About a year ago, Ellen Bartolozzi came into the Beacon Pub while I was bartending. I told her that I'd recently left my 9-to-5 to focus on writing. "Are you writing every day?" she asked. When I replied that I was trying to find a routine, she admonished, "No excuses! You have to write every day if you want to succeed." I should have known then that she was a teacher.
Ellen is a talented pianist and vocalist who shares her gift with our community by teaching very affordable lessons, and by providing music for weddings, memorials, and other events through her business, Bella Angel Music. She's a woman worth knowing, so I went to her home to try and learn more about her.
Upon entering the building on Franklin where she lives and works, I was greeted by the aroma of chicken noodle soup. "I'm making it for one of my students," she told me as we entered the room where she teaches.
And Ellen's students clearly love her as much as she loves them. The first thing that caught my eye was a framed drawing of piano keys that hung over Ellen's Yamaha piano that read, "Best Teacher Ever." The story behind the drawing is that Ellen gave piano lessons to a boy from age 6 to 16. "It was awesome to see him grow," she grinned. "Now he's minoring in music at college. And when he stopped taking lessons, his parents moved his younger brother right into his spot." The little brother drew the picture.
Ellen started piano lessons at age 5, encouraged by her musical mother. She quit in eighth grade, but went back to the piano in high school. She paid for her own lessons and started teaching while still a teenager.
"It was a baptism by fire," she told me. The owner didn't give her lesson plans, but Ellen remembered how she'd been confused and afraid to ask questions, so she created a methodical approach to make her students comfortable.
She went to college at University of Illinois Champaign, majoring in restaurant management, but every night she'd find herself playing piano in the student lounge for hours. Music was pulling her back, so she auditioned for the program at DePaul and made music her life.
Currently, Ellen is the music director at St. Cyprian in River Grove and of the Elmwood Park Chorus. She showed me a letter she recently received, naming her a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for her dedication to the Elmwood Park Chorus "not only as the director, but as the person who brought the chorus back after it disbanded."
Ellen's dream is to teach full-time and perform at weddings and special events. She's committed to professionalism and she has 10 students in voice or piano, ranging from age 5 to retirees. She designed an accelerated course for busy adults who can only meet a couple times a month and she tailors her lessons to each student. After playing a breathtaking version of "Moonlight Sonata," she showed me the modified versions she uses to teach the song at different levels.
Ellen is exactly the type of woman I typically feature on my blog in a section called, Women Who Rock Wednesday, where I interview women in the arts that I admire. I usually give out a prize related to the artist, but Ellen's got it covered. All interested Forest Park Review readers can get a free first lesson or consultation for your special event by visiting www.bellaangelmusic.com.
Stephanie is the author of "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" and "Ballads of Suburbia." She's a proud Forest Parker who holds a master's in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.