|Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems &
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.
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
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.