[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                  February 11, 2011

Community Activity Center offers piano lessons for members of McCoy community

Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

When Soldiers step into the piano room at the Fort McCoy Community Activity Center (CAC), they step into a different world.

Michelle Jones, a chief operator at the installation’s telecommunications center who teaches piano and drum-set lessons at the CAC, said Soldiers need an outlet, a stress reliever, and the piano is one way to achieve that.

PHOTO: A student plays a musical selection on the keyboard in the piano room at Fort McCoy’s Community Activity Center. Photo by Tom Michele
A student plays a musical selection on the keyboard in the piano room at Fort McCoy’s Community Activity Center for piano instructor Michelle Jones. Jones has taught piano lessons at Fort McCoy for five years.

Jones, who has been at the telecommunications center 22 years and teaching piano at the CAC five years, tells her “favorite story” to illustrate the positive impact of music.

“A mobilized Soldier stationed at Fort McCoy came into the CAC and said he needed an outlet,” Jones said. “He said all he could hear was ‘war’ ... ‘war’ ... ‘war.’ He had come to the activity center to play pool, and he saw a sign noting the availability of piano lessons. He came to see me, though he had never touched a piano before. He began taking piano lessons in January.”

His goal was to be able to play traditional Christmas music for his family when he went on leave in December.

“He wanted the whole thing to be a secret,” Jones said. “When he went home that Christmas, he floored everyone.”

“There was nothing like it when he was playing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ in July,” Jones said. “That’s my best story.”

Jones conducts half-hour lessons in the CAC’s piano room by appointment Monday-Friday following her normal work shift at the phone center. She has occasional Saturday and Sunday sessions. “I have students from age 4 to 80, many Soldiers, but also children of Soldiers and retirees. Interested people contact the activity center and they call me and we work out whatever sessions they want.”

Jones said she has sheet music for any type of music a student wants to learn to play — jazz, classical, country, show tunes and rhythm and blues.

Soldiers may use the piano room, as well as any of the center’s music, computer, library, and activity areas, during the center’s operating times from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Information is available by contacting the CAC, building 2000, at 608-388-3213.

One of Jones’ students is 11-year-old Alan Ella, son of Maj. Nancy McCoy, officer-in-charge of the legal section at the Soldier Readiness Center, and stepson of Toby McCoy, the Labor and Management Employment Relations Division chief at the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center.

Ella is a sixth-grader at the Tomah Middle School and plays the drums in the school’s jazz band. Jones provided some of his drum lessons at the activity center. Ella is preparing to compete in an area solo and ensemble music contest in Sparta Feb. 26. Ella’s recent lesson at the activity center included a selection from Beethoven followed by ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ which he performed from memory.

Ella started piano lessons with Jones in kindergarten and has been taking lessons ever since, according to his mother. His experience with piano, starting at such a young age, has led to his leadership in the percussion section at the Tomah Middle School. Just a couple of weeks ago he joined the Jazz Club as the drummer. He plays in his first piano contest at class-level B in March.

“Because he is so young, he can only do the piano contest for critique, but next year will be able to compete,” Maj. McCoy said. “As a piano player myself, one of my greatest joys in the evening is to cook dinner while listening to him practice his pieces.”

Jones said, “Music is wonderful for people because of what it does for their spirit. It makes them feel good. Music is magical. It is a glimmer of light in their lives.”

Jones also plays piano for Catholic Mass at the Fort McCoy Catholic chapel each Sunday, and substitute teaches in choir and band at the Sparta, Tomah, West Salem middle and high schools.

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