By Karen Woody
Whether we realize it or not, our lives impact those around us. Whether we see someone every week or only spend a moment of our time with them, we will leave an impression. I only truly learned this when I thought of the time that I spent with my piano teacher Mrs. Claudette Reeder.
The first time I saw Mrs. Reeder was on a cold, gray January day in 2007. She lived in a small house in Coleridge, which was a short drive for us. My mom and I walked up the steps of her quaint house to the front door. She was already standing on the other side with the door ajar. She seemed to be the oldest, skinniest person my eight-year-old self had ever seen. To me, her hands looked like a skeleton’s, and her eyes had a kind of sparkle to them. The room we entered was small and dark; the piano lamp appeared to be the only source of light. There were shelves of books, a piano, an organ, and a harp crammed into the small space. After she and my mom talked for a few minutes, she instructed me to sit at the piano. My feet dangled from the piano bench, and I was not yet able to reach the pedals on the floor. “That’s ok,” she said, “You won’t need to reach them yet.” She asked me some basic questions about the piano such as the location of middle C and which end of the keyboard had the higher notes. Before the end of the lesson, she gave me a beginner’s piano book and assigned one song for me to practice until my next thirty-minute lesson, which was in exactly one week. Mom and I went home, and I practiced the song once a day for the next week. The events in the first lesson repeated week after week. Soon the weeks turned into months and the months into years. My mom and I grew more acquainted with Mrs. Reeder, and we both looked forward to the weekly visit to her house. We rarely missed a lesson, usually due to occasional illness or inclement weather. Every spring, Mrs. Reeder held a piano recital, and I participated every year. Each of the students would play their recital piece, and after all the students had played, Mrs. Reeder would play a song she had arranged herself. Each year I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to play as well as Mrs. Reeder.”
It was just another hot summer day in 2012 when everything changed. I was at church for Vacation Bible School when my mom got the phone call. When I arrived home, Mom told me that Mrs. Reeder was in the hospital. She had tried to talk to my mom on the phone herself, but she was too weak. Her daughter had talked to my mom instead and informed her that Mrs. Reeder had a low blood cell count. In the days to come, we learned that she had a rare type of bone marrow cancer. There were no piano lessons that summer. We were unsure whether there would ever be any again. I still practiced the songs that she had given to me the week before her hospitalization. By God’s grace, she began to recover near the end of summer. She took medications to control her blood count and had the cancerous cells removed. That fall, she began to give piano lessons again to a few students at a time.
When my mom and I went to her house for the first time since early summer, she was still rather frail and was unable to get out of her seat to greet us at the door. Nevertheless, she gave me a piano lesson using the songs I had practiced over the summer. Over the next few weeks, she became stronger and stronger until she was almost back to the same Mrs. Reeder that we knew. In late December, she announced that she would still have a spring piano recital. All of the students and I were thrilled. I practiced my piece as hard as I could for that recital. It was a very special recital for me; just a few months earlier, I thought she may never hold another one.
Life went back to normal after that. Every week my mom and I would set off for my weekly piano lesson. During the late summer though, Mrs. Reeder appeared to be a little weaker. She changed the medication she was taking, thinking that her decline was because of the side effects. Instead of helping her, the new medicine seemed to make her worse. The piano lessons continued, and I was approaching my seventh year of piano lessons with her. I had gone from an eight-year-old whose feet dangled from the piano bench to a fifteen-year-old in high school studying creative hymns and classical music. During one of the last piano lessons that I had from Mrs. Reeder, she gave me one of the best compliments that anyone has given me. “Karen, that was good.” she said, “You sounded just like me.”
Mrs. Reeder gave piano lessons nearly up to the time of her passing in the fall of 2013. The little old lady that I saw as a child had become not only my teacher but a friend. It seemed like I had always taken piano lessons from her, but in reality, I had only spent a few hours of my life with her. I learned many things from Mrs. Reeder about the piano, but the most profound thing I learned had nothing to do with music. She had given me thirty minutes of her time every week, and yet she gave me her legacy to share with others. Mrs. Reeder will always live on through her music, and through the gift of piano lessons that she gave to me and all her other students. Leaving such a positive impact on the world, even in perhaps a small way, is something I hope that each one of us will do with our own lives.