Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Piano Teacher

Laura Ellen Winsor

My mom had great hopes that one of her children would be able to play the piano adequately and I was her last best hope.

You know what happens with the youngest child, you're either too tired or become very crafty about how to get them to do what you want. With me she enticed me by offering either ballet or piano lessons with much more emphasis on the piano. It was all up to me of course. Then she would tell me ballet would benefit me only for so long BUT THE PIANO would be something I would appreciate my entire life. She was right but not necessarily the way she envisioned.

I started lessons when I was about 7 years old and it was apparent to both Mrs. Winsor and me that I wasn't a prodigy nor would I be very good. What I loved about the lessons was listening to her talk about her life in Europe before the war. She attended school in Paris and played concerts there. I couldn't get enough of her stories.

Once a week I would come after school and sit in her dining room until she finished with the pupil before me. Her Steinway grand piano had an embroidered spanish shawl draped over the back of it. It sat in the second story bay window of her house on Randolph Street in San Francisco. Mrs Winsor was always in a formal dress with a rhinestone brooch. She never got up from her chair due to hip trouble and could barely walk but she sat next to the piano bench and looked like a queen. Her hair was red and I'm sure "touched up" and her hands were very large and gnarled. I always loved it when she would demonstrate how to play something. It wasn't easy for her to move herself over to the piano bench but when she played...the piano shook and the house vibrated.

She wrote three books published by her husband and all three books were about death and reincarnation. She was "New Age" before anyone ever heard of the term. And of course this was what I would spend my lesson time talking to her about. She also gave me dandy tips on how to properly cleanse my face and how to use ice cubes to close my pores and make my cheeks rosy.

My mom would come to pick me up and park in front of the house where she could see me at the piano. Most of the time when I got in the car I would get a lecture that went something like "I don't pay $10 an hour for you to sit and talk during your lesson!"

I think I had to play in two of Mrs. Winsor's recitals before I figured out how to get out of them. The recitals were always in June so I would take a break from lessons starting in May and go back in the Fall. For some reason my mom never questioned this. She was just so glad I wanted to try the piano she put up with my excuses.

What I learned from those lessons was classical music makes my heart sing. I learned that elder women have fascinating stories to tell and much wisdom to share. I learned that death may not be the end.

The last time I saw her was probably 42 years ago. I don't know when she died or what her life was like as she grew old. I only know that she had a powerful impact on me and I still think about her with gratitude for all the gifts she gave me.

Sorry the scanned picture is so poor. It came from one of her books and my scanner isn't that great...or is it me? I'm about as talented with the scanner as I am at the piano.


At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That was another beautiful blog entry.

The photo IS fuzzy, but that adds to the nostalgia for me.

Do you still play?

Kind regards,

aka Lazy Gardener

At 1:05 AM, Blogger saz said...

I have a baby-baby grand piano in the livingroom and I never touch it. Think I forgot everything I knew!

At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Claude said...

A great post. I like the way the photo came out. Your scanner does wonderfully artsy things! How wonderful to have an older woman, other than your mother, that you could look up to. I had such a friend too. I'll have to blog about her some day. Thanks for sharing

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous naomi dagen bloom said...

geez, wish i'd been as smart to think of your way out of piano lessons--definitely not my thing. the only teacher i remember was a man who lived in a famous old apartment house here, the ansonia. foolishly he was proud of the fact that he'd told george gershwin as a boy that he would not continue his lessons because he would not practice!

scanned photo looks just fine. by the way, signed up for flic'r but not looking forward to uploading photos. hope that's a bit of encouragement for you.

At 5:32 AM, Anonymous Alan G said...

Well Mrs. Winsor sure sounds like she was a grand lady. And it is true that sometimes we really do take away more from those experiences and lessons than we realize – music related or otherwise.

I think I may have shared this before but my first music teacher actually fired me. He told my mom that he could no longer teach me because I refused to learn how to read music. Talk about your lectures!! It was a whole lot easier to play by ear for me than learn all that stuff.

Now as far as recitals go, well my hat is off to you for your ingenious plan. I hated recitals with a passion. Nothing worse that being a fifteen year old and being outshined by a six year old. Ughhh!

Also….sounds like your mom and my mom had similar speeches prepared when they picked us up after our lessons.

