43 years ago this month, I began piano lessons. I was thinking about this over Christmas, when I was at my dad’s house. It is just a short walk from there to the home of my first piano teacher, so I walked by and snapped a photo. So many times I walked up those steps, onto the porch, and into Miss Barkman’s house. Take away the colorful flag, and the house is pretty much unchanged by the almost half-century.
Here I am with Miss Barkman (excuse my appearance – I guess we all have to be 13 once, although we don’t all have to be 13 in the 1970s). I took lessons from her for 5 years. When you entered the house and turned right, there was her music room. As you can see, it had 2 pianos and was filled with music. I remember thinking that was so neat — to have a room just for one’s piano and music!
Miss Barkman was a pretty quiet sort, and after I finished sixth grade she moved to Florida. At that point, I got a new piano teacher, Mrs. Gilkey.
Mrs. Gilkey was much more animated than Miss Barkman had been, and I remember my mom describing her as “personality plus!” after talking with her on the phone. Mrs. Gilkey really pushed me, but in a friendly way, and I have to say I’m amazed as I look back on all I accomplished musically. I played various concertos and other pieces, and I remember feeling proud when I started a Bach book that she said she had used “for fewer students than I can count on my fingers!” Her husband was a retired band director, and she would often call him in for his perspective on a piece. I can still hear her calling out, “Woo hoo! Leslie!”
My mom, who played piano also, usually always sat with me when I practiced (at least in the early years), and I think this really contributes to a child’s musical success. I remember a few occasions when I cried at the bench, wanting to quit but not being allowed to. It was tough to learn to push through difficulty and persevere, but a good lesson, for piano as well as for life.
I disappointed Mrs. Gilkey when I didn’t choose music as a career, much as I disappointed Mr. Stickles by not choosing math. But as a teen, I was still idealistic enough to feel that a career should be passion-driven. For awhile in high school, I committed to practicing both oboe and piano an hour each daily to see if I could do that and enjoy it enough to commit to a musical future. It was too much – and honestly, I can’t see encouraging most anyone to major in music. The only way I would is if the person in question were a VanCliburn or someone of that caliber. Otherwise, the demands are just too great for the rewards, and I think music makes a better hobby than a vocation. Math on the other hand … hmmm. I probably should have given that one a bit more consideration.
In this photo, Mrs. Gilkey is in the back row, and I am right of her – wearing, by the way, the pink dress I made from Princess Diana’s wedding dress pattern … ahhhh. Those are my piano students during a recital my senior year of high school.
Not many years after I graduated, Mrs. Gilkey died of lung cancer (no, she never smoked). Her husband continued to volunteer with local band programs for decades more, only stopping recently when he turned 100.
After Mrs. Gilkey died, Mr. Gilkey wanted to give me a keepsake of her, so he gave me this little Hummel figurine.
It’s now in my “music room,” and I think of her every time I see it.