Any moment in one’s life could signify the beginning of something big. One needs only to keep an eye out for that moment and recognize it for its gravity.
For Edain Butterfield, that moment came during her time as a music student.
Butterfield graduated in 2006 with a BA in music. Though it was always her passion, the New York City lawyer says she never expected to make music her career. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a performer or a teacher. I just loved to play.”
During her time as an undergraduate, that same feeling influenced Butterfield in her involvement with the Third Way Center in Denver. “I was in a coed honors fraternity, so I had a lot of connections with non-profits,” Butterfield explains. “The Third Way Center provides housing, education and career services—a ‘third’ alternative to homelessness or incarceration—for at-risk youth.
“I was helping them with fundraising when the director found out I was a musician.”
The organization’s leadership asked Butterfield if she’d be interested in teaching music lessons. One thing led to another and eventually she spearheaded a program that taught music to troubled teenagers. With help from her violin professor, Oswald Lehnert, Butterfield loaded up her car every other Thursday with about a dozen violins and headed south.
“Ozzie heard about it and told me about some violins in a locker in the basement, not being used. He got them for me to use for the program.”
Butterfield says that almost right away, she could see the impact music had on the lives of the children.
“It was immediate and direct—and kind of emotional,” she recalls. “Many of these kids had never seen a piece of sheet music, never touched a piano or violin before.
“But they were entranced.”
The students started off learning “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and moved on to excerpts from “The Lord of the Rings” score. Butterfield says they started to show off to each other during the hour-and-a-half sessions.
“I was surprised by how quickly they learned and by how much joy it brought to them to be proud of something.”
Even though they never performed, and Butterfield understood that the many of the students might never play music again, she says it didn’t matter.
“Some of these kids had been through harder times than most of us will experience in a lifetime. But playing music was their nirvana. It was therapeutic—a release—just like it was for me.”
Butterfield says this and other activities at the College of Music opened her eyes to the cause that would eventually turn into a career.
“The classes I took as a BA student were diverse,” she says. “They exposed me to other cultures. I was in a mariachi band and got to travel to the Cinco de Mayo parade in Pueblo. That’s how I started learning Spanish. I took a class about the history of opera and how gender roles have been portrayed in the art form.
“That struck a chord and is one of the reasons I wanted to work in civil rights.”
Butterfield is now an immigration lawyer in Manhattan, helping people navigate immigration law.
“We help people who might want to immigrate here legally or artistic groups or solo artists who want to obtain visas. Many times our clients are living in the shadows and they want to right their situations. It’s challenging work, but it’s very rewarding.”
She says her musical background has helped throughout her career. “As a musician, you can’t be anonymous. You’re held accountable for your performance. You can’t go through eight years of school and argue before a judge without knowing how to handle criticism.
“Being a lawyer is just another way of performing.”
And even if their path doesn’t lead them in the same direction as hers, Butterfield says young musicians should take advantage of every opportunity to share their passion with the world.
“Music is not only an art. It’s a service. I think it would be worthwhile for musicians to look around and see what they can do to change the lives of others.
“Standing up in front of 12 rowdy teenagers and making them love the violin was, in some ways, more of a lesson for me than it was for them.”