KEY Forever! – Group of Seven Have Been Making Music, Making Friends for 21 Years

"I like that KEY didn't start with scales and we were playing songs that we've heard before. Now,we get to choose the songs! Playing piano is such a wonderful way to do something for myself – the class encourages me to play – a “no pressure” way to learn the piano – a social occasion."

They met in Keyboard Encounters adult piano classes, while the program was still in development, and this group — KEY Forever — from Vincitore's Music is still playing and socializing together every week 20 years later!

A very interesting and unusual adult keyboard class came to our attention when we received an email about an upcoming recital from Becky Wirehouse, a teacher at The Music School at Vincitore's in Cooperation with Paul Effman Music, in Poughkeepsie, NY. But first, some background...!

Vincitore's Music, a Yamaha dealer and music school since 1966, was one of nine locations selected for the research and development of Keyboard Encounters. Becky, a Yamaha teacher since 1983, was a test market teacher for the course. Keyboard Encounters by Yamaha (KEY), which was officially launched in 1991, is a group piano program designed in the U.S. for piano students ages 10 to adult. The curriculum consists of six modules and a supplementary book. Most classes complete the program after one and a half to two years (beginner – intermediate level), and students typically follow it up with private lessons. Which brings us back to our story...

The private lesson route was unacceptable to Becky's special group of adult KEY students. They wanted to continue lessons as a group — and they have done so for 16- 21 years!

The members of the group first heard about KEYeither from knowing someone taking lessons, reading a newspaper ad, or taking a Preview Lesson. Now avid proponents of the Yamaha approach, they regularly refer friends and family members, urging them to take lessons at Vincitore's.

So, how did this group of seven stay together for so many years? Becky shared that a few students are interested in popular music, a few prefer classical, some like jazz, but they ALL enjoy learning and playing as a class. They call themselves, "KEY Forever!"

You might imagine that it could be daunting to choose music for adults with such eclectic musical tastes. But this challenge is solved by the students themselves; they make all the decisions about what to play in class. They bring in books and favorite pieces which Becky plays for the class. If they all like a piece, they buy the music and learn it together. Becky explained, "We usually layer 2-3 pieces of differing styles at a time. Finger exercises with cool accompaniments and a review of theory and chord symbols are part of the lessons too, as is pop improv."

"We often recycle pieces that we learned the previous year so the students can see how much easier it is the second time around. It's very rewarding when they recognize their own progress, such as discovering that a previously impossible technique is now easy. We have also gone back to books we used many years before to refresh without having to work so hard all the time," she added.

Learning to play piano in a group environment has touched each student in a very personal way. When asked how Keyboard Encounters benefitted them and why they continue, the students' responses varied, but all were very positive:

  • "It allowed me to fulfill a childhood dream to play the piano"
  • "KEY enables me to relax with the piano after a busy day at work"
  • "It enriches my musical experience"
  • "Having no previous music training – Keyboard Encounters has enabled me to come a long way"
  • "KEY enhanced my love of music and provides an escape into something that is just for me"
  • "Brought out my artistic side"
  • "KEY encourages me to play and continue"
  • "I now appreciate more types of music"
  • "It is the enjoyment of making music in a friendly atmosphere — we have become friends"

A few students also commented that it was nice not to have a teacher breathing over your shoulder. Also, they appreciate that playing ensembles becomes a social occasion. We asked Becky what has surprised her most about this class. “Striving towards the same goal in the group class gave the students a sense of belonging, which in turn taught them how to accept and understand each other resulting in the most unexpected friendships,” she replied.

YMES commends Marilyn, Lynne, Vijay, Pat, Denise, Carol, Don and Becky for their dedication to making music together every week. We hope that other students and teachers will be inspired by the story of KEY Forever! and commit to "Making Music, Making Friends" just as this group has done together for more than 20 years!