Out of Chaos

12/01/2022 01:33 AM By Lisa Anderson
Feature Story
Margaret Dixon
Margaret Dixon
Story by Lisa Anderson • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Out of Chaos

Musician Finds Her Place with Community Outreach

Sit down with Margaret Dixon for just a few moments and you will be delighted with her joyful attitude and infectious laugh. In fact, you may be surprised to find out her heroes are fictional characters. Not just any fictional characters, but villains.

This plot twist may not be what you’d expect from someone as sweet as Margaret, but once you hear her reasoning, you will probably get a firmer grasp on her character as a whole. “As I got older and got more in touch with my personality, I realized the people that are the coolest are, like, evil villains,” says the young Director of Education and Community Outreach for the Reilly Arts Center. “I want to be like that. Maybe I don’t want to be an evil villain, but I want to cherry pick the characteristics.”

Mix a little of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the fashion icon Miranda Priestly’s tenacity and confidence with the chill attitude of fictional character King Julien from the animated movie Madagascar, and you get the true character Margaret aspires to be.

“I want people to want to work hard. I want to take that; the power and presence that [Miranda Priestly] is so good at her job and so together. She’s never freaking out or fumbling around. She’s got a plan, and she knows what to do. She’s delegating tasks.

“I love [King Julien] because he’s a terrible, terrible monarch. Absolutely not a good leader, but everyone values him. They love him. He’s so carefree. Nothing rattles him. Everything’s on fire, and he is completely like, ‘Everything’s fine.’ I just want to be that: stable, while chaos is happening.”

A Chaotic Childhood

Perhaps Margaret’s desire for confidence, quick direction, and stability comes from the lack of it in her childhood. She describes her younger self as defiant, resilient, creative, innovative, fearless, and definitely unbreakable.

“My parents didn’t have the healthiest relationship. They were divorced when I was 9 or 10. Then, I lived in a single-parent household with my mother,” explains Margaret.

Her mother developed cancer and passed away when Margaret was only 13 years old. “Then, I lived with my father, who I hadn’t interacted with for a long time. It didn’t quite work out. He wasn’t quite ready to take care of children.”

Prior to this, the family had moved around a lot. Margaret’s father was in the Army; she was born in Germany. When she was 3, her family returned to the States and her father retired, but it didn’t stop the multiple times they relocated. “I’ve lived in Kentucky. I’ve lived in Cincinnati. I’ve lived in Michigan. I’ve lived in Chicago.

“So, just a lot of chaos, a lot of taking care of myself, a lot of taking care of my little brother, and taking care of my sick mother. I think I learned [at] an early age, like, survival skills, essentially—being stubborn and not letting stuff like that break me down, even as a child. I feel like that carries over, now, in a hopefully more healthy way. I retain a lot of that stubbornness, where I’m not going to quit. Make stuff happen, you know. Just resilience.”

Stability didn’t come for Margaret until the ninth grade, when she made the last move of her childhood to live with her aunt in Alabama. There, she was able to graduate from high school and attend college in the same state. It was also there that her love for music was nurtured and encouraged.
Carl Schneider

Building Her Life

After undergrad, Margaret migrated to Gainesville to attend the graduate program and began building her adult life. “When I moved to Gainesville, I would get in my car and just drive around, get lost, [and] discover the city. And when school started, I did the marching band stuff. So, if you do marching band, you make 400 friends before school starts.”

Margaret auditioned for the Ocala Symphony Orchestra while still in grad school. “[I] won the position, and I played with the Ocala Symphony for several years. As the symphony grew, there were more opportunities. I kind of latched on to that,” she states.

Beginning with symphony programs that allowed her to go into elementary schools and speak about instruments to the schools’ orchestras, Margaret eventually began helping to run the program. “I took that over and then kind of re-envisioned that and revamped that and turned it into a really great program. In 2019, maybe the end of 2018, I actually took over management of the orchestra.”

Margaret became more and more involved with the orchestra, as time went on, which eventually led to her current position as Director of Education and Community Outreach. It also prompted her move to Ocala in May of this year. “It’s definitely been an adjustment. There are some things that are great and some things I kind of miss. Gainesville is a little more busy, but it’s also a much younger crowd. But, there’s a lot of things about Ocala that I really like. It is a more mature atmosphere. I feel the art scene is easier and more prevalent in a different way.

Music Literacy

When Margaret was asked to spearhead the programs for the Ocala Symphony Community Music Conservatory, she couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. “I’ve had a vision of having my own music school for a long time. I have [had] those giant Post-It notes on my wall for four or five years with the plans. Like, these are the classes I’m going to teach, and this is what’s going to happen. So, the school was already planned.”

Some of her many tasks in her position include organizing the school, hiring teachers, planning for growth, community outreach, and more. With her students, Margaret focuses a lot on literacy and fluency.

“Music is very similar to how [your brain] processes the written language. It’s essentially like when we read a book. Our brain is taking symbols and encoding them, processing them, and turning them into meaningful words or sounds. The same thing happens in music.”

Margaret can quickly identify a student’s reading level based on their ability to play their instrument and answer a few questions. “I work a lot on [what] I call the four aspects of fluency: reading, writing, hearing, speaking.”

Music can help with a lot of practical life skills, such as “finding gross motor skills, concentration, problem solving, [and] goal setting.” These are the very same skills that helped Margaret to become successful in her career and overcome some of the effects of her chaotic childhood.

Identifying with villains in fictional settings may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s easy to see how Margaret has picked their best qualities to which to aspire. And you could argue she has many of those qualities already.
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