For someone who has dedicated her life to teaching piano, mentoring other teachers, and working tirelessly to establish achievement standards for piano students across the state, being recognized as Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Music Teachers Association (ISMTA) for 2021 should be no surprise.
Hannah Voigt has done all this and more.
Voigt works with students starting at age 6 at her Hannah Voigt Piano Studio, located in her Oak Park home. While she will work with adults, most students are school age and only move on when they go off to college. She has taught as many as 40 students per week at times, but things slowed to 15 during the pandemic when lessons were held virtually. Voigt began teaching when she was a grad student in the 1960s. She continues to welcome new students.
Kristine Konrad, teacher and owner of Konrad Piano Studios of River Forest said that with a focus on more than just playing notes on a page, Voigt is a “phenomenal teacher.”
“If you go to one of her students’ recitals, every student, from very young and up, they are very musical, artistic and expressive, and I think that is because they understand the music,” Konrad said. “They are not just using their ear. They understand the harmonies; they understand the phrasing; and they understand why a composer may have written a piece a certain way because Hannah has all that knowledge and has a way of conveying it that will produce these incredibly musical sounds in her students. Even a very average student will sound incredibly expressive and artistic if they are one of Hannah’s students.”
Konrad also has been influenced by Voigt. As a single mother starting her own piano studio in 1999, Konrad said Voigt took her under her wing and mentored her.
“I went to Hannah for all things piano-related,” she said. Voigt sent students to her and gave her guidance from the beginning. She also encouraged Konrad — when she had “three little boys, at least one in diapers” — to attend Chicago Area Music Teacher Association meetings, the local chapter of ISMTA, and “it paid off,” she said. “My studio has grown tremendously and I attribute much of that to Hannah.”
Konrad also credits Voigt for encouraging her while she was working on her master’s in piano pedagogy at Concordia University. “She said, ‘Choose a topic where you can make a difference.’”
According to Konrad’s website, she followed Voigt’s advice and “spent over two years researching students with dyslexia.” Konrad’s master’s thesis, Teaching Piano to Students with Dyslexia, “argues that when intervention based on a multi-sensory approach is used, students with dyslexia can learn to play the piano by reading music. … “These intervention techniques are effective for teaching piano to students of all reading abilities,” she concluded.
Voigt has had a similar influence on roughly 10 other teachers in the area.
She also has been closely involved with ISMTA’s Achievement in Music (AIM) program, which is “a graded curriculum of aural, written and keyboard skills, with annual evaluations and rewards … available to the students of teachers who are members of ISMTA,” according to Voigt. She has revised and promoted AIM so students “might achieve a full set of musical skills in addition to their ability to perform at the piano.”
The program is important because there is “no brick-and-mortar building where a student can go and learn this program,” she said. Instead AIM provides what she calls, a “floating school.”
“If you go to me for lessons, I will teach you about music and you will be sure to get the same instruction you would get from another teacher in an entirely different place teaching the same program,” she said. “So there is a standard the student must achieve every year, a certain set of skills.
“The administration of the annual examinations requires countless hours of scheduling and mounds of paperwork,” Voigt noted. It is coordinated by her, Konrad and the ISMTA AIM chair.
Voigt’s dedication is such, that even while being treated for breast cancer, of which she is a survivor, she continued to work on her duties from her hospital bed.
“I can remember the yellow pad I was writing on — students’ names and their teachers and the names of their pieces,” Voigt said, recalling that time in 1989. “The reason I did it was that if I didn’t, nobody would, and it had to be done.”
She continues to work on AIM because “it is so valuable” and she wants “to give her students this wonderful gift.” Last week, one of her former students told her he is convinced it put him on a higher level than the other incoming freshman at Manhattan School of Music, a competitive music conservatory in New York. Hearing this, she said, made her feel like dancing.
Voigt is also an accomplished keyboardist. She has been the church organist and pianist at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, 744 Fair Oaks Ave. in Oak Park, for almost 50 years.
She is a highly skilled and recognized accompanist, too, according to Konrad. But perhaps the most important pairing was when Voigt began accompanying tenor Burt Andersen at Unity Temple. After being widowed, Voigt found love again with Andersen and they decided to accompany each other down the aisle six years ago. They continue to make beautiful music together.