The sound of piano music fills Patricia Langer’s Edina home at all hours of the day.
It has for years, because Langer, 72, has been teaching piano since 1969.
Hers is a formula for success.
Shakopee piano teacher Kathleen Philipp said Langer “sets high standards and expects that [her students] are going to achieve them.” Thus she attracts no-nonsense players who “know what they’re doing” and excel in competitions, Philipp said.
Langer credits her upbringing for that focus on excellence and for her fierce work ethic. Music has been a part of her life since day one, and it has intertwined with life lessons that she’s sought to pass on to her students.
Her mother and father, a singer and a guitarist, respectively, sacrificed financially to give their four children piano lessons. She proved to be a talent early on, playing the organ in church as a fourth-grader. Before long, she was performing at weddings, funerals, evening devotions and daily mass.
She remembers one balmy summer evening many years ago when she was walking out of rehearsal with the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale. “I can still see the trees above me, the soft light blue in the sky, and having such a high from playing and singing,” she said.
Langer especially likes to channel the old masters. In the morning, she’s drawn to Mozart and Beethoven, whom she describes as “the intellectuals.” By afternoon, “I go for passion,” which she finds in Chopin and Debussy.
“No matter how accomplished you are, you’ll never exhaust the library. Like a voracious reader, you’ll never read it all,” she said.
In college, Langer so impressed the senior Bob Schmitt of Schmitt Music and musician Lu Rogers that they recommended her for the position of director of music therapy at the former Gillette State Hospital in St. Paul right after she graduated. Even though she majored in applied music performance and education, not music therapy, Langer held that job for two years.
Later, she studied under Dr. E. Thayer Gaston, the “godfather of music therapy” at the University of Kansas.
Early in her career, then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey invited her to join his staff in Washington, D.C., to help incorporate music therapy into his goals for the nation. She turned down the offer because she wanted to stay close to her family, Langer said.
‘The magic of music’
The home Langer and her husband, Henry, share was designed several decades ago with her busy studio in mind. Students come in through the lower level.
Langer doesn’t advertise her studio. Rather, people find out about it through word of mouth, and she has a waiting list.
Her 38 students are all ages, and they come from all over the metro area. Lessons run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., depending on the day. When she was teaching her own children, her day began even earlier.
Sometimes by about 7 p.m. she starts to feel tired, but the moment she gets back into the studio, “I get so pumped I need time to wind down,” she said.
Twice a year, she has concerts in her home, wherein the living room and the foyer become the auditorium. Students play on the upstairs piano, a Steinway Grand, the Louis XIV model, which she calls her “first baby.”
During those practice concerts, she teaches her students to announce their piece, adjust their bench, prepare to play, and bow afterward. It sets them apart when they perform publicly, she said. “People say, ‘You can tell a Langer studio student by the way they approach the bench,’ ” she said.
She tries to teach students to pursue their goals the best they can and to be responsible. Sometimes they stumble, but “no matter how someone performs, the love between us never stops,” she said.
To help the players relate to the audience on an emotional level, “I tell them that they’re telling a story with their fingers.”
That’s the “magic of music. For a moment in time, they can leave the cares of the world,” Langer said.
Langer, who is also teaching two grandchildren in Hawaii and Canada via Skype, has no retirement plans.
“There’s no reason not to unless my hands were to fall off,” she said. “I love teaching, being a part of their growth and development, and their journey to adulthood.”
‘Tough and friendly’
Kate Azar, who just graduated from high school, spent a decade taking lessons from Langer. She said her longtime teacher shows “how to play with hands and brains” — and the heart.
“She gets to know you on a personal level so you can express yourself in pieces,” Azar said.
Once Langer showed up at Azar’s school robotics competition. “I asked her what she was doing there and she said, ‘I’m here to see you,’ ” Azar said, adding that she was flattered.
Azar remembers a couple of concerts for which she wasn’t 100 percent. Langer was gracious about it, but she “told me I had to do better next time.”
“That was good for me,” she said. “She’s tough and friendly and caring all in one package.”
Azar, who plans to pursue an engineering degree at the University of Minnesota, said, “The general mentality that piano is for life, not just for the classroom, is something I’ll carry with me.”
Student Samantha Martín, who is going into eighth grade, was composing music even before she could talk. She said Langer has told her that “you can have all the potential and talent in the world, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” she said.
In March, Martín won the Minnesota Music Teachers Association’s junior young artist award. She played for a crowd of several thousand at a related honors concert in June. “It sounds cheesy, but I feel like I’m living my dream,” Martín said.
Langer has “really invested in all of her students,” Martín said. “We all know we matter to her. She’s a big part of my life.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.