The other day my mom asked me what the name of my former piano teacher was. “Jane Hagmann,” I said. “Why do you ask?” My mother proceeded to tell me she had died. Her obituary was in the newspaper. She was 77 years old.
I was sorry to hear this news. Immediately I began to remember all the time I spent with her as I learned to play the piano.
Mrs. Hagmann, as I called her, lived a few blocks from where I grew up, and I remember the countless times after school I’d walk to her house, where she taught lessons on a console piano in her living room. My lesson was always the last of the day and sometimes I’d arrive for my time slot before the student before me had finished. It was kind of nice to hear her correct someone else’s mistakes other than my own!
While Mrs. Hagmann taught all age groups, most of her students were younger which explains why she kept a candy dish filled with bite-size candies on her coffee table. And yes, sometimes I would indulge to satisfy my sweet tooth.
I always enjoyed my conversations with Mrs. Hagmann as much as I did my lessons. She was such a pleasant lady and so personable. Her hair was always perfectly coifed and she always wore a vibrant magenta colored lipstick. She was so warm and wonderful to be around that I oftentimes thought of her as a second mom. Her family meant the world to her: her husband Byron to whom she was married 58 years, and her two kids David and Linda. She was very involved with her church, First Baptist, where she played the organ for more than 60 years!
During the summer months, Mrs. Hagmann always took a couple of weeks off from teaching lessons so she and her husband could go on vacation in their RV. They loved that big camper.
Since I was her last lesson at the end of the day, many times she had started her family’s dinner. So there were times she would tell me to continue playing while she ran to the kitchen to stir whatever was cooking on the stovetop or in the slow cooker. Nothing got past Mrs. Hagmann, even when she was in the next room. “Oh David,” she would call out from the kitchen. “Look at the top line on your music. What’s the highest note you see?” When I responded, “F sharp,” she would counter with, “Then why did you play an F?”
It felt like Christmas year round at her house. When I’d least expect it, she would present me with new sheet music she had picked up at the music store. It was always such a thrill to hear Mrs. Hagmann play the song first before I began learning it. She once gave me a book called Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist with more than 60 exercises. She loved giving me assignments from this book. I remember her always telling me the exercises helped with agility and perfect evenness in the fingers. The five-finger exercises were played in a rapid movement which made for excellent practice but I wasn’t nearly as excited about them as she was. Sometimes during lessons, she would challenge me to stay on tempo by using a metronome.
In 1990, she gave me the sheet music for Edelweiss from The Sound of Music which I still have. On the cover in red ink, she wrote: “To David Merry Christmas 1990. Mrs. Hagmann.” Other music she gave me included Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (First Movement Theme) and my all-time favorite, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Arioso.
The last time I spoke to Mrs. Hagmann was a couple of years ago. I was learning a new song on the piano, Eva Cassidy’s version of Over the Rainbow, and needed her input. It was so nice hearing her voice on the other end of the phone. We ended up chatting for well over an hour. She asked about my parents, my sisters and my nieces and nephews, many of whom she also gave piano lessons to. Then she proceeded to talk about her family and the goings-on around the old neighborhood. One of the last things I remember her telling me was she had finally gotten rid of her console piano she had gave lessons on for some many years – gave it to her daughter Linda – and replaced it with a baby grand. I could hear the smile in her voice as she described how her son David struggled to get it through the front door.
Mrs. Hagmann may no longer be with us, but she’ll always be remembered whenever I sit down at the piano along with the hundreds of other men and women who, as children, made their way to her house to learn to play the piano, and got to know this warm and loving woman.
Until next time….