Four Powerful Lessons in Piano Pedagogy: Honoring Carmen Cambronero, Katia Guevara, Gregory Sioles, and Willis Delony

We would like to thank Carla Salas-Ruiz for this tribute to her teachers, Carmen Cambronero, Katia Guevara, Gregory Sioles, and Willis Delony. 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.

Carla Salas-Ruiz chatting with Professor Sioles at the end of her Master’s graduation commencement.

Lessons Beyond the Keys with Mrs. Carmen

When I was six years old, I had a little red piano as a toy, and I’d spend hours playing it.

Though I couldn’t articulate what I was doing, playing with this “toy” was wonderful. I distinctly recall urging my mom to sign me up for piano lessons, driven by my desire to explore this captivating instrument. One day, my mom said, “Ok, let’s put you in piano lessons.” What a joy! It marked one of the happiest moments of my life. A couple of weeks later, my mom took me to my very first lesson, introducing me to Mrs. Carmen. Mrs. Carmen graciously welcomed me into her studio, and over the years, she nurtured my love for music. With her remarkable expertise and ability to simplify complex concepts, she guided me through harmonization, improvisation, transpositions, memorization, and various other musical principles. To this day, I attribute the solid foundation Mrs. Carmen provided me as my secret weapon in the challenging music theory classes of grad school. 

In my fourth year with Mrs. Carmen, she communicated to my mom that “it was time for me to move forward.” My mom explained to me that Mrs. Carmen suggested I consider continuing piano lessons in a different program. Although my heart was set on continuing study exclusively with Mrs. Carmen, I placed my trust in her judgment and auditioned for this new program. The last day I spent with Mrs. Carmen was bittersweet. However, she said that it was time for me to transition to another school that could offer what I needed. What a transformative lesson it turned out to be! Mrs. Carmen not only taught me the musical ABCs but also imparted a profound introduction to piano pedagogy.

New Beginnings with Professor Guevara

With Professor Guevara, I encountered my first Chopin, my first Bach, and the works of many other composers. She helped me to reach the “next level” and did so with abundant care, empathy, love, and respect. Our weekly lessons became the highlight of my week. Professor Guevara approached each session with meticulous attention to both technical and musical details, instilling in me the understanding that in music, there is always more to learn, and multiple approaches exist for exploring a piece; there is never a single correct answer. 

As I approached the end of my high school years, the decision loomed about whether to pursue music in college. While I was certain that music was an integral part of my life, I had doubts that  I possessed the skills necessary for college success. I confided in Professor Guevara, expressing my uncertainty. In response, she posed a series of questions that resonated with me. “Carla, can you envision yourself doing something other than being a musician?” I replied, “No.” She continued, “Can you picture a day without talking, playing, and thinking about music?” Again, my answer was “No.” With that, she stated, “There you have your answer.” What a powerful lesson! Professor Guevara consistently guided me to address my questions, leading me to discover my own answers. Her teaching approach helped me find my voice, as she encouraged me to explore and identify what I wanted and needed for both myself and my music.

Maria, Carla, and Professor Guevara celebrating at the conclusion of Carla’s pre-college program recital.

Pursuing Education Overseas 

Choosing to leave Costa Rica and fully immerse myself in the world of piano pedagogy led me to Louisiana State University, where I had the privilege of studying under Professor Sioles. Over the span of two years, he not only transformed my understanding of music but also encouraged me to embrace new ideas. Throughout this period, I faced challenging circumstances, including the loss of my grandfather, a dear aunt, and navigating my father’s cancer treatment. Professor Sioles consistently offered unwavering support. With his mastery, he provided advice through the language of music, clarifying concepts that had eluded me for a long time while simultaneously calming my mind. All of this through music! His constant presence reassured me that my music was always there for me.

Professor Sioles and Carla during a summer camp at the University of Costa Rica.

I will never forget the minutes before my final master’s recital, feeling very nervous backstage. While I was in the green room, Professor Sioles came to me and asked how I was feeling. I confessed, “Professor Sioles, I am very nervous; do you think I’ll be able to make it happen?” He responded, “Carla, you ALREADY made it happen! Today, you’re sharing your story with us—share your voice; we want to hear you!” I will never forget this moment. What a powerful lesson! I carry this answer with me every day, sharing it with my students and reminding myself every time I’m about to walk on stage.

Adapting to Change and Concluding Processes

I began lessons with Professor Delony in Spring 2020—do you recall that semester? We navigated the challenges of the pandemic together, progressing from fully masked lessons to nearly mask-free sessions, and eventually rejoicing in the return to in-person studio parties. He adjusted to all this with such mastery and compassion. 

From the very first day, Professor Delony treated my playing with profound respect, consistently encouraging me to “consider multiple perspectives” regarding pedaling, phrasing, articulations, and more. While he discerned my needs from the outset, he patiently guided me through the process. Professor Delony always challenged me to give more while understanding the demanding hours I had to dedicate to writing and research daily. I left his studio feeling capable of anything. Beyond being a mentor for musical matters, he served as a sounding board for decisions both in music and life.

I distinctly recall a conversation about taking risks. He said, “Carla, there are opportunities you need to seize because if you don’t, you will never know what you could have achieved or experienced. Sometimes, the most rewarding outcomes come from stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the uncertainties that accompany taking risks.” Professor Delony not only attended my recitals but also made a point to be present at my research defense. Acknowledging my varied interests, he offered steadfast support, guiding me through every aspect of my academic journey.

Thank you, Mrs. Carmen, Professor Guevara, Professor Sioles, and Professor Delony, for four powerful lessons in piano pedagogy and beyond.


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Carla Salas-Ruiz holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Costa Rica and a Master’s and PhD from Louisiana State University. She is a piano instructor at Brazosport College, dedicated to fostering a supportive, inclusive, and stimulating learning environment. Her research focuses on motivation, interest development, and effective practice strategies in piano education. Carla has presented her research at national and international conferences and contributed to research journals.

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