Profile: From Producer to Pianist

Profile: From Producer to Pianist

 How one Toastmaster shares her message through song.

 By Julie Bawden Davis

The first time Terri Marie composed a song on the piano, she thought the composition was a fluke. “I didn’t think I’d be writing another,” says the pianist and songwriter, who at the time produced music for other performers but had no plans to create her own melodies.

“Inspired by how breathtaking the California landscape looks after a night of rain, I called the song ‘Silver Morning,’” says Marie.

“I thought it was just a one-time reaction to a beautiful image;I had no idea that it would lead to much more.”

Since that first song, Marie has performed at the Nixon Library and composed the score for a children’s movie. She credits Toastmasters for encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Marie was initially surprised when she suddenly started composing music in the 1990s.

“After that first song, the music just kept coming, and it hasn’t stopped,” says Marie, a Toast-master who attends clubs in San Clemente, California, and Sedona, Arizona, where she holds residences. “Now almost every timeI sit down at the piano, a song comes through.”

Marie is a gifted musician, says Jerry Velasco, an actor and musician. “She is an innovative composer and has excellent presentation skills.”

One song Marie is especially proud of isher tribute to former president Ronald Reagan.

“On Tuesday June 8, 2004, while happily playing my piano, a new song started to come through,” recalls Marie. “After quickly recording a couple of lines, I went back to my familiar songs, but the newsong insisted on being noticed. It started witha bit of sadness, but then became uplifting.”

It wasn’t until the words came that Marie realized she was composing a tribute to Ronald Reagan, who had died three days earlier. “I was absolutely floored!” she says. “The first time I played the whole song through, I cried.”

Marie remained constantly surprised by what she calls “the little miracles” that occurred around the creation of the song. “After I recorded the song, I looked down at the measures bar and noted that it read 93,” she says. “Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93.”The night after she finished the song, Marie went to her first Toastmasters meeting at the Talega Gallery Club in San Clemente, where she noticed another sign.

“The information at the club was exactly what I needed to hear,” says Marie. “Someone read a quote by Ronald Reagan, and the club president said that she was moved to tears by Reagan’s devotion to Nancy, which I mention in the song.”

Something else happened at the meeting that didn’t seem that extraordinary at the time, but proved invaluable to Marie. “A member gave an intriguing presentation called the ‘One-Minute Toastmaster,’” she remembers.” The speaker suggested practicing a speech all the way through, rather than stopping and starting over when you make a mistake, because when you do that you only practice the beginning of the speech. That advice helped me quickly learn my song and perform it flawlessly.”

The next day Marie called her father, who told her that she had created something powerful and that she should share it.

After making several phone calls to a variety of contacts,Marie was invited to performthe song at a tribute for Reaganat the Nixon Library.

“Before I could stop myself, I agreed to perform my song, despite the fact that I had never played in public before,” says Marie, who admits to waking up the next morning in a panic. “I felt overwhelmed to know that I’d be performing on the same stage where [Henry] Kissinger had spoken.”

Needing to learn the song quickly, Marie practiced her composition multiple times, using advice from her fellow Toastmaster’s “One Minute Toastmaster” speech. Then, the big day arrived. On Sunday, June 13, 2004 she walked onstage at the Nixon Library.

“I had just 15 minutes to talk about how I wrote the song and then perform it,” she says, noting how thankful she was for her Toastmasters training, especially Table Topics. “I was able to talk casually from my piano seat to the audience and explain how and when I wrote the song,” she says.“I shared that the song provided me a way to honor the life of a great man who truly loved America and shared an incredible bond with his wife. Then I played “Reagan’s Ride” for the first time in public.”

When Marie finished, the crowd remained silent for a moment and then began clapping wildly. “As I walked down the aisle to leave,I noticed an older couple with tears in their eyes and a young woman who mouthed the words ‘thank you’ to me,” she says. “Seeing those reactions made the experience well worth it.”

Marie’s voyage with her song didn’t end there. For two years she attempted to contact Nancy Reagan so that she could give the former first lady a copy of the song. She finally succeeded and was told Mrs. Reagan greatly appreciated the recording.

“Terri Marie is a great example of how the skills you learn in Toastmasters can help you in the real world,” says former International President Alfred Herzing, a member of the Yorba Linda Achievers Club, who mentored Terri Marie when she first joined the organization. “Terri was a good speaker from the beginning, but I saw her gain further confidence and broaden her skill set by practicing in our club as she worked the Toastmaster program.”

Jack Nichols, a member of the Founder’s District Professional Speakers club, which meets in Orange, California, agrees. “Outof all the people I’ve seen grow through Toastmasters – and I’ve seen many – I would have to say that Terri has taken it the furthest,” he says. “She’s a real creative machine. I’ve watched her broaden all of her talents, including music, speaking and writing.”

In addition to speaking on a regular basis and composing her music, Marie is author of the book, Be the Hero of Your Own Game,as well as a regular newspaper column on local heroes for the San Clemente Sun Post News. She is also currently recording some of her own music on CD.

“I wouldn’t be as far as I am today without Toastmasters,” says Marie. “The organization not only gives you the tools to communicate effectively, it enables you to reach your dreams and share your own song in whatever form it may take. Listen carefully because you never know when you’ll receive a piece of advice from Toastmasters that could change your life.” 

Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer and longtime contributorto this magazine. She lives in Southern California. Reach her at

Steps to Greater Creativity

Like other art forms, speech writing is a creative process. “Through our speeches we have the gift and responsibility to touch and inspire others,” says Toastmaster Terri Marie. She suggests the following tips to build creativity and write better speeches:

1.  Trust in your abilities.
2.  Find something that sparks your interest
3.  Take that first step and start.
4.  Never deny the muse. When it knocks, answer the door no matter what time it is.
5.  Do not judge your work.
6.  Give creativity time and gain inspiration from nature or cultural events.
7.  Know that your passion is the map to your creativity.