Elegy for a music teacher

Mrs. Hooper, my first piano teacher.   Her spirit exists in the music I make now...
Mrs. Hooper, my first piano teacher. Her spirit exists in the music I make now…

Today I received news that my childhood piano teacher, Maureen Hooper, died this morning.  With tears in my eyes, as a ripened musician, I tell you that I truly love my music teachers.

Mrs. Hooper was the first.

I dutifully attended weekly lessons at her house a few blocks away from the age of 6 to 16.  She gave me the basics of music.  How to read.  How to apply music-theory.  How Chopin was romance, Debussy was a paint brush, and Mozart was ecstasy.  How to understand emotions and phrasing.   “Now, again, with feeling!” she’d say.   And oh how I remember the incessant command to my 6 year old self:  “Curve your fingers, dear!”

I admit I got away with a lot as a relatively talented student.  I didn’t practice many days, and became very good at tricking Mrs. Hooper into thinking I had labored through the week.  Cheerily, she placed a check mark on each exercise or piece I’d learned to her satisfaction, or placed a new date next to the tunes that had not been mastered.  When I did work hard and shined with progress, she would chirp, with her wonderful British accent, “Well done, Esther.  Well done!

I don’t play the piano much these days, but I still know my scales.  I curve my fingers.  I sight-read with slow delight.  I lean my weight into the keys.  I shape a phrase with passion.

And I carry every bit of musical technique and wisdom she taught me into my singing, dulcimer, flute playing, performance and recordings.

My favorite bit of wisdom from Mrs. Hooper, which I will always cherish:

“Esther, you mustn’t practice your mistakes.”

Goodbye, Mrs. Hooper.  I will miss you.  You were a great teacher and human being.  Well done.  Well done.