Jane Burgess was a junior in high school when her brother, a pianist studying at West Virginia University, invited the family to one of his performances.
He told her to arrive early, saying that he thought she would like the guitar player, a high school senior named Micah Burgess.
She met him, she liked him, and she went back home with her parents.
On her brother’s next visit home, he gave Jane a cheap, orange extension cord, explaining that Micah had left it behind.
Since she was going to enroll at Micah’s college, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, he told her to track him down and return it.
Micah, you see, had borrowed it from his parents, who wanted it back. They told him to retrieve it. He called Jane at least once, asking for it.
At least that’s the story he tells.
Anyway, when Jane arrived at Duquesne some two years later, she did bring the extension cord with her and stored it in her locker. It’s a small school; she figured she’d eventually run into Micah.
She did, but she didn’t return the cord.
“When I saw him, I thought, ‘I don’t really like this guy,’” she says and laughs.
Micah laughs, too.
Even if he had known how she felt, it wouldn’t have bothered him much. He already had a girlfriend. Plus, Jane had a boyfriend. Other than the cord, he didn’t see a connection between them.
Anyway, Jane and Micah ended up at the same school Christmas party with their dates.
“Jane swears we were making eyes at each other,” Micah says.
He’s not so sure about this; too much wine and time dim memories.
“Jane broke up with her boyfriend that night,” he says. “And then she broke up with him again the next day because she couldn’t remember doing it the night before.”
Jane’s definitely not so sure about this, but after some mild denials, she lets his version stand.
Jane and Micah have a lot in common.
Micah, who was raised in Saint Albans then Bridgeport, West Virginia, started taking piano lessons at 8 and persuaded his parents to let him buy an electric guitar when he was 10 so he could play rock tunes.
“I also got an amp,” he says, adding that it took his entire savings, $75, to make the purchase. “I used to turn it up really loud, jump off the bed with my guitar and do windmills.”
Jane was one of the nearly 2,000 residents of Romney, a tiny town in West Virginia whose claims to fame remain being the county’s biggest town and having its only stoplight.
By age 6, she was taking piano lessons, and when she turned 10, she had her first voice lessons.
“I always liked to perform,” she says. “I have two older brothers so I needed to compete with them. Singing was a way to make myself heard.”
While Micah was playing gigs – he did his first professional performance at 15, around the same time he got his 1976 Gibson Les Paul Cherry Sunburst – and mowing lawns, Jane was studying classical voice and opera.
“My teenage job was not nearly as exciting as Micah’s,” she says. “I was a lifeguard.”
Once they started dating at Duquesne, they were inseparable. After Jane graduated, in 2000, they married.
Micah taught private lessons while Jane worked on her master’s degree. In 2004, they moved to New York City so Micah could work on a master’s degree at New York University.
“We knew we had to go somewhere else besides Pittsburgh,” Micah says. “We didn’t want to keep playing the same clubs – we wanted more.”
After teaching music and doing gigs for several years, they opened Art House Astoria in 2009 to offer affordable art and music education classes.
“We had been teaching in a nonprofit conservatory in Flushing, and we loved the community,” Jane says. “When it closed, we wanted to recreate the same spirit here.”
At this moment, their older son, 8-year-old Charlie, is recreating that spirit by entertaining his 3-year-old brother, Pete, with a boisterous and exuberant rendition of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” on the grand piano in the auditorium.
Jane, who is a community liaison with the Astoria First Presbyterian Church that shares space with Art House Astoria, teaches piano and voice at the nonprofit.
Micah, who is a sub for the Broadway productions Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Be More Chill, teaches music programs at several schools, including P.S. 85, P.S. 166 and Q300, and performs at a variety of gigs.
Micah and Jane see Art House Astoria, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, as a way to give back to the community.
“It’s an opportunity to grow something bigger than ourselves, something that’s meaningful to the people in the community,” he says.
Speaking of giving back, Jane did finally return that extension cord to Micah.
And Micah gave it back to his parents.
“It’s in their garage,” he says. “They still use it.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling