MANITOWOC — Paige Owen loves Christmas music.
So much so, in fact, that she has been listening to it since Oct. 1 and can’t wait to perform with four of the groups participating in the sold-out Christmas at Silver Lake concert on Dec. 6.
The Silver Lake College sophomore plays saxophone with the campus’ Wind Ensemble and Jazz Ensemble, and is a member of its Handbell Ensemble and Concert Choir.
But what makes the upcoming concert so special — and noteworthy, as it pertains to Owen — is that just two years ago at this time she couldn’t even pick up her saxophone because of a concussion and excruciating headaches stemming from a frightening one-car accident during her senior year at Mishicot High School.
“Not being able to play my saxophone was very frustrating,” she said. “I told my mom that saying, ‘You don’t know what you’ve lost until it’s gone.’ And when music was gone, I knew how much I missed it. The feeling of not being able to play, it was like part of me had been taken away.”
On Oct. 21, 2012, Owen was driving down a country highway from her home in Mishicot to a daytime saxophone lesson at Lawrence University in Appleton.
Owen said she was tired that day from going to church at Holy Cross in the morning and then participating in a three-hour music rehearsal at school. She said that she didn’t know what happened, but her car veered off the road, went over a culvert and bounced through a field before stopping just short of a group of trees.
“There was a man driving behind us who saw the entire thing, and he said he didn’t know how we didn’t end up worse than what we did,” said Paige, referring to her mother, Jerilyn, who was in the passenger seat. “I don’t remember much about what happened, but if we had hit those trees I don’t know if things would’ve turned out very well.”
Thankfully for them, the car never flipped over. But it did leave the mother and daughter with concussions, as well as some bumps and bruises.
Paige, whose head hit the steering wheel, said she endured “killer” migraines, forcing her to miss much of the next five months of school. Complicating matters was her inability to stay in rooms with too much light, and trouble looking at the screens of laptops, cell phones and televisions. On top of that, she couldn’t play her saxophone, something she enjoyed doing since first learning to play it six years earlier.
Owen had to stop rehearsing with the Lawrence Academy of Music High School Wind Ensemble, and she couldn’t take lessons at Holy Family Conservatory in Manitowoc, either. She also couldn't perform at her high school's musical production.
“Everything just stopped all of a sudden for me,” she said.
After several months, Owen resumed playing her saxophone, sparked, in part, by upcoming college auditions that had been scheduled.
“Playing music again was easy in the sense that I’d been doing it for a long time and it was nice to get back in the groove of everything,” she said. “But one of the hard things is that a side effect of my migraine medicine is loss of words, stumbling. I’ve seen it really affect my music at times, which I don’t like. I see it with note fingerings and different things when I’m in performance classes. It just comes upon me still. It can be really frustrating.”
It took Owen about two months to truly get back in the groove of playing saxophone again.
Owen ended up graduating from high school on time that spring. That summer, she underwent an MRI as a precaution. The night before she moved in at Lawrence University, she was told the MRI revealed a pineal cyst in her pineal gland, which produces melatonin.
The condition isn’t related to the accident, Owen said, but it’s still something she has in the back of her mind. She also underwent two nasal surgeries in the past year, both of which also aren’t related to the accident.
Through it all — including migraine headaches that still occur about once a week — Owen has remained optimistic and enthusiastic about her future.
After the fall semester last year, Owen transferred to Silver Lake College, where she’s majoring in Instrumental and General Music Education. Her goal is to work as a high school or college band director.
In addition to playing saxophone, she’s taking piano lessons and learning to play the handbells.
“I probably shouldn’t say this,” Owen said with a smile, “but I think I like handbells the best. They’re so new for me, and I like them a lot.”
Owen added that she's pleased with her decision to transfer to Silver Lake College.
“It’s like a family here, and that’s really nice,” she said. “Everyone helps each other out. If you need anything they’ll always have your back. It’s a very welcoming community. And the faculty is wonderful, especially the music faculty. It’s a great place to go to school and be part of the music program.”