Notes in the Life and Career of Gerrie Collins

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A Quick Way to Share Memories and Impressions of Dr. Collins

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margaretsprow
margaretsprow
6 months ago

Dr. Collins was my piano professor from 1985 -1989. I was terrified of her at first but desperately wanted to please. She motivated me to work harder than I have ever worked and taught me skills that I continue to use to this day. I still play some of the pieces I learned during my study with her. She was an incredible pianist and an exacting and excellent teacher. I am so thankful for her and all that she taught me.

Elizabeth Lowrey
Reply to  margaretsprow
6 months ago

Oh Margaret, thank you so much for sharing that. I recognize your name from the many times Gerrie fondly mentioned you and from the Christmas cards that often came to the house after she moved in with me in 2007.

Though I obviously never got to experience her as a “formal” teacher, she could not resist falling into that mode from time to time when I was growing up and she would be visiting at Christmas or over the summer while I was (reluctantly!) practicing a piece for my next lesson. Though I had excellent teachers in Pensacola, I can’t count the number of times she’d hear me struggling with some passage and come over and suggest a different fingering or practice method, often involving blocking, that would produce an immediate improvement in my ability to render the piece. She was always my aunt first, so my base was very different, but I gleaned even from that interaction how passionate she was about music and teaching and how much joy she derived from helping others polish their own talent.

When I was a teenager, I recall her commenting once that she “didn’t just hand out As” to her students. They knew they’d have to work for them.:-) I think she just automatically assumed everyone should be as dedicated to perfecting their craft as she was, which I’m sure could be both intimidating and rewarding.

If you don’t mind my asking, which pieces that you studied with her are still in your repertoire? Do you teach now yourself, and what other/additional musical outlets do you currently pursue, professionally or otherwise?

Last edited 6 months ago by Elizabeth Lowrey
Jerry
Jerry
6 months ago

I came late into Doctor Collins’ life, not as a student but as a regular visitor. She and I had similar viewpoints on life, but we were still very different.
I have no musical capability whatsoever. But as we came to know each other, we spent many hours at the dinner table relating stories. And we found common ground. She, through stories of her beloved dog, Boris. And me … well, I generally just asked her questions about her life. And it soon became clear—not from anything she said, she never mentioned any of the things about herself that made her so special to those who knew her—no, what I learned of her talents and unbelievable generosity, I learned from other of her family members.
Her possibilities in life were greatly curtailed by the enormous time she gave of herself to help others. The help she gave came in so many ways I had a hard time grasping it all. Holding it in its entirety. The panorama was simply too vast to take in all at once.
Yet for all she did for others, she was grateful for any favor I did for her. She always sent a thank you card even though I would tell her not to. Yet as her memory began to fail her toward the end, she still remembered small things I had done for her. For Gerrie Collins, doing things for others was life itself.
Now that she’s gone, I don’t get to share dinner with her or hear about Borris anymore. But in her passing by this way, she left herself behind in a thousand ways in a thousand places. So I try not to grieve at her loss, everything is eventually lost. Instead I try to rejoice at her having been here once. And that I got to know her.

Elizabeth Lowrey
Reply to  Jerry
6 months ago

Thank you for that beautiful tribute, Jerry with a “J”.:-) And I am so grateful to you for the thoughtful kindness you unfailingly returned to her.

paducahharmonyroad
paducahharmonyroad
6 months ago

I met Dr Collins when I enrolled as a Freshman at Mississippi State in 1979, but I had heard of her before that, as I am a Starkville native, and Kathleen Buckley, my piano teacher throughout my childhood and high school, had always talked about my going to MSU and studying under the best – Dr. Collins! I had also gone to church with Amy Duncan, a student of Dr. Collins’ before me and she spoke very highly of her lessons. I cringe when I think of the first time I played for her because I am sure it was a mess with a capital “M” but she never criticized my technique or lack of attention to detail – instead she took me under her wing and nurtured a passion for playing the piano that I have never lost, and along the way, she taught me how to play with a better technique and attention to detail.

Dr. Collins was and still is such an influence in my life – as I teach, I often see her coming through in the things I say, and when I perform, I imagine her standing to the side, coaching me with her animated way of conducting/singing the nuances of the phrases. I can also close my eyes and see her sitting over at her desk, with her head slightly cocked to the side and asking me just the right questions to get me to think for myself.

What a treasure she was to all her students – we felt seen and valued, and that we meant more to her than just someone to teach for a time. I aspire to be, for my students, the kind of teacher and friend that she was to me!

Elizabeth Lowrey
Reply to  paducahharmonyroad
6 months ago

Oh, Amy. Amy. You share my mother’s first name, a name that, to Gerrie, was sacred. A fitting coincidence for such a deeply moving tribute. Thank you so much for sharing it.

joemturner
joemturner
4 months ago

Just today, 29 October 2023, have I learned of this web site and of Dr. Collins’ passing, while I prepared to play the piano at church this morning. By some mysterious providential Hand, I had brought along a piece of music today that I studied with Dr. Collins, with her notations and markings still on the pages. She used this piece (the Schumann F# Romance) to teach me to respect the piano as an instrument in a way that I had never previously explored, having generally been happy enough just to hit the right keys and approximate some dynamics and phrasing. I still hear her coaching me on details, pulling my ear and my attention to hear the nuances. I especially hear her exhorting me to let the last few bars of that piece continue to sound after the last key had been struck. It was played this morning in her honor.

