For a period of time last winter, we drove to New London hospital every week so Molly could take her piano lesson from the incomparable Mrs. Chang.
Heads bent over a keyboard, Molly and Mrs.Chang ignored the medical clutter and chaos to continue their work, pausing briefly only when the nurse needed to change Mrs. Chang’s IV bag.
In any other hospital room, a piano might have seemed incongruous, butted up against a walker and a visitor’s chair. But in Helen Chang’s room, the instrument fit right in, and even played a critical role in her healing.
Mrs. Chang has been a piano teacher for nearly 50 years. She teaches the Suzuki method and, with a gentle voice and firm hand, she guides tiny students who sit on boosted benches to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Variations until, very quickly, they move on to Debussy, Bach and Beethoven.
Four times a year she hosts piano classes in the basement of the Menasha Public Library for lucky audience members like me. The swift transition from shy child to seasoned performer seems miraculous to me still and I have been attending these concerts for five years.
We’re grateful for the music Mrs. Chang has brought into our house and for the gifted performers she sends out into the world.
Beyond the music, though, we appreciate the other things Mrs. Chang teaches her students and us, old school lessons in dignity, discipline and mutual respect.
Each lesson begins and ends with a formal bow. In between, though she speaks softly and chuckles frequently, Mrs. Chang demands genuine effort.
She still plays piano for up to three hours a day and, while she does not expect her own students to devote quite that much time, she does insist that they practice. She prefers classical piano music and steers her students to the masters.
From her posture to her poise, Mrs. Chang exudes grace and her students, who range in age from pre-school to high school, learn by example to stand tall and to work hard. Beyond the carefully studied musical notes, these are the legacy of a gifted piano teacher.