Honoring Amy Merkley and Irene Peery-Fox

We would like to thank Hyrum Arnesen for this tribute to his teachers, Amy Merkley and Irene Peery-Fox. As we enter 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.

Irene Peery-Fox with her students.

Six months ago I had my last piano lesson. Leaving behind my student life has left me to ponder the monumental impact my piano teachers have had on my personal growth. During my childhood, youth, and young adult years, my piano teachers were constants amid continual change, ever-present mentors and friends. My teachers taught me more than music; they taught me diligence, determination, motivation, humility, and courage to face and overcome my fears. I appreciate them now not only because they are inspiring musicians but because they cared for me as a person. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about my teachers Amy Merkley and Irene Peery-Fox. 

Amy Merkley taught me in her home from the time I started piano lessons at age 6 until I graduated high school. I can vividly remember learning the names of the piano keys in my first lesson with her over two decades ago – nervous and excited, feeling like I was a “big kid” taking piano lessons. Throughout our twelve years of lessons she instilled in me a deep love for music. Words that immediately come to mind are kindness, consistency, welcoming, and dedication.

In high school my lessons were at 6:00 a.m. every Monday morning. This taught me the value of consistent sacrifice. More importantly, it taught me that she really cared about me and my progress. Amy was always there, awake and ready to focus on me, my music, and my life.  

Amy consistently inspired confidence in me. She taught without “bells or whistles” – few trinkets, cute awards, or flashy studio marketing. Instead she simply gave us opportunities to perform, prepared us well, and then our success motivated us to become better. Most lessons before competitions were filled with encouraging words recognizing how much I had improved. I still remember her first words right after playing for my fellow students days before my college audition – “Isn’t Hyrum going to do so great?” I hadn’t felt great about my performance, I was extremely nervous for my audition, but her faith in me gave me the confidence I needed. 

Irene Peery-Fox was my undergrad teacher. I not only studied with her for five years but also saw her interact with her pre-college students as I accompanied them for concerto competitions. When I began studying with her, I was completely intimidated; over the following years she became my most trusted mentor and one of my greatest friends. Dr. Peery-Fox had an incredible ability to motivate students. You simply did not let her down; you simply did not let yourself down. I remember many moments when I felt discouraged and she would look me in the eyes, raise a clenched fist, and say “Go for it, Hyrum!” 

Dr. Peery-Fox gave her students unwavering support. She was strict, exacting, detailed, and careful with praise yet she matched her intensity with the conviction that we could accomplish what she was asking. During lessons with pre-college students, I saw many tears of frustration, but I saw equal amounts of hugs, power fists, and “you can do it!.” As I looked forward with trepidation to a career in music, her faith in me imbued me with the confidence I needed to continue. 

Amy and Dr. Peery-Fox believed in me, supported me, engaged my musicality, and fostered my personal growth. I will forever be grateful for their influence and hope to pass on a piece of their legacy to my own students. 


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Hyrum Arnesen is finishing a DMA from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music while working as a Visiting Assistant Professor of music at Southern Virginia University. He is an active soloist, collaborator, and teacher with particular research interests in Argentine piano repertoire, building strong technique, and fostering motivation in students.

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