Blessing of music keeps piano teacher in tune

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

— Colossians 3:16

For Joyce Hawkins, music is more than a series of notes on a scale – it is a method of worship, a nourishing refuge, a way of life.

Whether serving as the accompanist at church, teaching the piano or merely listening to her favorite hymn, Hawkins basks in the glow of song. For those who have forgotten one of the staples of an adequate food storage supply, Hawkins is quick to remind them that a hymn book – along with nutritional basics, water and the scriptures – has been recommended for every home.

A member of the Belle Terre Ward in the Spokane East Stake, Joyce Hawkins has been teaching piano for the past 35 years. Contributed Photo.

“Hymns contain stories that are there to teach us – just like the stories from the prophets and the people in the scriptures,” said Hawkins, a member of the Belle Terre Ward in the Spokane East Stake.

Hawkins began learning piano in the first grade. Both of her grandmothers fostered a love of music as did her mother, who played the piano on a semi-professional level. After her family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when Hawkins was a youth, she recalls music being integral to the development of her testimony.

“The messages of our Father and Heaven are contained in hymns,” she said. “I learned to read hymns and look at the scriptural references. I wanted to find out, ‘What does this mean to me?'”

Hawkins has been teaching piano for the past 35 years, taking a brief hiatus during the time when she owned and operated the Huckelberry’s Scrapbooking Store in Spokane Valley from 1998 to 2008. Through the years, Hawkins said the most rewarding part of teaching has been “seeing people learn and advance.”

“You’re providing them with opportunities to grow and gain confidence,” Hawkins said. “The skills they learn carry over into many aspects of their lives.”

One of Hawkins’ early instructors was Karlyn Brett, a member of the Shadle Park Ward in the Spokane North Stake who has been a piano teacher for over 50 years. Brett said Hawkins has thrived as a piano player and educator because of her “positive energy and willingness to learn.”

“I knew that no matter what Joyce did, she was going to be successful,” Brett said. “Whenever I see her, she’s smiling. She has great enthusiasm and her students appreciate that.”

Hawkins and her husband John are the parents of six children. In her late 30’s, Hawkins returned to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in music from Eastern Washington University. At 42, she completed her master’s in music from EWU.

In addition to teaching piano, Hawkins works as a sales representative for the Steinway Piano Gallery in Spokane Valley. Contributed Photo.

The objective of continuing her education – Hawkins had originally started at BYU until she was married – is part an ongoing emphasis on goal-setting in the Hawkins family. At the beginning of each year, John, Joyce and their children write down their aspirations for the next 12 months, telling each other about their individual goals.

“Any goal you set involves going through a learning process,” Hawkins said. “When we let others know about our goals, it keeps us accountable.”

As 2011 unfolds, Hawkins knows there are plenty out there who are hoping to add music to their priority list. One of Hawkins’ first-year students is 60 years old. As with anything worthwhile, Hawkins said playing the piano or other instrument requires a considerable degree of time and commitment.

“They say if you want to get better, you only have to practice on the days that you eat,” Hawkins says with a smile. “Some students expect instant results and that’s not going to happen. They wonder why they’re not playing a Brahm’s concerto in two weeks. It takes patience.”

As a teacher, Hawkins makes sure to encourage students throughout the process, saying there are no negative lessons “when you honor every success.”

Hawkins points out that learning music contributes to the nurturing of other traits, including focus, concentration and memory. Research has shown that the development of music skills improves neural responses in the brain and transfers to tasks like reading.

“We talk about how making music makes you smarter,” she said.

Between teaching piano and working full-time as a sales representative at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Spokane Valley, Hawkins still takes lessons herself.

“There’s so much music out there,” Hawkins said. “There’s so much to learn.”

5 thoughts on “Blessing of music keeps piano teacher in tune

  1. Joyce is so much of an asset to her pupils, the choirs in the Church and the congregations. We are very fortunate the ways she shares her talents.

  2. Wish she was still in the North Stake, I’d enroll as her oldest student! I have good memories of her as a young mom, always sharing her talents and enthusiasm.

  3. After 4 different teachers when I was young, I took lessons from Joyce as an adult after I had started my own piano studio to continue my personal music education. I still use her analogies and specific songs she had me learn with my own students today after 17 years of teaching myself. Joyce always has a humble smile and radiates the joy that is a part of her name in her performances, her accompaniments and her organ playing that she so willingly shares with us all! Thanks for being the wonderful person and influence that you are!!

  4. A lovely story, which I too have had friendship with, but not for many years, of course Karlyn Brett, is another story! She is the finest all around musician in the country! Much of what you have said about Joyce, can also be said of Karlyn. Who also directs & I believe Joyce also, though that was not mentioned in the article, Sister Brett also gave lessons to my children many years ago. It must be so rewarding to Karlyn, Who I think said was her,Joyce’s first teacher!! how lovely to live long enough, to see Teachers’& Students,become so near alike in Grace,Talent & Performance!! Wonderful to read about your talents, warmth in the East Stake. How fun it would be for you & Sister Brett to give a concert for all of our dear friends to hear ,,What a JOY THAT WOULD BE!!! PS We were once all one Stake!!! Much Love, Helen Nygaard

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