Retired Mitchell Elementary School teacher Judith Gentile had wanted to learn to play the piano since she was a little girl. At the age of 67, she decided she’d finally take the plunge.

Retired Mitchell Elementary School teacher Judith Gentile had wanted to learn to play the piano since she was a little girl.

At the age of 67, she decided she’d finally take the plunge.

“It’s been on my bucket list,” Gentile said during her first class at the Summer Piano Institute at Bridgewater State College.

“It’s wonderful,” said Gentile, a resident of Bridgewater.

Retired BSC Professor Henry Santos, an accomplished pianist and composer, has been the instructor of the program since its inception about a decade ago.

Santos said piano lovers of all ages and ability levels are welcome to enroll in the intense three-week course in piano instruction. In addition to adults like Gentile, the class includes many children, some as young as seven or eight years old.

“I’ll take everyone as long as they will work. We give them lessons at their individual levels,” said Santos, who has been a member of the college’s faculty since 1971 and is a resident of Middleboro.

The students sit at a couple of dozen electronic keyboards in a music classroom in the basement of the Rondileau Campus Center. They spend their time on music theory, piano instruction and practice and listening to classical recordings.

Listening is an important part of learning, Santos said.

“Listening to the finished product from people who are artists who’ve devoted their whole lives to playing music gives you some sense of the tremendous message that music carries,” he said.

But the students don’t start out looking for the deep meaning in the music.

Santos said it is essential to get the technical side right before worrying about style and personality.

He demonstrated the difference between playing the same piece of music as a performance, with gusto and power, and as a practice piece, more mechanically, with less emotion.

“The difference between practicing and playing is playing slowly, listening to the sounds that you’re producing. Are they the right sounds? Are they the right fingers? Are you counting? Are you phrasing according to how the composer wrote the music?” said Santos, who is 82 and has been playing the piano since he was 7.

He said he doesn’t have a favorite piece of music.

“Each one that is really beautiful is a world unto itself,” he said.

Santos, who has studied and performed classical piano in the United States and Europe, has performed in Jordan Hall at Harvard University with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in the Salle Gaveau in Paris, in New York, Philadelphia and Switzerland.

But Santos doesn’t expect all of his students to go on to play professionally. Music is a rich part of life both as a vocation and an avocation, he said.

Annabelle Lamour, 8, who has been playing piano since she was 5, said she would like to be a pediatrician when she grows up but plans to continue playing the piano as a hobby.

She said she enjoys the sound of the songs coming from the piano as she plays.

It’s especially fun to play a challenging piece, like a stretch in her favorite song “Jumping Tetrachords,” she said.

Gaethan Lucien, 11, of Stoughton has been playing the piano for five or six years.

He said practicing is hard, but the payoff is nice.

“When you finally get a piece right, it feels really good,” he said.

Diane Anderson of Bridgewater inherited her grandmother’s piano. It’s been sitting in her basement for years. Occasionally, she taps on a single key, but that’s about it.

Anderson, who was in a serious car accident a few years ago, had to have several surgeries on her right hand and arm and still has some stiffness and range-of-motion problems with her fingers.

She remembers sitting with her grandfather when she was a little girl listening to her grandmother play. She can’t recall any of the songs, just the overall impression of how lovely the music was filling the house.

Since then, her grandfather has lost his wife and their three sons, including Anderson’s father, at a young age. Now 87, her grandfather still drives and lives on his own.

Anderson, 46, signed up for the Summer Piano Institute thinking piano playing would be good therapy for her hand and that it would be a nice challenge to try to learn something new.

But she had something else in mind, too.   “I would love to have my grandfather hear me play,” she said.

Bridgewater Independent