An ear for music: Piano teacher still at the keyboard at age 82

January 17, 2011 

Lois Horn has taught piano for more than 64 years, and despite problems with her vision and right hand, she is still going strong at age 82.

"I am so grateful and lucky," she said. "I have had a lot of people help me everywhere I've been. Now, more than ever, I have a marvelous support system."

Horn was late to find her passion in playing the piano but did, thanks to a friend in her hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.

"I was a very late starter," she said. "I played in high school with a friend, and I taught myself and tried to keep up with her."

She achieved a bachelor's degree in piano from Syracuse University and later received a master's in piano from Michigan State University.

"I ended up staying at Michigan as an instructor, teaching music majors," Horn said. "In the summers, we had a special program for gifted high schoolers, and I became the head of that program."

Horn met her husband of 53 years, Al, on campus when he was trying to date one of her girlfriends:

"Al was a college of forestry professor, and luckily my girlfriend had just found 'the one,' so she passed Al on to me," she recalled.

The couple were married in 1954 in Syracuse. They were only going to be in Syracuse for a few years while Al got his PhD, but they ended up spending half a lifetime in the city. Horn raised their children -- Allen, Lisa and Larry -- while teaching piano 20 hours a week to 20 students.

"I had my studio in our home, and I worked at Cazenovia College," she said. "My students were highly motivated and often winners in competitions."

THE PIANO TEACHER

Their three children all played the piano, but no one could keep up with Horn, who also trained with world-famous pianist Leon Fleisher in the 1970s. Horn worked hard and performed at many concerts, always growing her already expansive skills at the keys.

"I convinced Leon to work with me for a year," Horn said. "He taught me technical stuff -- the musicology of a piece and what the composer was writing -- that I could bring out for the audience."

Horn landed in the Lowcountry in 1994 when her husband Al was ready to leave the Syracuse winters behind for good.

"We lived in Syracuse for more than 43 years, and it was hard for me to go," Horn said. "Al was tired of the cold and wanted to get away from the snow. I didn't want to leave."

Her dedication to the piano only grew when she and Al moved to Beaufort.

"Any time someone needed an accompanist, I would perform with them. I did shows and concerts and even played at churches all over," Horn said. "I traveled from Fripp Island out to Ridgeland as an accompanist. It has been good fun."

In Syracuse, Horn volunteered as the president of the New York Federation of Music Clubs, in charge of all the music clubs, scholarships and competitions in the state. She missed all the activity when she moved to Beaufort, so she decided to create similar music groups in the Lowcountry that are still going strong today.

"There were no music groups, so I started two," Horn said. "The Beaufort Area Music Teachers and Hausmusik. It was a good outlet for me."

GIVING BACK

Al worked at his carpentry hobby in the garage, while Horn took their dog, Heidi, and visited all the area nursing homes to entertain folks.

"I would play the classics, and she would jump up and sit in people's laps."

Anne Chambers is a friend and neighbor to Horn. Lois and Al were friends with Chambers' parents, and they would occasionally go shrimping together. Later, Horn was the hospice volunteer nurse for Anne's father for three years.

"Lois is very serious about her work, and she is very driven," Chambers said. "I think Lois considered my father one of her best friends, and she relieved and relaxed him. She would bring Heidi in and plop him right in Dad's bed."

Al passed away a few years ago, but Chambers has fond memories of their combined talent.

"Lois and Al would visit people, and he would sing with her while she played," Chambers said. "It was a wonderful thing."

Horn plays publicly despite major vision problems in one eye and having a partially paralyzed right hand. She still teaches nine students in her studio.

"I pick pieces that use intervals I can play, and I have most pieces memorized," she said. "Last month I was playing at Sea Island Presbyterian Church."

As she gets older, Horn is getting help from the people that she helped years ago.

"I worked for Friends of Caroline Hospice for seven years, and now, they are helping me. I could not stay in my home without them," she said. "They drive me to appointments and give me so much support and love. Without them, I could not manage it all. I owe people tremendous gratitude."

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