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To say that Diana Aubrey loves the piano is an understatement.
“My mother once told me that when I was a baby, the first understandable word to come out of my mouth was “piano,” said Aubrey.
The Kentucky Music Educators Association, meeting at its annual conference at Morehead University on Oct. 22, honored the Hodgenville music teacher with a Distinguished Service Award recognizing her years of piano instruction and service to the organization.
As a young farm girl in Hart County, Aubrey often asked her parents for a piano.
“Pianos were expensive, so my parents bought me an autoharp instead, which I played, but the instrument I really wanted was a piano,” she said.
One day, though, after her father had inquired about repossessed pianos, a large van rolled up to their house. Inside the vehicle were two new pianos.
“Dad bought one of them right off that van for me,” she said. “That was on a Wednesday, and I had my first lesson that Friday.”
The 8-year-old girl traveled five miles to Magnolia where Gladys Bowles gave her lessons. After two years, she became the pianist at Aetna Grove Baptist Church and, at 14, she also became a teacher, giving her first lesson to a neighbor girl.
“I loved playing the piano from the start and also felt a calling to teach others,” she said.
Aubrey became so regular at practicing the instrument located in the family’s living room (as was the television), that her father had her agree to give him at least 30 minutes away from the piano each day so that he could watch (and hear) the evening news.
At 19 years old, Aubrey considered starting her own piano studio in Hodgenville. When her husband Will asked her how many students she thought would be necessary for her to be able to pay rent and have a little left over, she told him she figured 20 students would allow for that to happen.
“It must have been the Lord’s hand in it, for after I ran an ad in the Herald for two weeks, I started giving lessons and exactly 20 students had signed up,” she said.
Her first studio, which she moved into in September 1977, was located in a two-story frame building at the corner of Lincoln Boulevard and West Water Street (now a parking lot near Red Hazle’s business).
“Tommy Hazle owned the building and helped me start by renting my office to me for one dollar a day with his paying the utilities,” she said.
Later she moved into a building on South Walters and relocated to her current studio nearby in the Pearman Building in 2004.
Certified by the KMTA, Aubrey has taught hundreds of students, many of whom have gone on to become church musicians and teachers.
“Music touches every part of your life,” she said. “Even if you don’t make a career of it, you still benefit from the organizational skills and self-discipline you learned.”
In addition to private lessons, she has taught Kindermusik to pre-school-age children and developed her own pre-school program, “Music Train.”
For the past 26 years she has been on the KTMA executive board and for the last six years has served as young artist chamber music coordinator for a nine-state Southern Division. She also has served as minister of music and youth at Magnolia Baptist Church since 1999.
At the state KMTA conference, 13 of her students qualified for and 10 played at the student honors recital while another eight of her scholars performed in the all-state piano ensemble.
“No matter what piano methods are used, I want to give the younger students a basic grounding, a foundation, upon which they can build with other musical genres later,” she said.
When asked what is so rewarding about the career she chose, she responded, “It’s amazing to see children’s eyes light up when they understand a concept.”
“I wouldn’t do anything else than what I’m doing now.”