With a quiet voice and gentle instruction, Cynthia Goerzen of rural Goessel works to inspire hundreds of area children, not only to play piano, but also to love music.
“I love the piano and organ,” Goerzen said. “Playing them has always been a passion of mine. Sharing this with the children is such a delight.”
Goerzen, a piano teacher since 1989, currently has 38 students who come from Goessel, Hillsboro, Newton, and Hesston, to sit at her side and learn to play piano. Pictures and “thank you” notes from 20 years of piano students decorate her basement studio walls, showing what an impact she has made in the musical lives of many.
“It seems easy to sit down at a piano and make that first sound,” Goerzen said. “But starting with one note and progressing to be able to play 10 notes at once, that’s very hard. I like for the kids to have fun while they are learning and pretty soon they realize they can indeed do this.”
To help motivate students to practice, Goerzen uses stickers and charts to keep track of practice times. She also communicates with parents to involve them in student progress. But, more importantly, she tailors expectations and practice times for each student.
“I teach kids the way I wish I had been taught,” she said. “Not everyone learns at the same pace or needs the same amount of practice. I have a basic progression that we go through with each student, but I try to find ways to make it easier and we work together to find their best way to learn.”
In addition to individualized lessons, Goerzen offers group theory classes where interaction between children makes a difficult task easier.
“Each fall we have a 10-week session for theory,” she said. “These are more intense lessons and they are made more fun by the interaction between the kids.”
Some theory class students stay together through years of piano instruction with Goerzen and perform as an ensemble at one of two recitals offered each year.
On Dec. 4, junior high theory students Anna Wiens, Zach Wiens, Olivia Duerksen, of Goessel, and Bianca Tyrell, of Hesston will perform together on two electronic pianos, one acoustic piano, and a grand piano at Tabor Mennonite Church, rural Goessel, as part of an annual recital.
With the holiday season approaching, Goerzen said all of her students were hard at work polishing Christmas selections for the Dec. 4 performance.
Each year, Goerzen’s students work to prepare selections for two recitals, one in fall and one in spring.
“Their participation is not required,” Goerzen said. “But I highly encourage it. I see it as an opportunity for them to perform in public in a very supportive atmosphere. This gives them confidence which carries on into other parts of their lives.”
Goerzen embraces the use of technology in her piano instruction and said it was another way her students could express their own interests as part of their lessons.
“I still have my old acoustic piano,” she said. “But most of our lessons take place on one of three electronic keyboards I have here.”
She said it was hard to keep the acoustic piano in tune with the constant humidity changes in Kansas, so she turned to other tools.
“I bought an electric piano 18 years ago and another one a few years later. I recently added a top-of-the-line keyboard that works so well with the students. These children grow up with technology and know how to use these things. We enjoy creating different sounds together.”
Goerzen said all of her electric pianos were touch sensitive and had weighted keys, so to the player, they felt very similar to the acoustic piano. The added bonus of different sound selection keys allowed students to experiment more with the music they created.
Goerzen said three piano instructors made significant impact in her life as she took piano lessons.
“They were all wonderful teachers and I learned so much from them,” she said.
Goerzen would have liked to continue her music education in college, but that was not possible, so she self-taught herself theory lessons.
“I continued to play every time I could get my hands on a piano,” she said. “I went through all my old lesson books and developed my own theory lessons.”
Goerzen’s music education continued as she and husband Les raised their three sons. The eldest, John, began piano lessons with a different teacher, but Goerzen soon realized sharing her love of piano with her son was a good thing for them to do together.
“He learned things very, very quickly,” she said. “It was a challenge to find something new for him and to keep up. But with piano this was something we could share, and there were always new concepts to explore.”
Goerzen said something she has always appreciated about music instruction, especially with piano, is how a basic foundation is laid and then notes are added in layers, making it a good foundation for any kind of learning.
“I’ve had a local band instructor send percussion students to me, saying they needed to learn the names of notes and how to develop rhythm. Piano lessons teach those things.”
Goerzen said her goal as a piano teacher has always been not just to teach a student to be a top performer, but to develop them in other ways, too.
“I hope to give them a love for music, to inspire them to continue their music in some form after they leave me,” she said. “It just really makes my day when I hear from older students who are all grown up and they tell me they are still playing. That makes me very, very happy.”