Every week for nearly three years, Judy Nobles, 70, has wheeled Annie Schmitt , 97, into her St. Paul senior center's lounge for an organ lesson. They make beautiful music together.
Judy Nobles had been playing the organ for residents of Cerenity Senior Care-Humboldt in St. Paul for a year when she sensed a "presence" at her side.
"What does that button do?" Annie Schmitt asked Judy. "How did you change to that instrumental sound?" "Was it hard to learn to play?"
Annie has her answers now. Soon after that first meeting, Annie became Judy's student. Every week for nearly three years, Judy, 70, has wheeled Annie, 97, into the center's lounge for a lesson.
"Do you really think I'm ready to play this piece?" Annie asks.
"You do the hard part and I'll do the rest," Judy says in response.
They start their lesson with a duet, "Blue Danube Waltz," "to build confidence," Judy says. Annie, who also plays piano and reads music, moves her delicate, perfectly manicured fingers across the keys.
"C, F, then C7 on the left," Judy says, nodding. "There you go."
Because she wears braces on both legs, Annie can't operate the volume pedal, so Judy, wearing comfortable blue tennis shoes, does that for her. A box keeps Annie's feet from getting caught in the pedals. A thick cushion elevates Annie to the console. Judy works the solo instruments, which are "too far for Annie to reach."
Challenging, yes, but the result is heavenly. Annie's repertoire has grown to nearly 30 songs, including "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "On Top of Old Smokey" and the difficult, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
Three to four times a year, Annie performs for residents, with Judy, who also plays recitals in the dining areas for residents, nearby. Their first appearance was about two years ago for Annie's 95th birthday party. Annie played "Happy Birthday."
Judy says she doesn't get nervous anymore when Annie plays publicly, "but the first time was like when my kids had a recital. My heart was beating so fast."
Annie, dressed in a floral blouse bursting with color, confesses to being a "little rhythmically challenged," but she gives herself a break.
"I have a good mind as far as being true to my music tone," she says. She also says, "Judy's a very good teacher. Put that in there."
The two share books and attend theater together. Sometimes Judy wheels Annie outside on a pretty day so they can chat. But lessons are what they eagerly await each week. Judy schedules an hour, "but we go until we're tired."