Leaving Niles on a high notePublished 4:44pm Monday, March 11, 2013
Judy Earnst can’t remember a time when the piano wasn’t part of her life.
As a young child, she would sit on her aunt’s lap, while her aunt played the keys on their home piano.
She began taking lessons at 5 years old and began playing at Buchanan Christian Church at age 9.
“Piano just seemed to be the thing for me — I was drawn to it and had a talent for it,” said Earnst, a Buchanan native. “As you are playing, you can almost make the piano sing by the way that you are touching the keys.”
For the past 18 years, Earnst has been the piano accompanist for Niles Community Schools, playing during school musicals and accompanying the choir and band whenever needed.
There won’t be a 19th year as Earnst recently announced she’d be retiring at the end of the year to pursue other interests.
“I’d like to do some solo work and spend some more time with my grandkids,” she said.
Matt Hunckler, Niles choral director, has been working with Earnst the past 18 years. He said the program is going to miss her.
“She’s become part of the family — she’s like a sister,” he said. “I hope we can find somebody as dedicated and as talented as she’s been these past 18 years.”
Earnst turned her passion for piano into a lifelong career, going so far as earning her master’s degree in sacred music from Cincinnati Christian University.
In addition to teaching piano lessons throughout her life, Earnst worked as the piano accompanist at Buchanan Community Schools for more than 10 years before becoming the accompanist at Niles in 1995.
Earnst said she is going to miss interacting with the students and staff at Niles.
“I’ve built so many good relationships over the years,” she said. “I can’t go to a restaurant or the movies without hearing, ‘hey, Mrs. Hearst!’ It always happens to be some of my kids.”
Earnst said Niles students and staff treated her like family when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She played piano during the school’s performance of Fiddler on the Roof in 2009, despite having surgery two weeks before the night of the show. She said she found strength in the support she received.
“Their concern — it really felt inspired to keep working harder,” she said. “They were a real inspiration for me at that time. Being with the kids during that time really helped.”
Although Earnst is retiring from as Niles’ piano accompanist, she isn’t retiring from the piano.
She will still give private lessons and serve as the director of worship arts at Buchanan Christian Church.
“Playing the piano is something you can carry with you for the rest of your life and keep doing,” she said. “Music will always be part of me.”