Piano teacher Elizabeth Evans Richter would not be the person nor musician she is today without her late grandmother Evelyn, who set up Richter’s first piano lesson with a kind-hearted neighborhood teacher when Richter was 9 years old. Many years later, it was Evelyn who bought her granddaughter her first piano. Richter has played the piano for 34 years, and for the last 24 of them, has taught piano from the heart.
By the time she was 2 or 3 years old, she could play music by ear on her mother’s out-of-tune Lester piano. Coming from a long lineage of self-taught musicians, Richter is the first in her family to study music at the college level; she earned her bachelor’s degree in piano performance from the University of Minnesota.
“I want everyone to learn properly,” Richter says. She sets a high bar for her students, and they clear it. She has had students who have won state contests every year since 1993. They come to Richter at all ages, although she typically starts with kids very early on (as young as 4 years old), and continues with them through high school.
“I love performing,” Mounds View High School senior Thomas Wong says. Wong has been taking lessons from Richter since he was in kindergarten. Whether it is performing on stage in front of 12,000 people at the Minnesota State Fair (Wong won the Minnesota State Talent Contest Finals at 12 years old), or performing at his grandparents’ house, he loves to play for people because it’s a chance to showcase the product of countless hours of practice.
Teaching is all about balance. Although Richter is a strict teacher, she also tries to make the learning fun. She hosts a variety of recitals throughout the year, such as a Halloween recital, a holiday recital and a summer recital where students play fun music. Richter also groups some of her older students in a quartet, which builds camaraderie among the players and sets an example for younger students.
“I think [Richter] has a different teaching style from a lot of other teachers in the way that she pushes everyone a little bit more,” says Mounds View High School sophomore Misha Jones, who has been taking piano lessons for the last 9 years but started with Richter 6 years ago. She plays in Richter’s quartet and loves the team dynamic.
“Piano is lifelong, and people have lost sight of that,” Richter says. Even though there are many benefits to studying piano—it develops discipline, confidence, perseverance, etc.—she has noticed a decline over the years in students signing up and sticking with lessons. At one point, Richter had as many as 45 students at once. Today, it ranges from 25 to 30. Knowing that middle school is a common age for students to quit, Richter desperately tries to avoid this tendency, encouraging her students to enjoy piano for the rest of their lives.
Teaching a child for several years offers real opportunity for getting to know the person. Five years ago, Richter ran into a former student at her son’s teacher conferences; the two reconnected over dinner and have been friends ever since. Her former student of 10 years is now a teacher for White Bear Lake Schools. This year, Richter and her son did all the music for that student’s wedding, which proves just how rewarding her job can be.
Richter’s students will be performing at their annual holiday recital, which will be held December 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chautauqua Theatre in Mahtomedi High School.