Visit with a Beloved Ho-Ho-Kus Piano Teacher

Miss T, a wonderful teacher to hundreds of piano students

Once in a while, an unexpected opportunity arises and we do something we wouldn’t normally do. Such an occasion happened for me today.

Without calling or writing ahead of time, I rang the doorbell at the Ho-Ho-Kus home of my former piano teacher, Miss Takayama, or Miss T, as I’ll call her (though she later married and became Mrs I and is now widowed). The petite but très formidable Japanese woman pictured above opened the door and greeted me with her beautiful smile.

I’m not sure Miss T remembered exactly who I was, but she welcomed me warmly and invited me in; I told her Clive was waiting so we stepped back outside and the three of us talked there.

Miss T told us she taught piano for 72 – seventy-two!! – years. She said, beaming, ‘I’ll be 99 next month!’ – that she was born in 1918 and her birthday is June 4. She lives on her own in the same house in which she taught hundreds of children to play the piano.

I was fortunate to be Miss T’s student from kindergarten through eighth grade (then took up cello, to join the high school orchestra — sadly, Miss T only taught piano). Every Wednesday I trudged up the hill, walked down her driveway, through her garage and into her basement studio. She reminisced about this today, saying because her mother, then her husband, lived upstairs she never felt it would be right to have her teaching studio in their family space.

I must offer huge thanks to this blog’s readers Sue and Candice G for their recent comments about Miss T, especially Sue who wrote that Miss T still lived at her Ho-Ho-Kus home. These comments appeared this week on one of my most frequently-read posts, Downtown Ho-Ho-Kus: 1960s and Today. Originally published in 2009, the post continues to receive regular comments from former residents. A number of us, when sharing special Ho-Ho-Kus memories, include piano lessons with Miss T.

When I read Sue’s comment, I knew I only had a day or two to react, if I wanted to try to see Miss T on this trip. This morning, I bought a birthday card. Though I normally consider it rude to ring someone’s bell without calling first, we leave tomorrow so I decided this afternoon, after spending time with my mother, I’d take a chance.

For any of Miss T’s former students who may be reading this, she is as bright and vibrant as ever and I’m in awe of her strength and determination to remain in her own home. ‘All my memories are here,’ she told us today.

After chatting for a short while and not wanting to overstay our welcome, I asked Miss T if we could take a few photos. She kindly agreed to stand beside her front door plaque, which reads, in addition to her name, ‘PEACE to all who enter; GRACE to all who depart.’

I found this very moving as it truly captures the spirit of this wonderful woman. She was a part of my life, week after week, for nine years, not only at each Wednesday lesson but also on the days in between, knowing she expected me to practice and I’d better do so! Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, Miss T was a steady, demanding (in a good way) and reliable figure throughout my childhood and early adolescence.

Thank you, Miss T, for your expert instruction, your encouragement and enthusiasm for my playing and for giving me the gift that whenever I was joyful or grieving or just needed to vent my emotions, I could turn to the piano and find comfort.

Clive took this final photo, which he promptly labelled ‘the long and short of it’. I couldn’t be happier Miss T opened her door to me today.

Thrilled to see this petite but très formidable teacher again

Heartfelt thanks from me and all your grateful students, Miss T. Wishing you the most joyful of birthdays as you approach your 99th year.

4 Responses

  1. Wonderful story about our hometown and one of its most illustrious citizens. Thank you for posting this!

  2. Martha, thank you and Miss T really is an illustrious Ho-Ho-Kus citizen — perfect description!

    • Carolyn. My piano was being tuned this morning and I was thinking back about Miss T. Took a chance to google her and see if anything came up – and found your wonderful blog about HHK. Spent way too much time on that today, reading all the wonderful posts. At the end was your link to your visit with Miss T. Thank you so much for sharing your visit and pictures. I never dreamed she was still alive and in the same house! I too have wonderful memories of my many years of lessons with her – about 10 I think. And a special memory for me has always been that we share a birthday – June 4th! She would have cupcakes and candles and we would make wishes together and blow out the candles.
      As for us – I was in your class at HHK. Your HHK blog has been a joy to read, hear about classmates, teachers, and all the wonderful activities we were able to enjoy as kids growing up in HHK. I will add a comment to the HHK blog in addition to this one in case anyone is interested. I was so proud to see all the comments about my dad – Andy (Mufson’s), that his store was a cherished memory for so many people.
      It sounds like you have had an amazing time with your travels. My life has been a little more ordinary, but blessed with a husband of 45 years, two daughters with great son-in-laws, and 9 grandchildren. I live in Galesburg, Illinois.
      Thanks again for your wonderful posts. With all those years and memories of Miss T – I never had a picture of her. I will treasure it.

  3. Susan, hello and thank you so much for your wonderful comments! It is great to hear from you and remember so well being in the same HHK class. Your dad Andy and family are of course distinguished citizens 🙂 and we all have so many wonderful memories of Andy and Mufson’s.

    How special that you and Miss T. share a birthday. What a lovely tradition she had with/for you. It was really amazing to find her still in the same house.

    Happy 45 years to you and your hubby – that is wonderful. And nine! grandchildren, what a blessing.

    All best wishes and thank you again for your kind comments.

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