Heights senior citizens get to tickle the ivories

Heights Herald/MARIANNE LIJEWSKI - Shannon Gallinger, the elementary school music teacher, shows the keys played in a song during the weekly piano lessons for Harker Heights Senior Center guests. - - -

By Chris McGuinness

Harker Heights Herald

Skipcha Elementary School music teacher Shannon Gallinger is used to handling classes full of children in kindergarten through fifth grade. But this month, her students will be a little more mature.

"They are a really fun group, and I always look forward to having them," she said, speaking about a group of eight seniors, age 55 and older, who take piano lessons in the school's music lab every Tuesday during October.

The group, which calls itself "the Piano Gang," is taking lessons with Gallinger through the Harker Heights Parks and Recreation 55 Up program for seniors.

Joyce Mayer, the volunteer director for the senior programs and a student in Gallinger's class, said the piano lessons are in their second year.

"We wanted to give older adults the opportunity to learn something new and participate in different activities, including music," Meyer said.

Gallinger said each student in the class pays $5 per lesson, and the money is donated to the school.

The lessons are in Skipcha's state-of-the-art piano lab, which features 25 Yamaha keyboards with 88 weighted keys. The $25,000 lab was funded by the school's Parent Teacher Organization in 2008. The students use headphones that allow them to hear what they are playing and follow their music instructor on a large screen at the back of the room.

"The technology's great, now if they could only make something to help me play better," joked Jose Hernandez.

Hernandez never played any musical instrument before enrolling in the class last year. He said he is making progress, but mostly enjoys the company of the other members in his class.

"We have a great time when we get together," he said. "A lot of us took the class last year, so we are all kind of friends now."

Hernandez and his fellow classmates joked and laughed as they followed along with Gallinger through songs like "Ba Ba Black Sheep," "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and "Polly Wolly Doodle."

"It's interesting because beginners of any age usually start on the same songs that the kids do," said Gallinger. "This group is much more fun, and it's a nice change to work with adults."

While there may be an age gap between her two groups of students, they both share at least one thing in common.

"This year, (Gallinger) began giving us homework," said Meyer. "But we don't get punished if we forget to do it, just rewarded if we do. I don't (think) her other students get it that easy."

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568.

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