Paynesville Press - March 9, 2005

Community Perspective

Childhood piano lessons impacted life

By Cindy Zimmerman

(Editor's Note: March is Music In Our Schools Month, and the Press - with help from the music faculty - will feature perspectives on the importance of music this month.)

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this series regarding the value of music in education and in life. It is difficult to even begin to quantify the importance of music in my own life. Suffice it to say that I cannot imagine what my life might have been like without music in general, and more specifically without the experiences I've had playing the piano.

I was asked recently in a journal I'm doing who had had the greatest influence on my life. After some thought, I had to conclude that, apart from wonderful parents and four extraordinary grandparents, that person was my piano teacher, Mr. Earl Ricker. He could have had a concert career, but instead chose to return to his hometown of Sterling, Ill., and teach.

He converted his garage into a studio, which housed two grand pianos, two uprights, and a dozen student-sized desks where we had theory classes every Saturday. Two of the walls were chalkboards on which music staffs had been painted.

This was pretty classy for our small town!

At any given time, he had 80-100 students. He would teach three lessons before school started in the morning, one or two during lunch hour, and then teach every evening til 10 p.m. He was also a nationally-recognized pioneer in the field of group piano lessons.

I started lessons with Mr. Ricker in second grade and continued through high school. By the time I was a junior, my three sisters and I were all in lessons, and it was getting to be quite an expense for my parents. So being the responsible firstborn, I volunteered to quit. However, after about a month, I missed it so much that I asked if I could return to piano lessons, and of course my parents said yes.

It was at that time that Mr. Ricker asked if I'd be interested in cleaning house for his wife in exchange for my lessons, and I quickly agreed.

Funny thing though - it was never dirty! They had no children, so there wasn't much traffic in and out of their house. Sure, I went through the motions of cleaning it every week but except for a few less specks of dust, it didn't look any different when I was finished than when I started. Looking back now, I realize that Mr. and Mrs. Ricker weren't so much looking for a cleaning girl as they were investing in a young life.

Playing piano has shaped me in so many ways and given me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. I was never very athletic (OK, a real klutz), but music gave me an arena in which to shine and gain self-confidence. I was the accompanist for my high school choir and a traveling choir in college and have had the privilege to meet many interesting and talented people. But the most rewarding thing has been my career as a piano teacher and watching children learn and grow through music. I've seen shy children come alive and flourish through the expression of playing the piano. Some have gone on to study music in college and even make a career of it, but most are simply playing or listening for their own enjoyment.

Much has been written in recent years about the connection between music and academics. The latest one I read was done by the University of Toronto, in which 144 six-year-olds were assigned to music or drama classes or to no extra-curricular activities. After a year, the children who took music lessons gained three more IQ points than their peers.

Study leader Dr. E. Glenn Schellenberg stated, "The structured nature of music lessons can strengthen attention, concentration, and memorization." (Reported in Ladies' Home Journal, January 2005.)

Another study - conducted by Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California at Irvine - explored the link between music and intelligence and reported that music training, specifically piano instruction, is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills. Furthermore, the study indicated that music training generates the neural connections used for abstract reasoning. Because neural connections are responsible for all types of intelligence, a child's brain develops to its full potential only with exposure to the necessary enriching experiences in early elementary ages. (Adapted from The Kjos Piano News, May 1997)

There is no question that children should be exposed to music and the arts, whether though formal lessons or general studies in school. Paynesville is extremely fortunate to have the music educators and community talent that we do!

Zimmerman has taught piano lessons for 26 years in Paynesville.

Would you like to participate as a Community Perspective writer? Call Michael Jacobson at 320-243-3772 to get scheduled as a writer or e-mail him at

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