OA: Eighty-year-old piano teacher plans final recital

'Music is my love’

Mary Leah Chavies, left, guides piano students and sisters sixteen-year-old Tara Honnen, right, and Tessa Honnen, 18, through a duet that the two will play at Chavies’ last recital. Chavies has taught piano for 60 years, and has decided to retire.

Mary Leah Gilbert Chavies has one instruction for her piano students before the final recital of her career.

She told us to “make it good,” said Tessa Honnen, 18.

Gilbert Chavies hosts her 60th annual End of Year Recital at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 17, on the grand piano at the First United Methodist Church, 522 White Ave.

It will be the last recital for the 80-year-old piano teacher born and raised in Grand Junction.

The public, including Gilbert Chavies’ former students, is invited to attend.

Gilbert Chavies no longer will put on annual Christmas and spring recitals because she doesn’t have the energy to organize the events and pick out all the music for students.

But she isn’t retiring from teaching. She just isn’t taking any more students.

Gilbert Chavies, who started playing piano when she was 6, will finish teaching the nine students she has.

“Honey, I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t teach,” Gilbert Chavies said. “Music is my love.”

It’s true, said her daughter, Charleah Firestone, who retired last year after teaching music in Craig’s public schools for 32 years.

From the music note wallpaper in her downstairs bathroom to the music note pillows on the living room couch, Gilbert Chavies’ love of music decorates her home and heart.

“She never goes out without something musical on,” Firestone said.

All three of Gilbert Chavies’ children grew up listening to piano lessons taught while they were doing homework at the dining room table. All were involved in music as youngsters.

“I don’t do well in total quietness,” Firestone said of the effect music has had on her life. “I have to have music on in the background. I have to clean with music. I don’t know. It’s just part of my nature.”

Firestone will perform on the harp during her mother’s final recital. Gilbert Chavies’ son Tim Chavies plans to drive from Greeley to play his trumpet.

“He called and said, ‘Mom, do you have one more spot in your recital?’ ” Gilbert Chavies said.

Her third child, Bernie Chavies, is a drummer. Unfortunately, he can’t make the trip from Las Vegas to perform Sunday.

“He’s my only kid I encouraged not to practice because when he practiced everyone in the neighborhood knew,” Gilbert Chavies said.

Aside from the harp and trumpet music, every other duet and solo played at the recital will be on the piano.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, sisters Tessa and Tara Honnen were at Gilbert Chavies’ home for their piano lessons.

Their solos for the recital are memorized. Now, it is time to refine.

“She wants pieces memorized two months beforehand,” said Tara, 16. “She expects you to practice at least every day.”

When Tara and Tessa don’t practice enough, Gilbert Chavies knows.

“If you don’t practice, she calls your parents,” Tessa said.

But Tara wants to keep taking lessons from Gilbert Chavies until she graduates from Grand Junction High School in two years. Tessa graduated Tuesday.

The sisters agreed that Gilbert Chavies has made them better pianists and that she is a great teacher.

And her expectations go beyond memorization of recital music, to a recital dress code of sorts.

“We wore dress pants at the last recital, and she told us we can’t wear pants again,” Tara said.

To this recital the girls will wear nice dresses or skirts.

Gilbert Chavies also requires her students to be punctual, pay attention and appreciate music.

In return, she treats each student like her own child.

Three years ago, when Tessa showed up to piano lessons with a broken zipper on her winter coat, Gilbert Chavies gave her a new black zipper.

“It had a piano on it,” Tessa said, smiling. “I still have it.”


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