It is Thursday morning. My wife and I park on the street near Curtis Park in Sacramento, outside of a home belonging to Joan, one of my adult piano students. Even from the outside, the house leaves an impression: the quaint and nicely decorated exterior of a picturesque and well-maintained cottage.
“I’ve been here for 52 years,” Joan explains, as she welcomes us in. “I have rebuilt this home.” The inside is the picture of serenity, with everything in its proper place.
Joan escorts us through her home to the building in back, which is what we came to see. “Joan’s Playhouse,” as she affectionately refers to it, is a former one-car garage and later office that she recently remodeled. As of last week, it is home to a sleek, jet black, baby grand Yamaha piano.
The tidiness of her abode is inspiring. The newly dedicated piano space, pure delight.
I enjoy tinkling the ivories on the beautiful, pristine Yamaha as Joan fills us in on the details. For five years, she used this building as an office for her business. In 2016, she sold the business and promptly began converting the space into its latest incarnation as a piano domicile.
“I love to build,” she says.
Joan is a great-great grandmother and a human dynamo at 83 years young. She started playing piano in second grade. When she was in her teens, she had thoughts of being a concert pianist. She was even featured on the radio. But then, “I discovered boys… and didn’t want to spend the two hours a day practicing.”
Over the years, while raising a family and living her life, Joan played piano now and then. “My children knew when I was angry I would play the Grieg concerto, when I was happy I would play Clair de Lune.” Her children, and now her grand-children and great grandchildren have enjoyed hearing her play at family get-togethers and holidays.
Before I started working with her, it had been over sixty years since she had taken a piano lesson.
As she tells us, one day she realized her old piano was beyond repair. “The next day I got a flyer about a school piano sale.” She bought herself an upright piano so she could start practicing, but then she realized, “I couldn’t even read the bass notes, that is how long it had been.” So she decided to take piano lessons. The very next day, she found a flyer on her door from Piano Lessons in Sacramento. And so I entered the picture. Regarding this serendipitous unfolding of events, she says matter-of-factly, “That’s how my life has gone.”
I have been working with Joan for over a year. She is an enthusiastic student and sharp as a tack. She is not the only adult piano student to come to me for lessons for the first time since childhood. In fact, many of my adults had taken extended hiatuses from lessons for 10, 20 (or more!) years before starting back up again.
Regarding piano lessons, Joan says, “I enjoy doing it for myself, and I think about my children when I play.” She also enjoys playing music other than only classical music. When she was a child, “I never played the music other people were listening to. It was always concert music. Now I’m having a lot of fun playing more popular music.”
When it comes to playing music, Joan is insistently modest. “I only play for myself,” she says. Yet there is something about Joan which transcends the ordinary. I admire this woman’s success and accomplishments. She always struck me as someone who knows a thing or two about leading a good life. Our visit to her beautiful new piano space confirms this impression.
Near the end of our visit, Joan speaks about being a great-great grandmother. I remark, “There’s something about that word ‘great’ that really fits you, Joan.” And it’s true.
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