Childhood Memories Friday: Piano Lessons

piano lessons house

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.

piano lessons 1970sHere 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.

piano recital 1980s

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.

Hummel figurine

Photo courtesy of Caroline.


It’s now in my “music room,” and I think of her every time I see it.

5 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Piano Lessons

  1. Whoa……trip down memory lane. My memories center more around recitals at the dreaded First Methodist Church and contest in the round building at IU. I can say that I am glad those days are behind me!

  2. What great memories today! I have fond memories of my music days, too. And, let’s see, seems there’s a state university in town. Maybe go back to school and be an engineer or statistician or actuary? You can do it!!! I have a few friends who have made careers of music and, no, they don’t have to live in their cars or eat cat food! lol…

  3. So interesting! Your post reminds me of piano lessons for 8 years with Jane Anne Thomas, Joe’s maiden aunt. She was a good teacher and very ambitious, especially when it came to costume recitals where once I had to dress up in a pink tutu and ballerina slippers to play a little French number. Joe to this day swears that he remembers me in this costume when I was young. Then there were the really big 6-piano recitals at the local high school auditorium on stage. Imagine the practice that took to get all of those students (usually 2 to a piano and sometimes 3) ready for a performance! When I was older we finally had a whole piano to ourselves for harder compositions, such as Lustpiel (sp.?) Overture. When many years later when my daughter was in high school, Julie and a good friend played that same piece at a variety show at HNHS in 1978. That made me quite proud! There were two pianos on stage and the girls were all dressed up in formals.

    Never have I ever regretted learning to play the piano! Those lessons served me well as a church pianist for 40 years and as a piano teacher myself for 12 years. Keep up the good work, Susan, because you are a very accomplished piano teacher now, and I know that your current students will remember you in a kind way, just as you remember your former piano teachers.

  4. I am trying to remember: Either Miss Barkman took lessons from
    Mrs. Gilkey or was it the other way around? Miss Barkman had been organist at First Baptist, in the old church, probably for decades. I was told that when she quit playing the organ there she became somewhat of a hermit. She came to church only on rare occasions. I think her decision to quit teaching piano was difficult. She told me she had considered keeping on some students, such as you & Jill, but decided to stop completely. Mrs. Gilkey changed all our lives! The rest of my life I will come across piano music & notice Mrs. Gilkey wrote notes on it about how to play it correctly. After Miss Barkman announced she was quitting lessons, we really sweat blood about who to take lessons from. Someone told us of the Gilkeys moving back to her old homeplace near Reddington. I called her & we set up lessons. I will always remember her words, “Let’s start on Labor Day. We will be ‘laboring’ on Labor Day so you may as well take your lesson!” Little did we know the whirlwind we were entering with the Gilkeys! I could write a book!

  5. I learned so much reading this post. Thank you, Susan. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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