Chatting with piano tuner Jeff Erickson brought back many memories for me (see the story on the front page). I took piano lessons for about a decade, from age 6-16, from Barb Ritts in River Falls. I …
Chatting with piano tuner Jeff Erickson brought back many memories for me (see the story on the front page). I took piano lessons for about a decade, from age 6-16, from Barb Ritts in River Falls. I wish I could go back and tell my stubborn teenage self to stick with it. I regret not doing so.
Mrs. Ritts was a talented musician and one of my mother’s best friends. It sometimes took awhile for my lessons to get started because they liked to visit and sneak cigarettes on the patio. Mrs. Ritts was a talker and loved visiting as much as she loved music. Some people may remember she also loved to cook and hosted a cooking show on River Falls’ public access channel.
Every day I came home from school on the bus with the expectation that I would immediately practice my lesson for half an hour. I didn’t always want to adhere to this strict schedule; I wanted to run down the road and play with my friend Meghan or watch “Little House on the Prairie” on TV. But my grandma was adamant that I practice my lesson, which always began with the dreaded Hannon finger exercises. The pages were just black with notes, meant to limber up your fingers. I dreaded those Hannon pages, but they helped my dexterity and accuracy.
As I worked my way through “John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano” books, I enjoyed playing more and more. Moving from the simple notes of “My Clever Pup” to “Tarantella” to “In the Starlight,” my fingers danced across the keys. I remember when I learned how to use the pedals, I thought I was really important.
Soon it was on to concertos and sonatas, J.S. Bach, Mozart and my favorite, Beethoven. I can’t remember what song I played for Solo & Ensemble one year, but I played it perfectly except for one thing: I was so nervous I played it an octave too high. I had practiced the song for months. I was so disappointed, but gamely accepted my silver medal. I vowed to never let that happen again and the next year, I received a gold.
One of my favorite memories was watching one of Mrs. Ritts’ more exuberant students, who shall remain nameless, play with absolute brilliance. He was amazing and I could only hope to play as well as him someday. He was one year older than me, but miles ahead in progress. However, he became a bit too excited during one song and kicked a hole in the piano. By this time, Mrs. Ritts had moved lessons from her home to Ezekiel Lutheran Church. I never did find out how Mrs. Ritts explained that one.
When my grandma retired, she too started taking lessons from Mrs. Ritts. At her first recital, she was so nervous that she almost cried. But I was so proud of her because she did it, even though she was afraid. She went on to take lessons from Keith Brux until well into her 80s; it had been her childhood dream to play piano. She did so well and loved it so much. Maybe that is why she pushed me so much, to give me something she didn’t have growing up. I know that now, Grandma.
Mrs. Ritts died of brain cancer many years ago. I will always remember her and how she inspired my love for music. I can still play Fur Elise, thanks to her.