Some children excel at soccer. Others take to dance. Natalie Vlach, as a young girl, fell in love with her electronic keyboard. Unlike some childhood infatuations, however, Vlach’s passion for piano endured and deepened, leading eventually to her winning the Linde B. Wilson scholarship at the Blair School.
Vlach was just 7 when she began begging for a piano. “I wasn’t that kid who had to be forced to practice,” Vlach says. “I just loved it. The deal was that if I really applied myself on the keyboard then I could have lessons. I did practice, got the lessons and got an upright piano. Later, I was thrilled when my parents gave me a baby grand. I was serious and dedicated from the start.”
Vlach, BA’18, has four younger siblings, all college-bound. That’s a lot of tuition, so attending college in her home state of Florida initially seemed more practical. But Vlach’s mother encouraged her to believe in herself and try for Vanderbilt anyway.
“Blair is an incredible place,” Vlach says. “I’m so grateful to the Wilson family for all they have done for Blair and for making my dream school affordable. I’m inspired by their generosity, and with a concentration in teaching and a minor in medicine, health and society, I hope I can have an impact like theirs.”
In a serendipitous turn after graduation, Vlach’s Vanderbilt backpack led her to a job in Austin, Texas, working for GLG Inc., one of the world’s largest platforms for professional learning.
“I got lost in Grand Central Station, and stopped at Starbuck’s to ask for directions,” Vlach says. “The person I asked was also a Vanderbilt graduate. She saw my VU backpack, so we started talking. She gave me her card and told me to contact her company, GLG, when I started job hunting. I moved to Austin in July to start work for them. It’s perfect, because Austin is a music town and I’m finding places to continue playing piano!”
Without the generosity of the Wilson family, Vlach would not have found a path from Vanderbilt to Texas via New York. The Linde B. Wilson Scholarship was created in 2009 by Blair J. Wilson, BA’74, in honor of his wife, Linde, BA’74, MLS’76. The scholarship fund has provided support for eight students since its inception, and the Wilsons recently added to it, bringing its value to more than $2 million.
“I am so honored to have my name on this scholarship for fine, young musicians. The Wilson family has deep ties to the Blair School, and it is a pleasure to make opportunities possible for the most talented musicians to benefit from the Vanderbilt experience,” says Linde Wilson. “The Wilson family had a vision of what a strong music school would mean to the Nashville community through the creation of Blair. The Linde B. Wilson Scholarship helps build that legacy by supporting students who further our school and our society in so many ways.”
Valere Blair Potter, grandmother of Linde Wilson’s husband, along with her daughter and son-in-law, the late Anne Potter Wilson and David Kirkpatrick “Pat” Wilson, founded Blair Academy in 1964, named for her mother, Myra Jackson Blair. It was regarded as the finest pre-collegiate musical education in the southeast. In 1981, Blair became the music school at Vanderbilt, and in 1986, began a music degree program.
Throughout Blair’s relatively brief history, the Wilson family and the Valere Blair Potter Charitable Trust have provided deep programmatic, scholarship and faculty support throughout Vanderbilt. The legacy of the Wilson family and their support will continue to shape Vanderbilt students for generations to come.
Erich Zheng, a junior majoring in piano, is another grateful recipient of a Linde B. Wilson Scholarship.
“I want to perform flawlessly,” says Zheng. “It’s frustrating, because you know there’s always room to improve. You can work your whole life and never reach perfection, which is also one of the exciting things about playing music.”
Performance stress made Zheng’s first year a little difficult, but the nurturing atmosphere at Blair and the close relationships Blair faculty forge with the students helped smooth his transition.
“I had a hard time adjusting as a freshman, but the faculty were tremendously caring and helpful beyond just classroom teaching,” Zheng says. “They would reach out just to check to see that I was OK. It’s unique to Blair because of the culture of the school, which is very collegial and supportive.”
If not for the Linde B. Wilson scholarship that made it possible for him to attend the Blair School, Zheng might have not found such a warm, understanding place to develop his music career.
“Before we heard about the scholarship, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to accept my offer due to family finances,” Zheng says. “I wanted to go to Blair since high school and can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.”