Sharing the magic of music

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C.L. Paur | February 23, 2016

DELAVAN — Sixty-nine years is a long time to do anything, but for 75-year-old Jean Pippitt of Delavan, playing the violin has become second nature to her. She picked up the instrument at age 6 because she didn't want to compete with her older sister, who was taking piano lessons at the time.

When she reached seventh grade, her violin teacher needed help with the younger students, so Pippitt began teaching. Throughout the years, she would find that teaching and giving back to her community would supersede any desire to achieve fame through her violin playing.

She did have plenty of opportunities to take her violin in front of the spotlight, especially with her wide repartee of music, but her heart wasn't in it. She soloed twice with the Idaho Falls symphony — once as a high school freshman, the other as a junior.

It was terrifying, she said.

“I think you have to have the personality, the push, the ability to show off and I was always too shy,” Pippitt said.

The prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York City opened a spot for her to attend, but Pippitt had other ideas. She couldn't see herself, a girl from Idaho, being successful in a big city.

“I was always a closet musician,” she said. “What my heart wanted was a good husband, a nice family and a chance to use my violin as a hobby.”

Pippitt has taken some opportunities to share her talent over the years, though, performing for funerals, weddings and church functions and with the Lake Geneva Symphony. She says she's retired, but just recently she played for her church's December tea. She also can be heard playing duets with her students.

Does she have regrets? No way, she said.

Instead, she looks upon the people and experiences in her life as great gifts. Her parents, for example, gave her the love of music. Her mother, a teacher, used to sing and play the piano.

Her father listened to Saturday matinee broadcasts of The Metropolitan Opera in his barbershop. And, of course, they paid for their three daughters' music lessons, something that wasn't inexpensive back then.

Pippitt also trained with Betty Benthin, a protégée who had studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. She knew that besides music, Pippitt also liked books, so she gave her young student a subscription to the Saturday Review of Literature.

“She opened my eyes to literature as well as music,” said Pippitt, who ended up teaching English.

Pippitt has taken the inspiration others have given her and passed it along to her 150-plus violin students. Currently she only has seven pupils, but still wants to leave them with the impression that making music is “kind of a magical thing.”        

Of course there are the lessons, the practices, the squeaky sounds emitted from the strings, but Pippitt just smiles and suggests they try again.            

“If someone asked me what my skill was, I'd say I'm a good encourager,” she said.

Olivia Freitag, age 14, agrees. She has been taking lessons with Pippitt since she was 7.

“Mrs. Pippitt has just been a fun and humorous person to be with,” Freitag said. “She has helped me in other areas in life by just being friendly and making humorous jokes that really brighten my day.

“She has told me to play my heart out and to keep going, and to try my best at it and never give up.”

The students inspire Pippitt as well.

“I think I learn from every student. You get to explore things together,” she said. “I'm learning all the time.

“I get a kick when I hear the phrase, 'Doctors practicing medicine.' I'm practicing on students.”

She has taken some students other teachers had refused to teach.

“As long as a person wants to do this, I won't turn anyone away.”

Students have ranged in age from 4 up to 80. The 80-year-old was a woman who had wanted to join a Western fiddle band. She ended up playing well into her 90s, Pippitt said.

No one is too old to play, she said.

“The wonderful thing about excelling in music is to have something you can love until you die,” Pippitt said. “I don't want to denigrate sports, but it's nice when you can do something into your older age.

“There are not too many soccer teams for people over 50.”

Outside of violin, Pippitt keeps herself busy in the community and the Delavan United Methodist Church. She was an active member of the Friends of Phoenix Park Bandshell and worked with bandshell organizer Dave Block on and off for 25 years.

“She has been wonderful,” Block said about Pippitt. “She is positive, loving and giving, but she's not afraid to tell me when I'm out of line.”

Block added that Pippitt is quite modest about her abilities.

At church, Pippitt is active in choir and in the women's group, which raises money to give back to local, national and international charities.

Whether to her students, church or community, Pippitt makes it her priority to give back to those around her.

“I think it's my duty to civilization to pass it along.”


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