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Beloved Piano Teacher Turns 100 Years Old

‘A Musical Icon’

Helga Hulse, a popular local piano teacher, poses with a piano at First Lutheran Church. Hulse turns 100 years old on Tuesday. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

Helga Hulse, a local piano teacher, will soon be reaching a significant milestone — turning 100 years old — but her music and passion will keep her eternally young.

Hulse, born Sept. 21, 1921, in Honolulu, Hawaii, has been teaching piano since she was 19 years old. Her mother, Florence Booco Johnson, began giving her lessons at the age of 3. Hulse said her mother was a master pianist and a graduate of the New England Conservatory who taught many students.

At age 13, Johnson sent Hulse to learn piano in Los Angeles, and she later traveled to Philadelphia to study at the famed Curtis Institute. On the train ride to Philidelphia, Hulse’s mother sent her with a companion — a small Chihuahua named Chiquita.

“It was my gift,” she said. “My mother thought that was a great gift.”

With her driving passion and love for music, she didn’t stop there. She attended Chicago Musical College and also studied at SUNY Fredonia.

“I’d had a lot of training, and I studied with some great names in piano and music,” Hulse said. “When I started teaching, it was a very short time later when I started my first studio. That was in the slums of Los Angeles.”

While Hulse has been in the Jamestown area since 1973, she has traversed the world. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but later lived in Los Angeles, Denmark and other parts of Europe. When asked how she got to Jamestown, she laughed and said, “By aeroplane.”

Hulse has taught many major piano students across the area, but wouldn’t mention their names as she believes they’re all equally important and didn’t want to leave anyone out.

“I have wonderful students,” she said. “It’s hard for me to give names because I might omit someone then that person is hurt, but they are wonderful, magnificent students had. I have nine that became professional and they worked very hard for me. I have some now that are now headed for big-time, I’m sure.”

To this day, she continues to teach piano students, practices the piano every week, and is currently working on a book about her experiences.

“It will be done when it is ready,” she said, smiling. “I’m writing a music book that is different from everything I’ve ever seen. I have read everything that people wrote about private piano studios, and they all say the same thing. I’m going to write a whole different slant from the human point of view, and the student’s point of view and the fun that is in it.”

Hulse said she started teaching a student one day, and when he sat down at the piano, he said “Mrs. Hulse, I have something to tell you.”

“And I thought, ‘Well, he’s going to say these music lessons are not my idea,’ because I’ve heard that many times,” she said. “And I said ‘Well I’m interested — tell me what you have to say.’ He said, ‘You only have to teach me half of the music because I know the other half.’ My book is filled with those kinds of things.”

Hulse said the secret to longevity and keeping up vitality is keeping up your interest in things and using your energy.

“I watch what I eat, and I used to exercise more,” she said. “And, I am interested in lots of things. I’m not cutting this and cutting out that – I’ll take anything that comes along that’s interesting.”

Recently, Hulse said it is hard to name her favorite composer, but that she believes “Bach is the greatest of them all.”

“But the one I actually like to play is Brahms,” she said. “Brahms and I have something going on.”

Brian Bogey, minister of music at First Lutheran Church where Hulse often practices, said Hulse is known as the “First Lady of the Piano” in this area.

“Everyone in the area knows Helga, she’s a musical icon,” Bogey said. “We all love her.

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