Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

Leave a comment

Wowzer Woman

Ever noticed how people you meet as a child make a huge impression on your life? Mrs. Shriner was a woman who really wowed mine.

When I was in second grade, Mom started me taking piano lessons with Mrs. Shriner. At least, that’s what her students called her. Actually, her name was Patti Adams Shriner.

Mrs. Shriner lived in a house just a few blocks from my school, so on nice days I walked to my lessons.

I remember walking in the first day of my lessons.

walking shriner's houseThis is Mrs. Shriner’s house last year. (Or the year before.)

At that time we had an old upright piano in the garage, and all I could play was, “I Dropped My Dolly In the Dirt.”

Mrs. Shriner was a small woman who walked with a slight limp from a broken hip she’d suffered a few years earlier. The house had an odd odor, which I thought must be what wine smelled like.

Having actually smelled wine, I now believe it was Ben Gay I smelled, which she used to ease the pain of arthritis in her hip.

There were two pianos in her living room. A grand piano, which we took our lessons on, and a smaller piano that she used when she needed dueling pianos.

Funny, I don’t remember what her hairstyle was. I remember her hands, her nails always in a perfect oval with clear pink polish, and her beautiful diamond ring that she wore all the time although we couldn’t wear any jewelry when we played. 🙂

I even remember her shoes. But not her hair. Weird, huh?

Every month we had piano club in her living room. All her students were required to be there and we were to play a song we’d learned in the past month. Sister Debbie says she played the same tune every month for most of the time we took lessons.

Sometimes during my lessons, Mrs. Shriner would teach me music history. She taught me about Beethoven, Chopin and Hayden.

She told me about going to Paris when she was young, and taking lessons from a great pianist who’d learned under one of the great composers.

She showed me a black and white picture once of a building she’d built to live in and give lessons and performances in the ’20’s.

ms shriner riversidestudioShe said she had the windows placed so they’d look like the notes of an ascending scale. I remember the picture and that it was somewhere in T-Town from all those years ago. Today I did a Google search and found this picture and that it’s really kind of a famous building.

She lost it during the depression, but an actor bought it several years later and started putting on a play there called, “The Drunkard.”

Strangely enough, a few years ago I had an acquaintance who’d been one of the actors in “The Drunkard,” but she never mentioned the building it was in. Just that it was on Riverside Drive. (I need to drive over there and see it myself. 1381 Riverside Drive–the corner of Riverside and Houston. )

But Mrs. Shriner was so much more than just a piano teacher with a rich history. She was kind and compassionate woman who loved her students very much. I remember once she though I was about to cry.  Actually, I had a piece of glitter at the corner of my eye from an art project at school, but when she saw it glimmer, she worried that she’d somehow hurt my feelings.

She would move from her teaching stool to our bench to play a song and show us how it was supposed to sound, even though I’m sure it hurt her to move from stool to bench and back.

Her specialty was a composition that I absolutely love to hear to this day. It’s called Fantasie Impromptu by Chopin. She’d play it for us at Music Club. (If she didn’t play it, it didn’t feel like we’d had Club.)

She said the music was found after Chopin’s death in his trash can. According to Mrs. Shriner, he had thrown the manuscript away because it was written with different time in each hand. The right hand plays semiquavers against triplets in the left hand. Sounds hard, doesn’t it?

If I got bored during my lesson toward the end, I’d sometimes ask her to play FI and she would. Oh! My! Stars!!! She had such fire and passion when she played that music.

It’s something I never hoped to play, but oh, how I enjoyed it! Funny thing is, even back in second grade, I imagined a story while she played. (I did that during the songs I played, too.)

Want to hear it?

In case you’re wondering, no. The little girl isn’t me. (Don’t be disappointed. I can still play, “I Dropped My Dolly.”

Mrs. Shriner died in 1965 when she was 82 years old. She’s buried in our cemetery next to her father. (I think.)

ms shriner headstone

The bottom of her headstone is the first stanza or two of the treble staff music for “Fantasie Impromptu.”

My Small Town World has had some of the most beautiful people ever living there. Everyone’s STW is filled with Wowzer People if we’ll just take the time to get to know them.

Mrs. Shriner was absolutely one of them!

miss shriner 3