doing this.’ But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that it was really fun for her too, which makes it even better.

When I got to high school, and I think this was true for most people, you try to find ‘your’ thing. Are you a ‘sporty’ kid or like, the ‘nerdy’ kid who is really smart and good at math. I was a ‘music’ kid. I played piano and, little known fact, the oboe. Throughout middle and high school I was in all of these different concert bands playing the oboe.

I definitely didn’t have a band and wasn’t playing shows as a solo musician, but I really loved playing music. I did start writing music back then, but I only showed my best friends or boyfriends.

I had some insecurities back then, especially with my appearance. When I was that age I was a really late bloomer. I looked like a little kid when everyone else was trying to look older. I still had braces and acne when most people were kind of done with that. Being older I know everyone’s insecure at that age, honestly, but I was just really nervous to share the songs I’d written.

At the end of the day, and I really mean this, my songs are like pure expressions of how I feel. So I had a very real fear, especially when I was 14, of sharing these songs with someone and them thinking they were bad. I just wouldn’t have been able to handle it.

‘When I’m older, I would love to be an actor or a singer. I just think that I could make people smile by performing. That’s what I’m really good at. And also, I’m a knockout. I’m beautiful. So people would love to watch me perform.’

It’s funny, because for years, I told myself this story of, ‘Oh, I was always insecure. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I found myself.’ But, a couple of summers ago I found a diary of mine from when I was in the sixth grade and I had written something like, ‘When I’m older, I would love to be an actor or a singer. I just think that I could make people smile by performing. That’s what I’m really good at. And also, I’m a knockout. I’m beautiful. So people would love to watch me perform.’

It made me remember that who I am now is really similar to my inner child. I thought it was really cute. I was like, ‘Oh my god, like I really actually had great self esteem until I was maybe like 12 or 13.’

I had my friends who I was really close to but I definitely wasn’t like some super popular kid. I was kind of nerdy, but like, not quite nerdy enough to get super picked on or anything. I was in the marching band. So sometimes I’d get teased a little for that. Especially when we would have to wear our uniforms to school. In marching band I actually played auxiliary percussion because, fun fact, you don’t play the oboe in marching band because double reed instruments are too fragile.

Anyway, like I said earlier, I was writing songs and still playing piano and taking lessons throughout highschool. But the songs I wrote were really for me personally. Maybe I’d show my best friends, but when I did it was a whole ordeal of me being like, ‘Okay, I’m really going to play. Oh my God, I’m so nervous. Can you look the other way?’ Then I’d play it and sing really quietly. I was extremely terrified to share my music.

After I graduated highschool I knew I didn’t want to go to Penn State. I really knew that. Something like 90 percent of my graduating class went to Penn State, because it’s right there. My parents both worked there and both my siblings went to Penn State. But, I knew that I wanted to move. I was definitely a kid with ‘big city’ dreams. Most Memphians might think it’s funny because they don’t consider Memphis a big city, but to me it was huge.

My grandmother lives in Memphis and we would visit her growing up. She had gone to Rhodes and always wanted her kids or grandkids to go too. But I really wasn’t sold on it. I really wanted to go to Boston University, but when I toured Rhodes to appease my grandmother, the tour guides really sold it to me. And it is a very beautiful, fairytale like, campus

But, what ultimately sealed the deal was the scholarship I got to Rhodes, which made the price comparable to Penn State, even with the employee discount. I ended up not getting a scholarship to Boston, so I moved to Memphis which was the right move.

I got to move to a bigger city, broaden my horizons and I still got to be around family. In a way Memphis has always felt a bit like home, because growing up we would visit maybe once or twice a year to see my mom’s family.

There’s no zoo in State College, so the Memphis zoo was my zoo growing up. Most of my ‘city experiences’ growing up were connected to Memphis.

So at Rhodes I majored in creative writing and minored in German and gender studies.

For the first few years I went there I was trying to figure myself out. The other passion I had growing up, besides music, was writing. I had this thought that deep down I always wanted to be a performer of some kind. But I literally, it’s kind of ridiculous to reflect on, thought that at 18 I was too old for that already. I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t star on a Disney Channel original TV show, or whatever. So it’s too late for me. I’m never gonna make it.’

And I also thought, as many people think, if you want to be a musician, you’re either going to be struggling super hard and playing on street corners for pennies or you’re like a super famous mega celebrity. I didn’t realize how much fits in between. I didn’t realize that you can make a living being a musician. I think with the age of the internet, more and more people realize how many artists exist in those gray areas.

