Local piano teacher shares love of music
Posted: Friday, April 16, 2010 7:38 am
Linda Williams has found the key to success.
Eighty-eight keys, to be precise.
A lifelong love of music — nurtured by a musician mother — has evolved into 50 years of the Union City woman sharing her talents and a passion for playing piano by teaching others.
In fact, she has enjoyed teaching so much that she barely realized she had recently reached the half-century mark.
Her husband, Norman Williams, announced the impressive accomplishment at her students’ last recital.
“He was the one who let the cat out of the bag,” she said. “He had thought about it earlier, but he hadn’t mentioned it to me, and I had not even connected how long it’s been. He’s right.”
Mrs. Williams, a native of Dyer who has made her home in Union City since 1973, started playing piano herself in the second grade and continued lessons throughout high school.
“My mother was a musician. She was a very talented pianist and, of course, I grew up with it,” she said.
She earned a degree in piano performance from Union University in Jackson and married her high school sweetheart, beginning a life that would ultimately carry them to several other states before they returned home.
Mrs. Williams began teaching piano in her late teens as a student teacher in Jackson — where she earned just $1 per lesson, with 50 cents of that going to the studio where she taught. Back then, she taught more for the experience than for the money.
“I started very young,” she said through a smile.
Her husband was a school teacher and the couple found themselves in Ridgely for a time before his teaching work carried them to Delaware and South Carolina. When he went into industry, the couple journeyed to Ohio and then to Illinois for a while, but eventually came back home to Tennessee in the early 1970s.
Over the years, wherever the couple lived, Mrs. Williams offered private piano lessons to children and adults. For many years, she taught over 60 students, but those numbers have dropped a bit in recent years and she currently teaches about 35 students — including a couple of second-generation children — from her home-based Linda Williams Piano Studio.
“I did not always have all these students, but I always had a few students wherever we lived,” she said.
Local recitals were formerly held in her spacious, beautifully-decorated older home, but in recent years have been held at the Obion County Public Library.
“For many years, I had recitals once a month at my home because when I was teaching 60 students, I could take a small group of those and have them come to my house and have a short recital,” Mrs. Williams said. “The last few years, since the library has been so accommodating and so nice, we have them there. I have all my students come and play about twice a year now.”
She enjoys the recitals and celebrating the culmination of what her students have learned, adding that she is proud of each of them.
“The recitals — I truly enjoy those. I’m not nervous then, but if I were performing … I still get nervous,” she said.
Her students vary greatly in age — ranging from second-graders to some adults who are 60 and 70 years old — and in levels of playing. They start by learning the basics that she calls “the backbone of music,” such as notes, chords and scales, and then work their way up, many of them becoming accomplished musicians in their own right.
“It takes discipline,” Mrs. Williams said, explaining that children are often drawn in many different directions with many different interests by the time they reach junior high age.
“If you stay with it, for the most part, you will be successful,” she said. “When you practice, that’s a very lonely time. You’re by yourself. It’s so much more fun to be out on the ball court with a whole bunch of kids, your friends, so it’s hard for them to keep focused and motivated through that. That’s where parents come in a lot of times, just really encouraging the kids, listening to them.”
Mrs. Williams said she loves most any style of music, although she particularly likes hymns, church music and hymn variations.
“I like most any kind of music except country music. I do not like country music,” she said with a laugh. “I like classical music, of course, because I teach that.”
Accommodating her students’ musical tastes over the years has sometimes been a learning experience for the veteran teacher. After they learn the basics and some classics, they have the freedom to learn specific types of music that interest them.
“If you know your classics, then you can take that and do anything you want to with music,” she said. “I have one student who’s really into jazz and that’s been a challenge. I’ve learned a lot about the jazz medium in all of that. So we just kind of go every direction.
“I have one little girl right now who is so bent on playing Miley Cyrus music, so we’re going to work from that. I feel like that if you learn the basics, then you can choose what you want to do. I’ll help them with most anything they want to play.”
When Mrs. Williams plays for her own pleasure, it’s usually a hymn.
“When I sit down to play, I usually play some kind of hymn arrangement, simply because I can learn those quicker than say a classical piece that’s going to take me a little while. Of course, the hymn arrangements are basically classic sounding, too,” she said.
Music and more
Mrs. Williams is basically involved with music all day long. She still practices her own piano playing every day, learning new pieces of music to share with others, and she currently serves as organist at Union City First Baptist Church, where she also works part-time as the music assistant.
“I’ve been playing at church longer than I’ve been teaching,” she said.
She said while she enjoys playing the organ, the piano remains her preference.
“Piano is still my first love, but I like the organ, too. It’s a challenge and it’s fun to do,” she said.
When Mrs. Williams isn’t teaching, she and her husband enjoy hiking, camping and a little running. They frequently travel to Colorado in the summer and she said they will likely visit Alaska this summer, when she takes a hiatus from teaching due to her students’ busy schedules.
Her husband is also musically inclined and, for many years, they served together in local churches with him as the music director and her as the pianist. He still helps with his wife’s studio endeavor and they attend various musical performances at the University of Tennessee at Martin whenever possible.
They share their West Main Street home with two cats — “Rocky,” a Russian Blue named after the composer Rachmaninoff, and “Tempo,” a Siamese.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams have three grown children — a son in Phoenix, a daughter in Dickson and a daughter in Jackson — and eight grandchildren. She said they share her love of music, but “none of them have made it their life’s work like I have.”
The beat goes on
Without hesitation, Mrs. Williams said she loves her career and hopes to have many more years of teaching.
“As long as I stay healthy and the Lord keeps the kids coming, I don’t see any reason to stop,” she said.
“I have enjoyed 50 years of teaching. Just like any other business, it has its ups and downs, times you get discouraged, working around schedules, rescheduling — but that’s just part of it. I’m always willing to work with the kids and their parents because I realize they do have other things to do. I try to be accommodating in that regard.”
Like a proud parent, she shared that some of her students have actually embarked on their own music careers in the fields of teaching or directing, and she would like to think she played a part in teaching and mentoring them.
“If anybody really likes music, I hope that somebody will be coming along to be teaching these kids,” she said. “You know, music has changed so much in the last few years and so many different venues. They need to be able to understand music and I can’t think of anything more basic than the piano. If they can do the piano, then they can pretty much take it from there.”
Mrs. Williams has joked that someone will have to physically come in and remove her from the piano when her time on earth has ended.
“I tell somebody that they’ll have to have a casket at the right angles (for me to play). They’ll have to come in and get me,” she said.
“I love my job very much. It’s been a calling.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 4.15.10