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I fell head over heels in love on a chilly, overcast January day in 1962. At 4:15 that Monday afternoon, I walked into a strange house and was greeted at the door by an elderly woman – my first piano teacher! She led me to her studio where a grand piano dominated the room. She asked a few questions, then wasted no time beginning the process of unlocking the world of music, as she had done with hundreds of students before and after me. During that 45-minute lesson, my lifelong love affair with the piano began.

This was not infatuation – I had been leading up to it for most of my 10 years. This was the real thing, a dream come true. As far back as I can remember, the musical toys I got for Christmas were always my favorites. As soon I could say the word “piano,” I started begging my parents for one. But Christmases came and went. Bells. Xylophones. Toy pianos. My dad was a steelworker. Mom stayed home with us. Money was tight. A piano was not high in the family budget.

On Christmas morning in 1961, my siblings and I tore through the mound of presents with breakneck speed, as was our custom. But something was missing. There was no musical toy for me. When the presents were all open, Mom and Dad gave me a large envelope. I opened it carefully and there it was: a picture of the most beautiful piano I had ever seen in my life! They explained that the new Baldwin upright was to be delivered sometime after the holidays.

Nothing else I got for Christmas that year – or any year after that – mattered as much. It was real. It was mine.

Like most parents who start their children on music lessons, Mom and Dad were not sure if they would have to fight with me to practice after the honeymoon was over. Maybe I was just enamored with the idea of playing, as so often happens.

But they had four children and I was the oldest. They figured that if I didn’t stick with it, one of the other three would. But stick with it I did. Through grade school and high school. Through hours of practice. Through music degrees in college and graduate school. To the West Coast, the Midwest and Europe.

Somewhere along the line, I decided that, next to life and love, that Baldwin was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

I am now a piano teacher myself. Until 10 years ago I engaged in “vocational schizophrenia,” working in a nonrelated field while stubbornly pursuing my soul’s connection to music. I simply had to. I liked my other jobs, but I loved music. Now I teach piano full time. I am convinced that I’m finally doing exactly what God put me on this earth to do.

Like my first teacher, I have greeted hundreds of new students over the years and led them to my studio, where a grand piano dominates the room. It hasn’t always been easy, and sometimes it’s just not meant to be. But I hope that I have helped my students experience the joy of music.

I want them to discover the beauty of the art, the thrill of playing, the creativity within them, and the satisfaction of working hard and accomplishing something good. And I pray that maybe – just maybe – I’ve led a few from childhood infatuation to a lifelong, soul-stirring, passionate love affair.

And the Baldwin? It still sits in my home, under a sign that reads “Music is not what I do. It’s who I am.” It is a symbol of a child’s dream and the belief of two parents in the power of that dream to guide their child’s life.

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The things that change our lives often come when we are not looking for them. It could be a book we read; it could be a sermon we heard, or it could be the confidence expressed in us by a parent, teacher or mentor.

We would like to hear from WNY women about the defining influences on their lives for Women’s Voices. Send your essay (up to 700 words) to voices@buffnews.com and include your name, email and daytime phone number. Submissions must be by email and cannot be promotional in nature or anonymous.