I was not a music major; I took piano and voice for fun and personal joy. I studied with Dr. Collins for just one year, during which we tackled Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and Liszt. During those few months she repeatedly attempted to get me to change my major to piano performance but I resisted. I did have the opportunity to play the Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsody #11) at the National Széchényi Library in Budapest in 2016, after looking over some of Liszt’s own manuscripts in the collection there. I hope I did her justice.

I could write volumes about how I struggled in her studio, never having had to work as hard on any academic subject or on any of my other musical endeavors as I did for her. Her approval was hard won and therefore greatly valued. I am heartbroken to have only learned of her passing today and to have missed her memorial service. I send condolences to all who knew and loved her.

My one and only piano professor she will always be, an unforgettable woman of the arts.

Respectfully,
Joe M. Turner

Last edited 4 months ago by joemturner
Elizabeth Lowrey
Reply to  joemturner
4 months ago

Joe, I am Dr. Collins’ niece, Elizabeth, and the administrator of this site. She lived with me from July of 2007 until her death on March 4th.

First of all, thank you so very much for that moving tribute to her. The passion and commitment to music that she herself possessed and that she mirrored back to and/or extracted from her students is a recurrent theme in thank you cards and notes written to or about her–some authored years ago as students were graduating, some written since her passing. I reviewed a number of those notes for the memorial film I wrote and produced about her, which was (only partially) shown at her October 15th memorial service and will be uploaded here in full. I will also upload at least highlights of the memorial service itself after I’ve had a chance to review and edit the footage. I hope to complete all that by Thanksgiving, so do check back here for that.

After Gerrie died, I spent the better part of two months trying to track down every former student I could find precisely because I knew how much she mattered to those fortunate enough to have studied with her (even if the normal demands of life’s “here and now” caused many to lose touch over the years). I’m beyond grateful that five students traveled significant distances to attend, and four of them played in her honor.

I’m so very sorry you were not among those I contacted. My starting point was her address book and the memorabilia albums she compiled from her teaching career, which included recital programs of her students. I tried to be very thorough while recognizing I couldn’t possibly find enough foundational information to reach every single student. It may be that (as a non-major) you never performed a recital and therefore were not represented in those career albums, or it may be that I just missed your name. In any case, I regret that you weren’t among those I contacted.

I will be checking out the Schumann F# Romance so that I have proper context for your anecdote. If I interpret your post correctly, it sounds like you brought that piece to church to play today, which prompted a curious Internet search about your former teacher, which brought you to this site? Though it seems the Universe was a few weeks “late” with this synchrony, I always trust its timing and wisdom, and I certainly treasure the memories and impressions you shared here today.

Last week, I “turned off” the landing page that had served as the intro for the site since the memorial service took place two weeks ago today. But you can still see it here. Her obituary will load after half a minute or so, in case you would like to read it.

Once again, thanks for stopping by.

joemturner
joemturner
Reply to  Elizabeth Lowrey
4 months ago

Yes, your timeline of today’s search is correct. I am so sorry I was not aware. I will make a belated contribution to the scholarship fund. I will absolutely review the obituary. Thank you for your long care and for your hard work.

joemturner
joemturner
Reply to  joemturner
4 months ago

By the way, the Schumann is Opus 28 No. 2.

joemturner
joemturner
Reply to  joemturner
4 months ago

Here’s the story of how I came to be part of Dr. Collins’ piano studio:
https://turnermagic.com/auditioning-for-dr-collins

Elizabeth Lowrey
Reply to  joemturner
3 months ago

Joe, I am beyond touched at the story you shared–the context, the details that led to your unexpected year-long study with Gerrie, your impressions of her. It’s anecdotes like these that most motivated me to create this website, a place where former students, including those who escaped the widest net of contact I could otherwise cast, might someday land, drawn by curiosity and gratitude, to do just what you have done: relate their own unique experiences with someone who had so much more impact in the world than she could ever allow herself to understand or appreciate.

In partial illustration of that, I went to the facebook link you posted above and was in tears at the glowing comments from other students whose lives she touched. Even though I was in many respects the family “trustee” of information about (and interest in) her professional life, these names were mostly unfamiliar to me, not surprising, I suppose, given the sheer number of students–including non piano majors–whom she would have taught, encountered, or otherwise influenced over the course of a 33-year teaching career (27 at MSU). So I thank you not only for sharing your story here but on your own (wonderful!) website and on facebook.

I listened to the Schumann. It’s beautiful, and I can imagine Gerrie guiding you toward a sensitive and nuanced performance of it. Should you ever record it, please consider posting a link to it here.

In the meantime, do check back later this month. After taking a couple of weeks to try to rest from sheer exhaustion, I’m starting on thank you notes this week and just received video files of the service last night that I hope to begin editing in a few days. God willing, I will have it all done and uploaded by Thanksgiving.

Blessings to you.:-)

Melanie Sparr
Melanie Sparr
Reply to  joemturner
3 months ago

This is so beautiful Joe turner! Thank you for your kind words. I am so touched that my aunt was such a positive influence in your life.

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Want to Honor Dr. Collins?

To support the Gerrie Collins Endowed Piano Scholarship, visit the Mississippi State University Foundation giving page, and use the search box to quickly locate the fund. Alternatively, you can print and fill out the pdf form, specifying the fund name on the appropriate lines, and mail it to the Foundation with a check.

Thank you so much for your help!

Elizabeth