Mary Jane’s Piano and Pizza Parties

by , under Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society, Family History

My wife, Mary Jane (MJ for short), has been diagnosed with dementia. This condition has been developing for awhile, and in fact, because of it she had to give up her piano teaching practice in the spring of 2014. Since that time, we have been slowly working on sorting piano music, written records about students, and miscellaneous other paper materials. We have been throwing out some papers and preparing other materials for donation to Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory.

Today I found a copy of an email MJ submitted to a piano teachers discussion group on Yahoo in 2004. I read it with joy because it reminded me of the MJ I knew for more than 50 years. Today, she isn’t able to operate her computer, much less organize an event like this and communicate about it with this much information. I am publishing her email text it its entirety here:

From: “mjhuskonen”<>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, December 15, 2004 9:03 AM
Subject: [piano-teachers] Re: Holiday parties & gifts from students

I have a Holiday pizza party for students only. Each student plays two of their favorites pieces. In most cases, one or both are Holiday pieces. We have a number drawing to determine the order in which they play. I select one student to play “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as a “sing along” to end the recital portion of the party. I started a new tradition last year of giving a miniature bust of a composer as my gift to each student. One student is chosen to play the mystery tune to “guess the composer.” Last year it was “Ode to Joy” (Beethoven) and this year my six year old December beginner is playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (Mozart). She knows she is playing something VERY SPECIAL but, since she wasn’t here last year, I’m not telling her why. it is special. She is very excited to find out why and is delighted that she is playing somethng special. (I hope someone guesses this one.)

I started using the composer statues since I found it difficult to find anything that could be given to anyone from ages 5 to 75 years. I previously have given a couple of sheet “new music” pieces to each student, but found wrapping little boxes with composers much less time consuming. For next year, I’m considering having each student play something from the “Nutcracker” and therefore everyone will be playing the “mystery tune.”

The first student to arrive is assigned the job of giving out pre-printed name tags. I put names on all the giffs and the person who first guesses the name of the composer passes the gifts out at random. Each student then has to match the name on the gift to a name tag. It serves as a “mixer” and then it’s off to the kitchen for pizza and punch. After eating, we fill whatever time is left with “painting” decorations on Holiday cookies which they take home to their families. Some, of course, are eaten here. I set out paint brushes and a variety of colored icings. It’s amazing how many students are also very good artists. (One of my adult students is a high school art teacher and I’11 use his talent to inspire anyone who needs help.)

Regarding gifts, I haven’t had the courage to request that they not bring me anything. Some take great pleasure in bringing, candy, cookies, ornaments, or something special they have made. I immediately open any gifts brought to a lesson, but set aside and open later, any that are brought to our Holiday parly. Thank you notes are mailed to everyone who brings a gift. My favorite gifts are Christmas tree ornaments which every year remind me of students “from the past.” No matter how many years old they are, I still fondly remember which student the ornament came from.



Look for me to publish more information like this in this blog in the future. I aim to do so because of attending a meeting of the Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society a couple months ago and hearing Dr Deborah Abbott make the case for writing down what you have done with your life for your children and other descendants.  In this case, I am acting on behalf of MJ, for the benefit of her children, grandchildren, and other descendants, and I hope to record other aspects of her life, along with some of my own experiences.


  1. Curt Witcher

    Your posting of “Mary Jane’s Piano and Pizza Parties” is so wonderful–thank you for sharing it. I would like to use it as an example of “sharing a story” for a keynote I am giving in July for the Indiana Historical Society. May I have your permission to do so? Thank you for considering it. Curt

    • whuskonen

      I apologize for the delay in responding. I didn’t even know about this approval process for Word Press until today. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to approve your request in time for your talk, but if you wish to use this posting in the future, please feel free to do so.
      Wally Huskonen

  2. Karen Trout

    What a precious memory to share with us. I thank you and Mary Jane.

  3. Mary Boehnlein

    Sorry but it made me cry to think of what is happening to such a fine mind. Just doesn’t seem fair to end this way.
    Keep on recording the good memories for her children and grandchildren.
    She gave Brianna such a gift. She now can read any music and play it beautifully. A big thank you to MJ.


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