There is a simple definition of music in Diana Helmer’s world.
“Music is love,” says Miss Diana, as her youngest students call her.
And a love of music is what Helmer most wants to instill in her students.
“One of the greatest compliments I receive is running into a student years later — when they are all grown up — and they say to me, ‘There are so many nights when I go home and just play,’ ” Helmer says.
Instilling such a life-long appreciation of music in others is Helmer’s greatest ambition. In her 35 years of giving piano lessons, she’s had the opportunity to touch a number of lives.
“I started teaching piano just before my 15th birthday. In Marshalltown there was an amazing program at the YWCA that provided piano lessons, so I started teaching my sophomore year with 30 students,” she recalls.
A Marshalltown native, Diana started taking piano lessons herself at a very young age.
“I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to take lessons, and when I was 9 our family inherited a piano. Back then, there were no electric keyboards so a piano was a big deal to get. The piano we inherited was a very old upright, very hefty,” Helmer notes.
She continued teaching piano while a student at Iowa State University, where she majored in journalism. Helmer later moved on to Wisconsin and the west coast of Washington before settling in Boone four years ago, and she has continued passing on her love of piano in all those places over all those years.
But Helmer isn’t the typical piano teacher. She wants the lessons to be fun, and she wants students to learn the patterns of music so that it becomes ingrained into their thinking and playing.
“There are a lot of wonderful patterns in music. You learn to break things down into small pieces; it really is a life skill,” she says.
While Helmer’s first love is classical music, her students choose many of their own works, playing everything from the Beatles to Kansas to Beethoven.
Lessons are given in a small studio at Kings Christian Book on southeast Marshall Street.
Helmer also enjoys working with adult students, many of whom took lessons when they were younger and got away from it over the years. Helping those students re-learn an old friend is particularly rewarding for this teacher who sees music as love.