Today I had the pleasure of attending my local piano teacher's association spring luncheon. It was a wonderful morning of food and fellowship, sharing and inspiration; as always, I was struck by how hard-working, dedicated, loving and generous this group of ladies is.
Yes, I was in a roomful of females. In the field of music, most private teachers are women, although higher education is dominated by men. One exception to this was my piano professor during my years at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Mary Jane Grizzell.
Mary Jane Grizzell, January 1982, following my graduate recital.
My freshman roommate and I left tiny Mt. Carmel, Illinois and arrived at SIU in August of 1977 in a pick-up truck, our belongings packed in chicken boxes gleaned from Don's Chick 'n' Burger, the hometown fast food restaurant where I worked during the summer between high school and college. In those days, I was terrified of my shadow; I had decided when I was seven years old that I wanted to be a piano teacher, but at age 18 I had no idea what that meant or how I would get there.
By the time I graduated with my master's degree in August 1982, I had performed three full-length solo piano recitals, gained a working knowledge of piano literature and a solid foundation in piano pedagogy, as well as practical experience as a teacher. Mary Jane was an integral part of all of this; she truly helped make me the pianist and teacher I am today, and I am forever grateful to her.
Mary Jane with fellow student Akiko Ohashi and me, September 1982,
prior to our induction into Mu Phi Epsilon
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she received national recognition as a pianist at age 18, graduated from the Eastman School of Music, and taught at SIU for many years. An outstanding pianist with a deep love of teaching, she was also my friend. She gave me a key to her piano studio in the music building so that I could practice on her beautiful Kawai grand nights and weekends, allowed me to catalog her extensive library of piano ensemble music as a research project, and invited me to her home on more than one occasion for dinner and sharing. She inspired me with her energy and enthusiasm for my chosen profession and with her appreciation for travel and her gracious - but never extravagant or pretentious - lifestyle.
We kept in touch for many years, always exchanging letters and cards during the holiday season. She remained supportive of me as I established piano studios in Peoria, Illinois and Raleigh, North Carolina, went through a messy divorce, and started teaching again here in metro Atlanta. At the same time, she expressed concern about my heavy workload here and appreciation for the annual pictures of my sons and me. That's why I was alarmed when I didn't hear from her this past December; recently, I learned that she passed away April 1st. I don't know the circumstances surrounding her death, only that I loved her dearly and will miss her every day as long as I live.
Thank you, Mary Jane, for your love, for your example and for all the lessons you taught me. As I follow in your footsteps, I pray that I might be half the teacher that you were, and that one day, my students will remember me half as fondly as I remember you.