I vividly remember as a young child peering out the window to see a large delivery truck at our home. To my surprise, a large upright piano was moved into our living room! I was seven years old, and soon after, began piano lessons. I will forever be grateful to my parents for having the foresight to provide the gift of piano lessons, as music has truly come to define my life!!
Neither of my parents knew one note on the piano or any other instrument. Often my mother would say, "I'm afraid I can't help you Dear, I only wish I could". My dad loved to sing, and knew the lyrics of too many songs to count. He had a natural ability to remember melodies as well as lyrics. There were certain times in particular that he would sing; in the car if 'us kids' were restless, he would sing long cowboy songs that told a story, and also Irish songs about people wishing they could return to Ireland! Another time he sang was in mid day. It was rare, but occasionally, especially in the summer, he would ask if I wanted to have a 'sing-song'. He would then pick up the old blue gospel book, turn to a page that interested him, then place the book on the piano rack, and say, 'Here, let's try this one'. I would play as he leaned with one hand over top of me on the top of the piano, so that he could see and sing all the verses! I always thought he sang quite loud, and that enabled me to follow him and play along, even in more difficult keys, as I certainly didn't know the gospel hymns. We sang a different type at the church we attended on a regular basis. The other time we heard our dad sing was occasionally across a field of grain where he was driving the tractor. I used to think he must have sang to keep awake, as driving all afternoon must have been difficult when he got up so early in the morning.
Once I started lessons, I soon realized I could play 'by ear'. I remember watching an older girl at school add chords to the left hand of songs so I watched her closely, then copied her! I loved that, as I could then add chords to every song I knew- I only had to hear a song once or twice, then could immediately play the melody with no effort, plus, now add chords so that it sounded like real music! I didn't think at all about what chord I was playing; my left hand just mysteriously played a chord that harmonized! I still can't explain that, as one would think I had to at least think about what key I was playing in, but I didn't. I only did my 'by ear' playing in the keys of C major, G Major and F major. Any key beyond that became more complicated for me. My right hand went all over the piano- again, not that I was thinking about what chords to play, it just seemed to drift to keys that sounded pretty!
By the time I was ten I started playing hymns for church, as the elderly lady who had previously played wanted to retire. I found that a quite tricky, as I had to really pay attention, or I would stop too soon or start another verse, which was very embarrassing! My sister and I took turns playing for church. I was in Grade Four in school when the teacher prepared special 'drills', which were choreographed to marching music for the Christmas Concerts. All the girls wore lovely dresses- made of crepe paper. Somehow I seemed to have picked up a repertoire of marches, and it was my job to play the piano as the others went through the 'lovely patterns' These 'drills' were about four or five minutes long.
By age twelve, I was being asked to teach young children in our neighbourhood. One of the children visited our home on Saturdays. I walked over to my second student's house after school. I loved the gingersnap cookies that his mother always made fresh for me when I arrived. I also taught piano while in Grade 11. I walked to the students homes in the sub-zero weather through the snow, and often was met at the door and told I didn't need to come, as the children hadn't practised!
Every year I played in the Piano Festival in the city, and hoped I'd win a scholarship, but I didn't. The same girl always won my classes, and since the adjudicator stayed at their home during the Festival, my mom thought that was very suspicious! I'm not sure why, but I had so many different teachers. I started with one, had a different one starting at Grade 4, another one at Grade 7, another at Grade 9, and then another for my ARCT. It seemed that I would no sooner get settled with a teacher, then they would move away!
When I took my Grade 8 Piano exam at thirtee,n I finally had the chance to win something! I was over the moon with excitement!! I was awarded the Silver Medal offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music for the highest mark in the province in Grade 8 Piano that year, and also a Scholarship, since my mark was the highest in Grade 7 as well! I finally had the chance to have my picture in the local newspaper, and I will never forget the ecstatic feeling of finally winning. I had actually thought I had failed the exam, since I had made some mistakes in one of my pieces. The examiner signed my paper by saying, "Let's hope we all hear more from this promising young pianist"! If I had ever become an examiner, I would have written those words on the bottom of a few papers, as that propelled me into thinking I actually did have talent!! This was actually a turning point in my music- my mother suggested I might as well continue taking lessons, as I would likely spend my time watching more TV if I quit. It seemed to make sense to continue. She always said, "Become a piano teacher Dear, then you can work and make money right in your own home!!" She seemed to think that would be the most ideal job!!
