- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

CLINTON, Ill. (AP) - Jane Conn can always tell when the child sitting next to her on the piano bench masters a piece of music for the first time.

“I have seen the light bulb come on. When they learn the notes on the staff and see how it goes, they begin to work with the music,” said Conn, a piano teacher for more than five decades.

Conn has a hard time coming up with an estimate of the number of students, ranging in age from 8 to various stages of adulthood, who have come to her home for lessons over the years.

“It’s a bunch, I know that,” she said.

The first Sunday of May at First United Methodist Church is reserved for the piano teacher’s annual recital. This year, nine students displayed their piano skills, first with a duet with their teacher, followed by a solo.

Conn’s love of music was nurtured by her parents. Her late mother, Miriam Abbott, taught piano after finishing her day as a high school English teacher. For many years, mother and daughter played together at the Kenney church located next door to the Abbotts’ family home.

“Our music background is here in this church,” Conn said during a recent interview in the sanctuary of the 100-year-old church.

Music also has been a constant in the succeeding generations of the Conn family. Conn’s three sons and one daughter were involved in music and dance. Her son, Billy, lives in Clinton and has been a professional musician for many years.

Four of Conn’s grandchildren have taken lessons and “they’re very good,” according to their teacher.

In Conn’s view, music opens the door to a part of the world every person needs to experience. But first, they must master a new vocabulary.

“It’s like a foreign language and it’s so much easier to learn as a child,” she said.

Most students start at about 8 years of age “when they can sit still for 30 minutes,” she said, adding even reluctant students benefit from music lessons.

“It’s always worth it because they learn something that lasts a lifetime,” said Conn, who has reduced her schedule from five afternoons to three each week.

It’s common for students who take piano lessons to also become members of their school bands. One of Conn’s current students is a high school junior. “That’s a good feeling when they go that far,” she said, noting music lessons take commitment on the part of parents as well as students.

“We know practice makes perfect. And kids have busy schedules so making time to practice can be hard,” said Conn.

Learning that lesson made all the difference for Vanessa Ophorst, one of Conn’s former students who was a music major in college and now teaches piano in Clinton, too.

“I didn’t have practice skills until I had lessons. She taught with patience, starting off easy and giving me lots of positive reinforcement,” said Ophorst.

Like many of Conn’s students, Ophorst also played in her school band. Private music lessons and school music programs go hand in hand, said Conn, who worries about budget cuts to art and music classes.

“That’s the creative part of the day. Where would the music come from if they don’t get it at school?’ Conn wonders.

With no plans for retirement, Conn said she will offer lessons as long as students sign up to fill her afternoon schedules.

“The years go by so fast. It’s just what you do and part of who you are,” she said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/1e191EA

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Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

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