Church News and Events

95-Year-Old Piano Teacher Still Finds Lessons to Learn

  By Whitney Evans, Church News staff writer

  • 15 February 2013

 Piano student Ruby Campbell (left) and Edith Reed pose during their weekly lesson.  Photo by Whitney Evans.

The most important aspect of Edith Reed’s success in teaching is the love she shows each student, a love that is reciprocal and tangible from the moment the students walk in the door.

“This is my dear Ruby,” she said during an interview with Church News, putting her arm around the young brunette piano student who had just arrived for her weekly lesson.

Ruby, she explained, is one of the children of the Waterloo Ward to whom the 95-year-old piano teacher offers free lessons. Relatives and members of the Waterloo Ward in the Salt Lake Wells Stake get free lessons from Sister Reed, quite the bargain considering her background and continuing education in music.

With a master’s degree in piano pedagogy from Columbia University and time spent studying at Juilliard, one might expect Edith Reed’s music teaching education to stop there. However, this 95-year-old piano instructor knows her work is never done. Her motto is that the only way to be a good piano teacher is to continually improve on her teaching skills, according to Lynn Gong, one of Sister Reed’s great-nieces.

“She’s made every bit of her life—everything that she touches—a beautification and an improvement.”

Describing Sister Reed as a doer, Sister Gong has noticed that her great-aunt leaves things and people better than she found them. Sister Reed maintains a grueling schedule of teaching more than 20 piano lessons per week to adults and children. On Tuesdays alone she teaches from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a one-hour break midway through the day.

Some of her younger students play accompaniments for other children to sing along to during Primary programs and go on to play for their seminary classes or on their missions.

“That’s payback for me,” Sister Reed said.

In a small house in Salt Lake City, the room peppered with photos and trinkets, Edith Reed leans forward, fixes her piercing-blue eyes steadily forward, and shares a powerful lesson she has gleaned from her 95 years of life: Heavenly Father is aware of each person and their needs and guides each throughout their life.

In learning this, she has also realized that there’s no such thing as being done with trials in this life.

“You don’t get to be 95 and have it done. There are still lessons to be learned and difficult experiences to face.”

 

This comes from a woman who is no stranger to trials. For instance, one of her daughters is battling cancer; her husband died in 1984 after being hit by a drunk driver; she is stepmother of two children and mother of eight, one of whom died in infancy; and she grew up during the Great Depression.

However, her associations with these events are largely positive.

She began taking piano lessons when she was five. By age 15 she could play so well that she began teaching lessons to children. Because she needed to pay her way through college, she taught piano lessons during the summers when she was not in school.

When she first moved into her home with her husband in 1949, it was, as she described it, “a derelict house.” During the renovation of the home she realized that she could find joy in the journey.

“I remember somebody once said, ‘Anticipation is greater than realization,’” she noted of her attitude during the improvements she made to her home. Although her plot of land may be small, “I own the air space up to heaven.”

The once decrepit house has since been remodeled, a feat Sister Reed accomplished a step at a time.

“The one blessing that you gain from living a long time is the developing of patience,” Sister Reed said. “You learn that it takes time and you learn to sit back and you learn to wait, that it [is] all right to not have it happen fast.”

Not content to sit still, Sister Reed keeps a vegetable and flower garden, which, she said, people visit to admire its beauty.

She also mows her own lawn and shovels her own walks as means of getting exercise. Not surprisingly, this has drawn attention from many well-intended women who stop their minivans and promise to send their husbands over to finish what she has started. At this point, she thanks them, insists she enjoys the work, and sends them on their way. For a while, she said, neighbors even scolded her husband.

“Shame on you for letting her mow the lawn!” they would tell him.

Her one regret is that she did not keep track of every name of every student she had, but if she had, she said, it would number in the hundreds.

Her bishop, who has known her for about eight years, said Sister Reed is still hungry and curious and knows there is work left to do.

Some children will come into Primary not dressed up for church, and Sister Reed is an “advocate for those kids.”

“I don’t know if there’s a more perfect human being that I’ve ever met,” said Bishop Patrick Campbell of the Waterloo Ward. “She is without guile. She doesn’t judge anybody.”

He said he admires the way she helps others feel validated and whole and like they are her equals.

“I just wish this planet had more people like her.”