Doreen Woolley: Pianist Extraordinaire!

By Mary Anne Andersen

Cedar City Arts Council

In the first place, let me say in all modesty that I play the piano. Quite well, actually.  Well enough that I can make my living doing it and teaching others.  I tell you this because that gives credibility to my choosing the subject of this column.  I know whereof I speak.

I want to tell you about Doreen Woolley.   You may think that you don’t know who that is but you do.  She is the remarkable lady who sits at the piano in the lobby of the Randall Theatre and plays for the pre-show audience.  I know it is she the second I walk through the door, even before I spot her beautiful white hair.  No one else sounds like Doreen.  If I were to play, I wouldn’t sound like Doreen.

As you have noticed, Doreen plays without music. She has a playlist three pages long of songs that she knows; she chooses one off the list and the music goes from her head and out of her hands.  She just plays it, with beautiful chords, in different keys, and she admits that what happens is often a surprise.  When I suggested that her skills were some beautiful gift, she quietly agreed.

Doreen did take lessons for about four years when she was eight years old. And she can read music, which is often a flaw in the skill set of those who “play by ear.”  So she can accompany.  But her forte is improvisation, or rather the harmonization of pieces she is already familiar with.  She can also read from “fake books,”  those large books that contain melody lines, words, and chord symbols. (So can I.  It just takes me about one minute per chord, that’s all.)

When she was taking lessons, she would read from a book in her lap while her hands approximated her lesson material closely enough to satisfy her mother listening from the other room. (Read that again!  We think we know something about multi-tasking…)

She thinks some of her facility may have come from an early job as accompanist for the Virginia Tanner Dance Company in Salt Lake City, where she was told to play whatever the dancers’ movements seemed to require.

All of this music making is not even Doreen’s career. Her advanced degrees are in the area of the gifted student.  She counsels families on the best ways to meet the educational and social needs of the special student.  Her own children prompted her investigation of how to manage the exceptional child.  Four of those children play the piano or some other instrument.

I asked Doreen how long she expected to keep playing. After all, I pointed out, she is in her eighties.  Well in.  Her answer was, “Why would I quit playing?“ She loves to do it, is good at it, and has a small fan base—all of which make for a most satisfying life.

Sign me up as one of those in her fan base.



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