Suter still in tune after 85 years of playing piano
For a local piano teacher, piano lessons became more about the children than their music.
From the time she was three years old, Mildred Suter's future had a direction - she was to be the "musician in the family."
The prediction of her grandmother would not only come true during her lifetime but would still be true 85 years later.
At 88, Mrs. Suter has not kept up with the number of students she has taught but is now teaching a second generation the love of piano music.
In the 1930s, her father moved the family from the Gilbert area to Tennessee for work and he purchased her a piano. The piano cost $500.
By the time she was in third grade, Mrs. Suter's teacher had her playing hymns in church.
When she was in eighth grade, Mrs. Suter's family moved back to the Gilbert area and she would continue her piano lessons throughout high school and into college.
Piano "really makes you think. It helps you in other studies as well," she said.
When Mrs. Suter was a 16-year-old freshman at Winthrop, her great-aunt, who was a teacher, sent her extra money so she could continue her piano lessons. It was at the urging of her great-aunt that Mrs. Suter changed her major to piano.
While there, Mrs. Suter met her future husband, Guy.
She finished college in three years even though World War II was raging. She graduated in 1944 and began teaching in Swansea that fall.
She and Guy courted through love letters back and forth as Guy traveled in his military service. After two years they were married and moved to West Virginia.
Mildred started teaching in their new home and started playing at St. Lukes Episcopal Church.
Mrs. Suter's teaching career continued as she and Guy moved back to South Carolina near the Batesburg area until moving to Barnwell in 1956.
That fall, she began teaching in Barnwell schools until her retirement in 1991 after more than 35 years. Mrs. Suter began playing for the Barnwell Presbyterian Church in 1976 and selects all the choir music for the church.
While teaching piano and music in school, Mrs. Suter also taught children at her home.
Her classes consisted of private lessons and group classes with up to 30 students.
And that tradition is continuing as Mrs. Suter still has piano students.
"If I don't take a beginner, I won't have a class before long," Suter said as she is still accepting students.
Mrs. Suter said piano is "90 percent work and 10 percent talent" as she insists students spend time away from class practicing.
Once a student "graduates" from Mrs. Suter's classes and moves on, that is not the end of their relationship as Mrs. Suter follows each and every career of her former students.
From a student who graduated from high school in 1972 to a student who graduated last year, Mrs. Suter can name each student, where they attend college or where they are working in the field of music.
Elisa Moskovitz is one such student. Moskovitz, known in Barnwell at the time as Misa McMillan, is a coordinator of music at Tri-District Arts Consortium, an organist/choirmaster at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, a professor at the University of South Carolina and a professional performing pianist.
"I used to ride my bike over to her house on Allen Street for my lessons," Moskovitz said. "I had a private lesson once a week and we had group lessons once a month. She was tough, expecting her students to live up to her standards and to practice. I think she took me under her wing as sort of special, because she lent me some of her precious recordings to listen to. These included Horowitz and Rubinstein. I would hole up in my room and listen to them over and over. I would say this was a turning point for me, because I wanted to play like that and play those difficult works on the recordings."
Moskovitz said as an eighth grader, Mrs. Suter trained her on the organ as well.
"She trained me to substitute for her, and before I knew it, I was substituting for the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and even the Baptists in Blackville, and the Methodists in Williston," Moskovitz said.
"Thank you, Mrs. Suter, for being one of the most influential people in my life. I got a doctorate in piano performance and pedagogy, and have had the opportunities I dreamed about as a child listening to all of those recordings. I have held many positions as organist/choirmaster, thanks to your introductions. If it had not been for Mrs. Suter, I might never have realized my talents," Moskovitz said.
Mrs. Suter said she is thankful for her family, especially her aunt for the opportunity in getting her education.
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