I was still a kid, maybe that’s more of a societal problem, but there’s a lot of pressure to have your whole life figured out at 18 years old. I feel like that sends a lot of people down some weird paths.

I would say the first four years I lived in Memphis, 2012 to 2016, most of my friends didn’t know that I even played the piano. College was a really hard time for me in my personal life.

I found that when I went to Rhodes, and this is just my personal experience, that there was this very specific Southern culture that lives within the wealthier conservative echelon of people who went there.

In my hometown, and remember that it was a small town, I had like this short haircut and a tattoo that I had gotten right after highschool. None of my friends saw that as overtly crazy, or even edgy I don’t think. But, at Rhodes I got pinned as this ‘super edgy and crazy punk’ girl. And it’s not that people didn’t like me, but that it just wasn’t who I was.

You know, I’m like a nerd. So, I kind of struggled to make friends. I did make a couple of really, really good friends. But it was like the sort of thing where I would get invited to parties, but I wouldn’t get invited to study with people or have coffee or just hang out in more casual ways.

So I felt kind of lonely at Rhodes. It was just a really hard time for me. I was experimenting with partying and drugs, and I had some really negative experiences with men.

Back in highschool I had gone to maybe a couple parties, but I wasn’t drinking any alcohol. I might have smoked a little weed, but whatever. I really wasn’t some big party queen in high school or anything like that. I really was kind of a dork.

So then being thrown into this drinking and drug culture, which is college in general but Rhodes at large, was a lot for me to handle. I had a couple of really close friends who were really struggling with hard drug addictions, which thankfully, wasn’t my struggle, but that still impacts you when someone you love is dealing with that.

I had one of my closest friends pass away from a heroin overdose my sophomore year of college. It was absolutely horrible. I felt the worst I ever had and I felt isolated.

Rhodes really encouraged their students to stay behind the gates, but I did end up getting a job at Urban Outfitters later that year. And that helped me make some friends and opened me up to the rest of Memphis.

I really don’t want to paint a totally negative picture, because it really isn’t all of Rhodes fault. I got a good education and there are some professors and friends I still keep in touch with to this day.

But I think my friend dying really changed who I was. It made me really realize that people die young.

If there are dreams you have you have to start chasing them. I went through this moment where I wanted to drop out of school and write the ‘Great American Novel,’ but thankfully, I have a really great and practical mom who always has my back. She basically just told me, ‘No, you’re not doing that.’

So I stayed in school but just didn’t show up a lot and was having a really hard time keeping up with my classes.

Since Rhodes is a smaller school, this is something I’d really like to commend them on, the staff really worked with me to get me back on track. I think if I had gone to a larger school I would have just failed out and gone unnoticed by falling through the cracks.

But since I had been a good student up to that point, and a student had died, my professors let me make up work. I was really, really close to flunking out.

One professor in particular, Dr. Bigelow, reached out and was like, ‘You were one of my favorite students this fall, why didn’t you come to your finals? Is everything okay?’ I think I would have dropped out of school if he hadn’t reached out like that.

While all of that was going on I also had a string of pretty terrible relationships in college, which anyone who’s been through those knows they just really impact your whole life. I was in a physically abusive relationship when I was really young, the kind of young where you don’t even know you’re young. I was probably 20, so I thought I was grown. Thinking back, I was really just a child and I had no idea.

I’ve been blessed and cursed with a very forgiving heart. I’ve stuck with some people who I probably shouldn’t have.

At this point in my life I was in a bad place. I was suffering from the grief of losing a friend, trying to get back on track with school, and dealing with this very physically and emotionally abusive relationship. My self esteem was at an all time low. We did end up breaking up, but I held a lot of resentment towards him.

That was the time period where I kind of forgot who I was. I forgot that I liked to be in front of people, that I liked to perform. I forgot that I liked myself.

That was the time period where I kind of forgot who I was. I forgot that I liked to be in front of people, that I liked to perform. I forgot that I liked myself.

To a lot of the people I met when I first moved to Memphis, me playing music might seem to have come out of nowhere. But it really didn’t, I just wasn’t in a strong enough place to be performing or sharing my songs. I didn’t think I was good enough. And again, just like in high school, I wouldn’t be able to handle people critiquing my music.

I was mainly trying to just get through school, and I thought I would probably leave Memphis after I graduated. At that point Memphis had been sort of a rocky road for me.

