The world of pianists and teachers in the Ann Arbor area is diverse, encompassing universities, professors and college students as well as private studio teachers and their wide range of pre-college and adult learners. Merilee Magnuson was an active and vibrant participant in this community during her time in Ann Arbor from 1984 through 2015.
Guild and Foundation Years
Merilee joined the Ann Arbor Area Piano Teachers Guild in 1984 and served as President from 1989 – 1991. She maintained a full teaching load in her private studio, performed regularly as a soloist and collaborative musician and regularly judged events for several organizations (National Guild, and various MTA groups). In 1993, the AAAPTG decided to form a foundation in order to provide a means by which dedicated teachers could raise money to fund additional projects for piano students, supplementing the Student Achievement Tests and monthly recitals offered by the Guild. Foundation projects included Music Explorer Day (a collaborative effort with the UM School of Music), the Mostly Music ( a half day summer music camp for elementary and middle school students where students worked in groups on a variety of music-related skills), and the annual Awards Auditions (where students performed in competition for scholarship money). Although these projects eventually ran their course, the Just for Fun benefit recitals (Halloween Hoot and Spring Fling) remain popular fundraisers. Later, the Foundation also reached out to businesses and individuals for tax deductible donations.
Natural Leader and Organizer
Creating and building a tax exempt organization requires financial, legal and administrative acumen, interpersonal and organizational skills, along with patience and persistence, abilities which seem to come naturally to Merilee. Sara Carriere, a board member who worked closely with Merilee during her presidency, describes her as very thorough and well-organized. Mary Sue Moore, who worked with Merilee on the Foundation Board and has been President since 1995, said that Merilee quietly took care of whatever needed to be done. In other words, she made complicated tasks seem easy and kept things moving forward.
Merilee began her piano studies at age 3, first with her mother, and then continuing with Toledo composer, pianist and teacher Elizabeth Gould. While she was in high school, she appeared as a concerto soloist with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Gould, hosted such luminaries as Horowitz, Rubinstein and Andre Watts in her Toledo home. Readers who have been to the University of Michigan Art Museum may be familiar with an 1887 Steinway which Mrs. Gould donated to the school; Merilee performed on that piano many times during her pre-college studies. Mrs. Gould’s manuscripts (primarily for solo and duo piano) can be found in the collection at the Bentley historical library.
Direct Link to Beethoven!
An interesting tidbit: Mrs. Gould studied with Arthur Schnabel (who preferred composing to playing concerts), who studied with Leschetitsky, who studied with Czerny who studied with Beethoven. Therefore, Merilee can trace her line of teachers directly back to Beethoven!
University and Early Career
Merilee attended the University of Michigan for both undergraduate studies (working with Marian Owen, John Kollen and Eugene Bossart) and post graduate courses. She also received certification for teaching music in public schools. Later, she worked with Katherine Mizruchi for several years learning the Taubman method, which she says improved her technique and ability to teach technique , allowing students play more freely. She also focused on working with students to develop good practice skills, in order to provide a strong foundation for mastering technical assignments and repertoire.
After college, Merilee taught at Simson college in Iowa, and lived and taught in Maine and Massachusetts before coming to Ann Arbor. Although she played at a high level and performed frequently she was never drawn to a concert career due to the grueling schedule of travel and competitions that went along with a solo career. She’s very much a people person, and tremendously enjoys working with piano students and her teacher/performer colleagues.
Advice for Piano Teachers
Merilee is also an advocate and role model for lifelong learning. After moving to Florida in 2015, she took a post as a church musician and is learning to play the organ in order to accompany services. Her advice for other teachers is “always keep learning and let your love of music show at every lesson.” She feels that this will inspire students and may help them to become lifetime pianists, musicians and supporters of the arts.
Teachers in Ann Arbor are fortunate to have known her and grateful for her leadership, friendship and all that she contributed to our piano community.