At 6:07 AM, Blogger Joy Des Jardins said...

Isn't it interesting all the benefits you came away with besides piano lessons SAZ? What a wonderful experience...and a lovely lady. My mom didn't think the same way yours did. As a kid I appreciated not being pushed into structured lessons I didn't want; but as an adult, I'm sorry I never pursued it. I've always wished I could play the piano, so I envy you that. Honestly, I probably would have enjoyed all the "other" tidbits of knowledge this wonderful lady had to offer more than the actual lessons too.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

Having an interested adult, other than your mother can be such a blessing. It sounds like a good deal all around...even if your mom didn't realize what she was really paying for.

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Connie and Rob said...

Those are the people who stay in your heart forever. She was probably thrilled you took an interest in her as a person not just a teacher.

You told a great story...I almost felt like I was sitting at the table with you!

Have a good day,

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Betty said...

Great story. My piano teacher also taught me to love classical music. But, she wasn't as friendly and forthcoming as yours. And, she had halitosis. :-)

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Terri said...

Oh, Saz...what a heartwarming story! And SO beautifully written. I really enjoyed this a lot. All of us could have used a "Mrs. Windsor" in our young lives. How fortunate for you that not only did you have her, all these years later you're left with extraordinary memories.
She sounded way ahead of her time and like an amazing woman. I can understand why you were more enthralled with HER, rather than the actual lessons.
You need to post MORE....I love reading your stories!

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Ginnie said...

Saz: I instinctively knew that you and I have a lot in common. I, too, am the youngest in the family and my older sisters were sure that I got away with everything.
I loved your portrayal of your beloved teacher...isn't it wonderful to have these memories, and you wrote of it beautifully.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger F&W said...

You and Betty are ON FIRE! Both of your posts are just awesome.

Saz, this was so well-written, and I love all of the things you learned from this wonderful woman. I'm sure her children (if she had them?) would love to hear your recollections.

And, at least you've got a scanner! LOL

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous John said...

It must be great to play the piano. I have no ear for music, but I did once join a local boy's silver band when I was about twelve. I 'mimed' the cornet. :-)

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Lucy said...

A beautiful story!
Recently I remember in my child age.
I learned to play piano too, when I was young. But I can’t play it now.
My piano is in my mother’s house which nobody live in. I feel sad.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger gawilli said...

Hi! I'm visiting from Betty's site. This post brought back wonderful memories for me of my piano teacher, Mrs. Bane. I loved it when she played. In fact I would try to figure out ways to coerce her to play. She made me feel the music in the pit of my stomach, and from my head to my toes. We must be the same age as this was at least 40 years ago for me also. On a side note - she also taught me fractions with a drawing of a pie. Of course her purpose was that I understand quarter, half and eighth notes. Thanks for prompting this cherished thought from "Back in the Day".

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Maria said...

What memories your post brought back to me of my own first piano teacher, Miss Jacoby. She was very old and was at one time a known concert pianist in Germany.

She was very poor and came to our house to give lessons to my brother and me. She usually stayed for dinner and then played for the family afterwards.

Thank you for your post. It was truly wonderful.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Kell said...

I love your posts! This is another wonderful memory and story. I can just see a little Saz through the window, sitting at the piano.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger goldenlucyd said...

Saz dear, you fail to entertain AND inform. I loved the Spanish piano shawl and your teacher's big gnarled and gifted hands---you brought me right there with you. As I've noted before, what a waste it would have been for you never to blog!

At 5:28 PM, Blogger goldenlucyd said...

OMIGAWD Saz! I meant" NEVER fail to entertain..."
I think my dotage is showing.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Newt said...

That was wonderful..........My parents gave me the piano they bought for me when I was little. It's one of the last they ever made with real ebony and ivory keys. I play around on it a little but it hasn't been tuned in 25 years. I should probably get on that.......

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At 7:39 AM, Anonymous kdzee said...

Laura Ellen Winsor is my Grand Mother, I used to hang around the house as a young boy on Randolph St. in San Francisco. She had great wisdom...Thanks, I enjoyed what you wrote writing some music on my space under kdzee. And my youngest Son Nathan is also very serious about his music also on my space under tastee nastro. He is a Business major/Rapper at UCLA. Thanks Kirk


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