I ended up graduating from Rhodes in 2016 on time, and still to this day I’m not exactly sure how I did it. If you look at photos of me from my graduation day, I swear I’ve never looked happier in a photo. My little joke I make is, ‘Some people graduate Cum Laude, some Summa Cum Laude, but I graduated ‘Thank the Laude.’ I graduated with a degree in creative writing and minors in German and gender studies.

I was still working at Urban Outfitters the summer after I graduated and the store was putting on a ‘Girl Power’ pop up event. The event didn’t specify who was going to play, but advertised that there would be artist booths and women-led musical acts.

JCKSN AVE was actually scheduled to play, but for some reason they had to drop out really close to the day of the show. I was scheduled to work the event and the store manager at the time, Chance, knew I played piano.

At that point I was 22 and I had dipped a toe in the water and posted a video or two of me playing and singing on instagram. Anyway, we really needed someone to play and Chance asked me to. He was like, ‘You’re already scheduled to work, so why not perform instead?’

I think I needed someone to push me to play a show, because I was still overcoming my low self worth. So, I played this show at Urban Outfitters and I was incredibly nervous about it. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a lot of friends and coworkers who were extremely supportive.

At that event Lucy Hall and Emily Zachry, who ran GRRL PUNCH, saw me play and approached me afterwards and were like, ‘We really liked your music. We have this magazine called GRRL PUNCH. Would you want to play at our event later this month?’

It just felt very cosmic that my manager would make me play this show and then I would get booked for my next show at that first show. I’ve played shows pretty regularly ever since then.

It just felt very cosmic that my manager would make me play this show and then I would get booked for my next show at that first show. I’ve played shows pretty regularly ever since then.

I don’t know if I would have ever played with music without that push. I had gone through this terrible time in college and had really developed stage fright from my self esteem being so low. But underneath all of that was still this born performer that I was as a child. That show gave me the kick I needed.

Not long after that show I got a job at the library with my English degree. I was playing music as a hobby on the side and working at the library full time and had started a new relationship with somebody.

I worked at the library for about two years. For the record, I think the Memphis Public Library is a great organization. I made a lot of friends there who I’m friends with to this day.

Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right job for me. In my last semester of college I was diagnosed with ADHD, and I think that has helped me understand myself and my personal challenges a lot better.

I realized when working at the library, that a nine to five job is going to be something that’s always really challenging for me, because there are some days where I do have that focus, but others where I just simply don’t. And in our corporate culture world, taking mental health days is not something that’s necessarily encouraged.

Anyway, I was at this job for two years and I was dating the same guy I was when I graduated college. I was just like, ‘Wow. This could be the rest of my life. I could marry this guy and work at this job forever and no one would stop me.’ I just felt so old and so depressed.

There was nothing necessarily wrong with this guy I was dating. We just weren’t for each other. There was nothing inherently wrong with the job either, but it just didn’t feel right.

So then another event happened that totally changed my life and my whole perspective on the world. One of my best friends in the world, one of my best friends from high school, overdosed on heroin in August of 2017 and was in a coma.

It was really hard for me to get the time off I needed from the library to go and be with her. I really resented the fact that when something that’s really important to me, as a human, happens, I can’t take that time off.

I got this message from her stepmother that was like, ‘She’s on life support in the hospital, they just intubated her, we don’t know how long she’s gonna last or if she’s ever gonna wake up. So if you want to come say goodbye, now’s the time.’

So, I went into my boss’s office with this ‘If you don’t give me this time off, I’m just going to quit’ energy and she let me off. I really prioritized going up to say goodbye to my friend.

I flew to Pennsylvania and visited her in the hospital. Seeing her there was one of the saddest moments of my life.

That’s how I know I’m still a spiritual person. I knew it could not be a coincidence, it had to be real. I sat there all day with her, trying to make her laugh.

I hadn’t seen her in person in maybe two years. And when I came in her dad was sitting there and said, ‘Hey, Louise is here.’ I said, ‘Hey, I’m here,’ and she started crying. It was the first time she had done anything in over a month. At the time the nurses said that she might not actually know I was there, it might be a coincidence or whatever, but I was like, ‘Fuck no it’s not.’ That’s how I know I’m still a spiritual person. I knew it could not be a coincidence, it had to be real. I sat there all day with her, trying to make her laugh and telling her stories about high school and college.

I could only stay with her for a day because I had to go back to work. But I like to think that day helped.

The doctors told us if she does wake up, and that was a big if, she’s going to have a really hard road and might be permanently physically disabled.