Lessons strike chord with seniors


When Ida Burgess was 8, there was one piano teacher instructing black children in her small hometown in Pennsylvania.

Burgess started private lessons with the instructor, a strict disciplinarian, who pulled her pigtails and twisted her ears when she made mistakes.

For obvious reasons, her mother didn't make her go back.

The desire to play never left her, but she didn't start lessons again for nearly 50 years.

On her regular visit to the Forest Park Senior Center, Burgess heard about on-site piano lessons to be offered by Kurt Krenzischek of Owings Mills. She jumped at the chance.

Krenzischek initiated the lessons after Earl Saunders, the director of the center, suggested it.

Before that, Krenzischek has given private piano instruction for more than 35 years. He started his own formal music instruction at age 8 in Germany. When he immigrated to the United States, he repeated the ninth grade to learn English.

Even the language barrier couldn't hold him back. He studied music at Towson University and by age 20, he had 60 private students.

In 1974, he began working at Jordan Kitt's Music. He taught students of all ages, including senior citizens. In 1979, he became sole proprietor of Kurt's Music Studio. Then later, in 1987, he founded the Columbia School of Music, where he currently gives private instruction to more than 125 students.

Krenzischek said regardless of age and skill, he has derived teaching methods that ignite enthusiasm for learning piano.

"When my students come in to take their first lesson, they learn to play a song before they leave," he said. "I teach musical concepts, not notes. I try to bring musical happiness into their lives."

He also uses CD-based programs so that students can use the CDs at home to reinforce what they've learned between lessons. The main program he uses has five skill levels.

"While most of my students are recreational players, once all five levels are completed, the student is able to take a college entrance exam for music," said Krenzischek.

He said he has never had a student whom he couldn't teach to play, though he's had some tough challenges.

"I once had a blind student who ended up teaching me," he said. "I had to learn to look at music differently to teach him to play sequences. The basic difference between instructing someone who's blind as opposed to someone who's not is the way you communicate or the language you use. The skills remain the same for everyone."

He said the strength of his program and his continued success is determined by ensuring that the expectations that the student has are met.

Krenzischek said some take lessons to strengthen existing skills, while others take them to help get the edge they need to earn a music scholarship. Some play just for fun.

For Burgess, the expectation was to finally realize a dream to learn to play.

"The piano is a magnificent instrument," said Burgess. "It is the most mesmerizing. I hear a piano being played and I wish. I wish I could play like that."

Burgess said that she's not a natural, but lessons are different this time around. For one thing, there's no pigtail pulling or ear-twisting.

"Kurt's a good teacher," said Burgess. "He's patient with me. It's not easy, either. I get mouthy and pull age on him."

Retha Dilbert, another senior student, says she's hoping to develop her skills enough to perform for others someday.

Dilbert said she has always heard that seniors should be active and try new things. "Piano has been great for me. I'm learning the notes and new songs," she said. "The highlight of the lessons is when I hit the right note. Kurt says, 'Very good.' That's the highlight for me. I'm thinking if I can get my fingers to work right maybe I can join a talent program or play for people at other locations."

The seniors perform at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and senior citizens homes.

Gloria McNeill, also a senior student, said she has always wanted to learn to play, and that it's keeping her young.

"Kurt's real patient with me. He teaches me so I can understand," she said. "Sometimes it takes awhile. But I believe you're never to old to learn."

Krenzischek agrees with her.

"Anyone who wants to play the piano should learn," said Krenzischek. "As long as the desire is there, you can play. Age doesn't matter. I teach because piano is a passion for me. Before I made music my career, I was faced with a decision of whether to go into music or computers. Computers are more lucrative, but you have to sit in front of a cold screen. It thrills me to no end to watch eyes light up when a student masters a song or a note. That's more rewarding for me than anything else."

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