In Front of My Lens: Master Pianist

What do you get when you  combine a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do with a Masters Degree in Pedagogy? Master Heidi.  Heidi Williams began her career as an award winning teacher to all ages more than 20 years ago.  She is sought out to judge music competitions all over the country and has traveled internationally for her other passion... Tae Kwon Do.  Heidi achieved her Master level 4th degree black belt this past Spring and has developed an educational lecture series comparing and contrasting the discipline between martial arts and music.  She introduced this new series to her local education board and is planning on taking it to the Annual National Piano Conference this season.

Where are you from originally?  I was born in Ohio right outside of Dayton, but my parents moved to Virginia when I was two.  My dad was in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and when I was 4, we moved into the house where my parents still live today.  As soon as I moved out for college, my Mom turned my room into her clothes closet.

How did you become interested in martial arts?  
After I graduated from college, I had this crazy idea that I would start martial arts to keep my fitness up, but I was extremely worried about injuring my hands (I'm a professional pianist), so I never followed through with it.  After I moved to Cleveland and got my Masters Degree, I used to drive by this Tae Kwon Do school on my way to teaching and think "That looks really fun.  I wish that I could do something like that."  Several years later, one of my piano teacher friends called me and told me that one of her students' parents was taking Tae Kwon Do and had invited her to come to a class.  My friend had a blast and signed up for lessons.  She was much calmer, more focused, and she got into great shape.  For an entire year, she begged me to sign up - she said that the Master at the school was very understanding of her need to protect her hands and wouldn't let her do anything that might hurt them.  My schedule didn't allow me to take lessons at that time, but I listened to my friend rave about how much she loved the class, and I saw her personal and physical transformation.  Then, in the summer of 2006, I was visiting my parents in Virginia when my best friend called and invited me to a family class at the Hapkido school where she and her daughter were taking lessons.  I went because I wanted to spend time with my friend and her daughter, but I ended up enjoying it so much that I couldn't stop talking about it after the class ended.  I showed my parents everything that I had learned in that class, and when I returned to Ohio, I called up my piano teacher friend and told her I was ready to sign up for classes.  I started going to Tae Kwon Do classes 2 times a week, and by the next summer, I had upped my attendance to 4 times a week.  My schedule has gotten more demanding, so I now go three times a week.  I'll celebrate 10 years of Tae Kwon Do study this September!  What's really funny is that the school I attend is the same school that I used to drive by all those years ago. 

How did you become interested in piano/music?  I can't remember a time when I didn't play piano.  When I was three years old, I had a little green toy piano - it was a miniature replica of a baby grand and had about 8 notes on it.  I used to sit and pick out nursery tunes on that piano.  My brothers and I also used that piano as a stool, and we broke the legs so often that they ultimately couldn't be repaired any more.  I still remember the agony of seeing my dad throwing that piano into the fire when it became broken beyond repair.  What I didn't know was that we were getting a console piano from my Great Aunt.  We drove to Ohio to pick it up and toted it in a U-Haul trailer all the way back to Virginia.  When I was 6 years old, my Mom signed me up for piano lessons with a wonderful and extremely patient teacher in our area.  When I was in 4th grade and it looked like I was going to stay with piano lessons for a while, my parents bought a beautiful Kawai baby grand piano - I have that piano in my house in Cleveland now.  I played the piano all the time in high school, but it wasn't the music that I was supposed to be practicing.  I would sit with the tape player on the piano bench and listen over and over again to 4 measures of a pop song on the tape until I could play it; then I'd move on to the next four measures, until I learned the entire song.  I also accompanied the show choir in high school and my church choir.  I wasn't expecting to go into music as a career and wasn't even entertaining the idea of going to college for music, but that's exactly what happened.  I fell into a career that I absolutely love, and I still take lessons to this day to improve my skills and continue my learning. 

When/how did you decide to take the plunge into owning your own business?  When I was in graduate school, I was hired as a music director for a summer performing arts camp.  I led music classes every day and accompanied the show that the campers put on at the end of the camp.  One of the camper's parents came up to me at the end of camp and asked it I taught piano lessons because she'd like her daughters to start learning piano.  I told her that I had taught in both North Carolina and Virginia when I lived in each of these places, but I'd have to come to her house if she wanted lessons; I lived in the dorm and practiced at the conservatory and we weren't allowed to use the practice rooms to teach private students.  She was thrilled to have a teacher come to her house, and by the end of the week, two of her neighbors had already called me wanting lessons at their homes for their children.  By the time I taught my first lessons to the girls I had in camp, I had 8 students scheduled.  Within 6 months, I had 15 students and a waiting list.  When I graduated from the conservatory in Cleveland, I thought to myself "I've already got a business up and running!  Why not stay here and build it?"  I've been teaching full-time ever since.  I couldn't ask for a better career.

What is most important to you?  Time.  It is precious and can't be saved up - once it's gone, it's gone.  Spending time with the people I love - my family and friends - is one of my favorite ways to spend time.  One of the perks of owning my own business is that I can arrange my schedule to take time off to see family and friends (I love being independent and creating my own work schedule).  I also think it is very important to continue life-long learning, refining one's skills and developing new skills.  I was in my 30's when I started taking Tae Kwon Do lessons, and I was not athletically gifted in the least.  I used to dread gym class in middle school and high school - now I run 5Ks and go to Tae Kwon Do competitions.  I also think that it is extremely important to take care of one's body - it is the finest gift that our Creator has given to us.  I started taking yoga classes a year ago to help improve my mental and physical awareness at the piano and in Tae Kwon Do and it has helped immensely.

Who inspires you?   I am always inspired by the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.  These compositions transcend mere mortal talent and give us glimpses into the Divine.  I can't listen to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony without experiencing such joy that it makes me want to weep.  Mozart's piano concerti show us the beauty of refinement and elegance while breaking our hearts with their harmonic simplicity.  Bach's fugues are evidence that there is a God - no human could come up with such masterful complexity on his/her own. 

Info about your lecture series:
I have been developing a lecture on the influence my Tae Kwon Do study has had on my piano playing and teaching.  Tae Kwon Do and piano are both performing arts and must be practiced often for improvement and increased understanding.  I realized that I was receiving the same corrections in Tae Kwon Do ("relax your shoulders," "don't hold your breath," "let the movements flow") that I was getting in my piano lessons.  By focusing on these corrections in one discipline, I improved in both.  These disciplines both rely on an understanding of body mechanics and physics to reach one's highest potential.  They both also rely on discipline, inner calm, and a structured approach to learning.  Even learning how to break boards properly has a direct correlation to playing with dynamic range on the piano.  I gave this lecture at a piano conference last fall, and I am continuing to develop it further for upcoming projects. 

Visit again soon for another "In Front of My Lens" addition featuring local businesses and artists!  If you would like to be featured in a future publication, contact me soon!