We would like to thank Rebekah Hood for this tribute to her teacher, Marvin Blickenstaff. As we continue the season of gratitude and giving, we pay tribute to piano teachers from around the country who are transforming the lives of their students. Students, parents, and colleagues are honoring piano teachers from their communities as part of the “Power of a Piano Teacher” campaign. We welcome you to celebrate your own teacher by sharing a tribute with us and donating to The Frances Clark Center.
I met Mr. Blickenstaff when I was in the 4th grade. After the death of my first piano teacher and an unhappy experience with a second teacher, I was reluctant to continue my studies. Admittedly, I grew fond of the idea of never having to attend a piano lesson on Monday afternoon ever again—that is, until I met Mr. Blickenstaff.
On the day of my first lesson, I felt anxious and jittery. My mom drove me to his home, just five minutes away from our neighborhood, and I approached his front door with dread. But the moment we walked into his home, I met a man who was lively, kind, passionate, and gentle. When I played the piano for him, he offered the sincerest praise and encouragement. He made up words to fit the melodies of my pieces. He sang beautifully, his strong vibrato filling the room, while I barely moved my lips and shyly mouthed the words to the fabricated lyrics. I felt more at ease and more willing to try out lessons for a few months.
A few months became nine years. Through that period, I broke two fingers, suffered various illnesses, experimented with many unfortunate fashions, vowed to quit piano upon receiving my first Rachmaninoff piece, cried in the middle of a studio recital, bickered with my parents about piano practice, and eventually prepared an hour-long senior recital. Mr. Blickenstaff witnessed my growth throughout that entire journey. He continued to make up song lyrics for my pieces. He taught me how to waltz after introducing Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor. He changed up the articulation for the “Allemande” from Bach’s French Suite in G Major every single week. He encouraged me when I felt embarrassed even to step through his door due to my lack of consistent piano practice.
About a month after my senior recital, Mr. Blickenstaff and I sat by his piano and we reminisced about favorite pieces, fond memories, and past performances. He said, “Bekki, you came to me when you were terribly shy and unsure of yourself. Now, it’s like you’ve blossomed into a butterfly.” When I got home from my lesson, I immediately recorded his words in my journal. It meant a lot to me, and I often think about what he said, especially when I find myself bogged down by discouragement, maladaptive perfectionism, and frustration. Mr. Blickenstaff’s influence on my life has been immeasurable. Not only did my appreciation for music flourish under his direction, but my confidence increased. He showcases the change and growth that can come from teaching music—not from a place of fear or shame, but from a place of genuine love and kindness.
In 2023, the Frances Clark Center established the Marvin Blickenstaff Institute for Teaching Excellence in honor of his legacy as a pedagogue. This division of The Frances Clark Center encompasses inclusive teaching programs, teacher education, courses, performance, advocacy, publications, research, and resources that support excellence in piano teaching and learning. To learn more about the Institute, please visit this page.
We extend a heartfelt invitation to join us in commemorating Marvin Blickenstaff’s remarkable contributions by making a donation in his honor. Your generous contribution will help us continue his inspiring work and uphold the standards of excellence in piano teaching and learning for generations to come. To make a meaningful contribution, please visit our donation page today. Thank you for being a part of this legacy.
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