Merry Christmas, Krystal! Mrs. Wingard 1993
This handwritten inscription is on my sheet music for “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with lyrics by Noel Regney and music by Gloria Shayne. In December 2020 when I pulled out my Christmas music scores, I realized that most of them are from the decade I studied with Mrs. Nancy Wingard from elementary school through high school graduation. I still favor the harmonic colors and lacy textures of Jerry Ray’s Christmas with Style and More Christmas with Style (if you purchase through these links, I will receive a small commission). This year, Mrs. Wingard died, and playing through my Christmas music library reminded me of things I had forgotten I learned from her.
She taught me to enjoy the sound of the piano. In my Christmas music, she wrote in embellishments that added chiming high trills, marching middle register fills, and resounding bass tremolos. Although I did not fully dive into improvisation until graduate school, her notes introduced me to concepts of arranging and improvising. These additions also taught me that while I must be faithful to the scores of Beethoven sonatas and Chopin nocturnes, informal solo performances of traditional and folk music were a valid context for making personal alterations to given scores.
Mrs. Wingard also showed me that playing music can be a gift to others. When I was preparing for competitions and recitals in middle school and high school, she arranged for me to give a few concerts at a retirement community. For two or three years before I graduated, she and other teachers at my pre-college music program collaborated to present a series of student performances at the local children’s hospital.
Since losing my full-time job this April, I have often felt like I had nothing to give to anyone beyond myself and my household. While reflecting during Thanksgiving weekend, I decided I needed to voluntarily do something for someone else and also realized I had spent very little time playing piano. I made a phone call to a hospital where I had found a chapel with an upright piano when I was a patient. I offered to play some Christmas music. The director asked to move the piano to the lobby (distanced from the seating area) and suggested I perform for the staff during a morning shift change.
A week before Christmas 2020, I had my earliest gig ever: 7:00-8:00am. I brought some Jerry Ray arrangements, some lead sheets for improvising, and some simpler scores for adding personal touches, including “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It was good, and it would not have happened without the library and training and inspiration of my piano teacher, Mrs. Nancy Wingard.
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