Arts and Entertainment

Still tickled by the ivories

When Thelma McCoy hears the sound of a child playing the piano, her face lights up with joy.

The corners of her mouth turn upward in an involuntary smile and her eyes twinkle with excitement. Though her hair is white and her face is decorated with "laugh lines," McCoy's enthusiasm toward music and teaching keeps her feeling much younger than her 85 years.

The secret to her youth? Teaching piano and cello for 66 years.

Being around the children, she explained while smoothing out a wrinkle from her spotless white pantsuit, keeps her young in spirit.

All of McCoy's hard work teaching hasn't gone unnoticed. In June she was nominated and inducted into the Washington State Music Teachers Association Hall of Fame.

McCoy is a longtime member of the association and has held multiple offices with the Olympic Peninsula Chapter, including president, vice president, secretary and audition chairman. In fact, when McCoy moved to the peninsula in 1959, there wasn't a local chapter. So she helped start one and has been a strong supporter ever since.

Her involvement in local music groups is extensive and includes having served as a board member for the Port Angeles Symphony.

Hunter Hodgson, 6, practices playing the piano at home. His parents are interested in signing up Hunter and his twin brother for weekly lessons. Gazette photo by Ashley Miller

McCoy met her husband in New York while he was attending college. The couple married and then moved, living in Oregon, Idaho, California and Washington. Eventually they settled in Port Angeles after living in Sequim for four years.

"Other places have been fun, but this is home and the best place to raise a family," McCoy said about the North Olympic Peninsula.

Declaring the peninsula as the "most beautiful place of all" is a hefty compliment coming from McCoy, who has traveled extensively.

"When my youngest graduated from college, she told me to take the money I had been spending on her education and use it to travel," she said.

"So, we did - and then we caught the bug."

The McCoys have traveled around the world three times, visiting places on all of the continents. They had the most fun on an African animal safari, McCoy said, and they really enjoyed New Zealand, but nothing ever has compared to the North Olympic Peninsula.

"It's the most beautiful place of all, you have the mountains and the ocean and tucked in between is home."

McCoy teaches piano to children ages 5-18 - with exceptions - four afternoons a week. She has about 20 students. The income supplements her retirement and provides a much-needed schedule, McCoy said, but that's not the real reason she continues to teach.

"It's the students," she said.

"I love to see the progress they make as they learn and improve."

Many of her students have competed at state conventions and gone on to teach music themselves.

One of her Sequim students is a granddaughter of one of her first students.

McCoy started playing the piano when she was 7. A music teacher boarded at her house and suggested McCoy's parents buy a piano so their daughter could learn to play.

Not very many days go by without McCoy sitting in front of the piano and playing a tune or two.

For more information, call McCoy at 457-8364.

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