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.