Growing up, I actually enjoyed working hard at my lessons, and I also found music helped me deal with my shyness. I taught myself to play my sister's piano accordion, then took it to Bible Camp every year. I found other campers loved to listen to me play familiar tunes, and I also playing along at our evening campfires. The campers would all gather to listen, and I'd just keep my head down and play whatever came into my head, or, play their requests. As well, I played the piano, either by ear or by notes, to accompany all the singing at school concerts between Grade Four and Grade 12. I also played the organ at church for weddings and funerals. Best of all, I loved to play the piano or the accordion in the 'adult dance band'! Standing on the stage playing the piano accordion as I watched the adults dance, was absolutely exhilarating to me, as I was only twelve or thirteen at that time. I can't tell you what that did for my self-esteem!! I was the middle child of three girls, and they were very proficient at practical, useful skills like sewing! They sewed all their own clothes, but when I tried to sew, my mother would always have to come to my rescue. I just had no natural ability, and felt like such a clumsy person! At least I could play music, and that made me feel I was good at one thing!
By age fourteen or fifteen, I had completed Grade Ten Piano. I knew that I would have to live away from home during Grades 10 and 11, so decided to delay practising for my ARCT pieces until after Grade 12. In the meantime I was invited to direct the Senior Church Choir when I was fourteen, which involved me in another way of enjoying music! I was so young to be doing this, but I remember the pastor saying to me, "Leona, you know more about music then anyone, so I'm sure you can do this!" The first time I took my place in front of all the adults in the choir loft, I felt quite overwhelmed! On the first Sunday that I directed the choir in the worship service, I picked up the music stand to return to my seat, and only the top came off the stand- the rest of it crashed to the floor! Funny how I remember that very well!! My clumsiness had surfaced once again!!
After Grade 12, I returned to my piano studies through the Royal Conservatory of Music and at age 19 I completed my Teacher's ARCT. I also finished the ten subjects of theory requirements necessary to complete the ARCT, studied Arts then Education at University, then started teaching Grade 2 and 3 in Elementary School. I didn't really want to be a teacher, but, everyone told me I must be a teacher since I knew about music! I thought I would have been better at nursing, but decided to follow the path of university I had started. It was very easy to get a job teaching in both Winnipeg and Vancouver, since by my resume, it was obvious that I had studied music.
Once my husband and I had our own children, I decided to teach piano again, and have done so every year except for one since then! We were blessed with three children, then a set of twins! I absolutely loved being a mother- but never stopped teaching piano, since it provided a wonderful diversion in my days. Somehow, I taught right through my pregnancies, then resumed teaching again as soon as I arrived home from the hospital with each new baby. . Prior to having our twins, I was hospitalized for two months. I arrived home with our babies, too weak to do housework. However, with the help of our own babysitters, Iimmediately resumed teaching piano again.
Once teaching in BC, I became a Registered Music Teacher withthe Royal Conservatory of Music, and began entering students in Festivals and Exams, while overseeing my own children's music education. Our eldest obtained her ARCT at age 15 with a mark of 92%, a great payoff for the many years I sat with her as she practised. I thought she might want to pursue a career in music, but, she was told that was a hard way to make money, so instead, she became a dentist.
I worked very hard at overseeing our other children's lessons, and also taught them to sing solos and duets in a wide variety of musical theatre and solo performance opportunities. The twins were extra proficient at singing, so along with piano lessons, I had them singing solos and duets at church and weddings and other Christian events. They also sang in the Pacific Mennonite Children's Choir, well known for singing in Europe and also at Carnegie Hall in New York. The boys played band instruments throughout high school. They had taken piano lessons when they were young, but, did so much complaining about practising, that eventually I gave in and allowed them to quit lessons.
I have always loved to involve myself in any opportunities to further my own knowledge of music and teaching music, and have attended provincial and national conferences, as well as workshops and piano courses anywhere I could! I developed a library of music books to study further. I also studied while in Vancouver, and achieved a Kelly Kirby Kindergarten Teacher certification, which is a course for teaching private music lessons to young children. At various times, I have taken more lessons from prominent music teachers to expand my knowledge. At present, based on the success of my students in the Royal Conservatory of Music exams, I have achieved the designation of a Certified Music Teacher Specialist for the Royal Conservatory of Music.
I have had many students go on to become medical doctors, often assisting them in the application process. Others have became successful 'pop' singers. One student has been the Musical Director on the Crystal Cruise' Symphony', where he plays an actual 'crystal piano'! He was the most musically gifted student I ever taught! Another student recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in London, where Elton John obtained his piano training. I love keeping in touch with all of these former students, and Face Book has been a perfect way of reconnecting.
We moved from Vancouver to Abbotsford in 1988, and I have been teaching here since that time, enjoying and continuing to find immense fulfillment in 'teaching piano'!.