I began playing the piano when I was 11 years old, taking lessons from Miss Ester Howe in Silver Spring Maryland. When I was 12, I discovered the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven and learned the whole thing – it took me all year. But I was hooked on piano playing. In my teenage years I learned music by Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Liszt and I began playing concerts when I was 15. The first paying concert was for the Chevy Chase Women’s Club in Maryland.
I majored in music at Haverford College. My roommate, Stan, had jazz recordings, mostly by Dave Brubeck which I thought were pretty cool. When Dave Brubeck came to the campus one year as part of the Artist’s Series I got even more interested, but none of my professors knew anything about jazz.
I was in graduate school working on classical piano when I got a draft notice. One of my friends suggested I enlist as a musician. So I became a piano player in the U.S. Navy. The Navy gave me my first chance to play jazz and rock and roll piano and encouraged me to start improvising. By the time I was stationed at the Pearl Harbor Band in Hawaii, I was just barely good enough to play some of the hotel gigs.
For most of my 3 years in Hawaii I played jazz piano, often working two or three jobs at once. Dinner music at the Officer’s Club, jazz at one of the downtown hotels, and later more jazz at an after hours club. Luckily at that age I didn’t need much sleep.
I moved to Denver in 1970 and immediately started playing piano in local nightclubs and hotels all over town. My best job was 5 years at the Red Vest Inn in Lakewood, Colorado (1971-1975). My band (Howard and Co.) and I played all over Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. We averaged 400 gigs a year for 25 years, but I always kept playing a few solo piano jobs on the side. It was normal for me to do a recording session in the morning, play cocktail hour at the downtown Hilton Hotel, and go play with the band at the nightclub that evening. We played jazz at the Red Vest Inn, Rock and Roll at the East Side Story, and Country Western at the Trail Dust.
I started teaching piano to a few students during the day (mostly adults) and I began composing pieces to fit their interests. I was teaching my students to compose and improvise themselves and a lot of times the best way to get started with this was for me to make up a piece for them at their lesson. When my children were old enough to play piano, I made pieces up for them (many of which are on my Powerful Fantasies album).
I gradually accumulated more adult students and by the mid-90s I decided to focus more on teaching and less on playing; partly so I wouldn’t have to stay up so late at night! I had been working with many of my students for close to 20 years and they were getting so good it was a lot of fun to play with them during the day. Many of them were also out playing at hotels and receptions and churches.
Today, Karen and I have over 100 students between us and we like to play together ourselves. So we spend the teaching days playing music with our students and our days off playing two-piano music with each other. Some of our students have even purchased an extra piano or keyboard so that when they hire us to play their parties we can play piano duos together. It’s a great life!
I began my musical career at age 4 when my dad sold accordions and I became his “demo unit”. But I always wanted to play the piano. I heard music in my head that I wanted to play.
I didn’t get a chance on a piano until I went to college at the University of Minnesota, Morris Campus in western Minnesota. They had a whole building with little rooms and in each one there was a piano. I was in heaven!
I took 11 half-hour piano lessons from Kay Carlson with my one “spare” elective credit. That’s where I learned that the bass clef and the treble clef had different notes. Those were the only lessons I would have for the next 18 years. But it got me started and I began to compose music by ear.
In 1972, my then-husband, John found a piano for me, “free-for-hauling.” Before it came to me, it lived on a Minnesota farmhouse open porch for many winters. It stayed in tune for nearly a whole week. The sound board had 7 cracks and the pin block was loose. As you can see in the picture, many of the keys weren’t in great shape either. I played it anyway. During that time I wrote some of the pieces that are on my current CDs on that old piano. They sounded a little odd with the piano so badly out of tune.
I began to take serious piano lessons when I was 38 from a variety of teachers – the best of whom was Keith MacDonald in Boulder, Colorado who taught me about chords and jazz improvisation. When I turned 50, at Keith’s urging, I quit the management consulting business that I had started and run for 23 years and began teaching piano full-time. I focused on teaching adults. I have been teaching now for more than 15 years. I am still composing, have released several CDs and have written nearly a dozen books.
Howard and I met at a piano teacher meeting. At that first meeting I heard him play and loved it, he heard me play and said he loved it. We were married a year later.
We have a lovely home with two 6 foot Pramberger Grand pianos and two top of the line digital pianos where we teach. Between us we have about 100 students – 85% of whom are adults. We do a few concerts or private parties each year. The picture below shows me “dressed up” and ready for one of them. We are both still composing and making recordings and sharing a musical life we both always wanted.