It’s been 10 years since I started playing the piano. Since then, I’ve played classic songs over a thousand times each, written my own arrangements, recorded a CD and written a potential worldwide hit for my wife called, “Hi, Mrs. Rice.” I couldn’t have done any of this without the lessons I received from Hulya Alpakin Luethi.
Hulya started teaching the piano at the Gasse School of Music in 2005. This Sunday, she’s playing a recital with Daniel and Sarah Gasse. The Opus Three Trio will perform classical and contemporary pieces starting at 4 p.m., at St. John Lutheran Church. For admission, they’re asking a free-will offering.
I never got to know Hulya when she was teaching me. I was too busy searching for the right keys. Actually, during that first lesson, Hulya didn’t let me touch the keys much. Instead, she taught me the proper posture and hand position, so I would at least look like a pianist.
Hulya teaches this way because once you’re in the correct position, you can play anything. She began playing the piano at age 7 in her native Turkey. In July 2000, she came to the U.S., to earn her master’s degree in Piano Performance at Roosevelt University. She was teaching at People’s Music School when her colleague recommended her to Daniel Gasse.
Hulya began teaching children from this area and her career was sailing along until a doubly-blessed event in August 2011. She and her husband had twins, Alina and her brother Onur, which changed her life completely. It was difficult to be a dedicated mother while remaining a dedicated teacher. She found that both babies wanted the same attention at the same time from both parents.
She couldn’t practice while they were awake and had to wear headphones if she wanted to play while they slept. Now that they’re 3½, I don’t imagine it’s getting much easier. When she’s not tending to the twins, Hulya can return to her first love — teaching. Her goal is get young children to love the piano by making the lessons fun.
I can attest to this. Every Saturday morning, Hulya taught little girls, sandwiched around a lesson with a 50 year-old man. I was jealous because the little girls were getting stickers and I wasn’t. It wasn’t fair — just because they sounded better. I finally earned a Tigger sticker in my music book.
During our lessons, Hulya taught me technique and music theory. But she was sensitive to the fact that I was on the back nine of life and not interested in learning “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Instead she would ask what Beatle song or jazz classic I was learning and teach me ways to make the songs easier to play.
When the Great Recession hit, I was forced to forego my lessons. However, the spirit of Hulya lives on in my playing, and I’m still enjoying private recitals at night. I rarely have an audience, but recently my brother-in-law listened to me play a few songs. When he said, “I can tell you’ve had lessons,” I swelled with pride. “Really, do I sound better?” “No,” he replied, “but your posture is perfect.
Hulya rarely gets an adult student. She said most adults lack the courage to try. Well I wonder how many piano students have the courage to leave their native country to pursue their dream in the U.S. Of these, how many have the courage to face twins every day? Hulya will always be in my heart — and my fingertips.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.