The Hardest Decision I’ve Ever Made

People I know in real life know I have made a massive decision recently, but it is not something I have talked about much publicly until now.

I moved.

Almost 1,000 miles, from Rhode Island to Western North Carolina.

My husband and I sold our house on July 20, 2023 and we have now been in NC for just over two weeks at the time of this posting. We both agree that this was the most difficult decision we have ever made.

The reason it was difficult was because we were established in Rhode Island. We knew what life was like in Rhode Island, and we were used to it. Life wasn’t easy. In fact, for a number of reasons it was incredibly stressful. But my friend Kristen’s philosophy is, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”

We were at a church where John had been the pastor for fifteen years. It was very difficult to uproot from those relationships. We experienced feelings of guilt for leaving people we felt responsible to.

I was accompanying two community choruses – work I enjoyed tremendously. One chorus had even commissioned a work from me. It was hard to say goodbye to people who have been so supportive.

If we had stayed in RI, my private studio would have continued to grow. I had about fifteen students I enjoyed teaching tremendously and word was getting around. In the last month or two before we left, I had at least five inquiries from parents looking for lessons for their kids.

John was also performing often at nursing homes, memory care units, and other senior venues. He especially enjoyed performing with his good friend, Judy Hall Gray (Songbird Judy.) He was having so much fun, and the idea of starting over and making brand-new musical connections was daunting.

So why would we leave?


One day, an announcement came across email through one of the composer groups I belong to about a master’s program in music composition. These types of emails come through fairly often, but most of the time I am not interested.

I had been told by several people that either I didn’t need a graduate degree in composition or that a graduate degree in composition was not worth the investment in time or money.

Despite this, I still held onto the idea of pursuing a master’s degree. Not so much for the degree itself and possible work in academia, but for the time it would afford me to focus on composition, further develop my compositional skills, and – most of all – connect and collaborate with many other highly skilled musicians congregated in one place. While it is possible for me to get those things outside of school, it will take longer. Pursuing a degree will speed things up.

But in order for me to be interested, a program had to check two boxes: 1) It had to offer a fellowship providing a full-tuition scholarship and a stipend, and 2) it had to be in a location where I would want to live.

I couldn’t attend grad school in RI because a stipend wouldn’t cover the amount of money I earned with my other work, it was too expensive to live in RI without the work I was doing, and I didn’t have time to add grad school onto all that work.

Several schools that offer fellowships were not appealing to me because of their location.

However, that day the name of the school caught my eye: Appalachian State University. I was intrigued because the school is located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, one of the places I have long dreamed of living.

I have wanted to live in the mountains since I was about fifteen years old. Even in my “senior will” in my high school yearbook, I named my favorite place as a cabin in the mountains with me and my music.

For decades, my husband and I have traveled up to New Hampshire to camp and hike. The mountains have always been our “go to” place. But when we lived in RI it was a 4+ hour drive, and when you work at a church, you can’t just take off for a weekend. Nor could we go during the week because of my work. The mountains were a once-a-year, twice if we were lucky, brief visit. Too often it rained the entire week we camped. We certainly didn’t get our fill of the mountains – ever.

But even New Hampshire didn’t offer what Western North Carolina was offering.

Here in NC, we are only an hour from the mountains, an hour from the school, and an hour from Asheville, the next music city destination. We are also only an hour from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, both of which also have several music festivals including the Southern Guitar Festival, which is perfect for my husband.

We could have decided that, at ages forty-seven and fifty, we were established and well past the time for taking the risk of moving several states away and starting over in our careers. A few people advised us against the move.

Opportunity is just that – opportunity. It is not a guarantee.

But nothing is a guarantee, really.

Appalachian State University was the only school I applied to. I was accepted and offered the fellowship.

It was now or never.

Yes, we are old enough to be established, but we are also still young enough to do something new. So, we decided to take the leap and put all our effort into expanding both our musical careers!

It turns out we were in a more precarious financial position in RI than we thought. We already knew our house needed a tremendous amount of work and was going to take every cent we made. But during the sales process we learned our septic system failed inspection and needed replacement. This was a major expenses we would not have been able to manage but were able to take care of through the proceeds from the sale.

For that reason alone, the move turned out to be a good decision.

We’ve been in NC for two weeks now. I started work as a church pianist. School begins in two weeks. John has already booked a few gigs and has been hired as a session guitarist at a local recording studio.

Time to choose a trail for our first hike!

I’d love to hear from you! Please comment or send me a message telling me about yourself!

10 thoughts on “The Hardest Decision I’ve Ever Made”

  1. I’m so glad that things are falling into place for you. North Carolina is a beautiful state! Best of luck with all of your “new beginnings” and blessings to you and your family. Mary

  2. Well Heather, I’m happy for you and your husband. I am familiar with Asheville North Carolina because my parents lived there for a couple of years before he passed away.

    My wife and I also love the mountains. We love New Hampshire, but we are not restricted by the time the way you are. My music is continuing well. my site reading seems to be increasing daily. I find that if I do not think about it too much it just seems to happen. I know that a lot of this progresses to the amount of time I spend looking at scores. I find that if I can hear the music within myself, I have a general idea of where it’s going Site reading is facilitated. I am now 72 years old but I still feel creative and strong doing a lot of hiking and cycling. I cycle about 15 to 20 miles every other day. I do it slowly and do it with joy and reflection. Enough about me take care of yourself I think of you both family God bless .

    1. Paul, it is great to hear from you! I totally agree that the ear leads the fingers when it comes to sight reading. Eyes and ears work together to confirm the notes. All the singing you do helps that! I am glad you are feeling strong and creative! Keep up the hiking and cycling! Mountain biking is really big here, I’ve noticed. Bike trails are everywhere, in addition to hiking trails. There’s even a big complex the Cherokee set up and maintain on their land about 2hrs from here which is open to the public and has all levels of trails. Based on pictures, the easy trails look smooth, unlike a “beginner” trail I tried in NH that was full of roots and rocks. I need a new bike, though. My old one wasn’t worth bringing down. Biking, in general, is something I’d like to do more of.

  3. Heather, you poured out your heart in this post. Sharing like that is never easy, but it is certainly encouraging to other people I I continue to pray for God to lead and guide your and your hubby and it certainly seems that He is. God bless you and keep you always.

    1. Thank you so much, Jerry! And thank you for your “listening ear” and wise insight through all the emails these last few months! The prayers are always appreciated!

  4. Wow! I enjoyed reading the update and hearing about your big move. That is huge, scary and exciting all at once! I wish you well and pray that the Lord gives you the desires of your heart while living near His mountains. I loved the all the details in this letter. North Carolina is blessed to have you both!

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