Island Profile: Carrie Todd

“Music lasts a lifetime”
Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:30am

“Teaching the kids is my first love.”

That’s what piano teacher Carrie Todd said about giving private lessons to the island’s students. Todd, owner of the Redbird Liquor Store on Dodge Street, told The Block Island Times that she has taught piano at her house on Block Island since 1980.

“My mother played the piano, and was the church organist, so we always had music in the house,” said Todd, who has made it her life’s mission to teach what she has learned. “I want the kids to love and appreciate music, and play to the best of their ability.”

In addition to teaching, Todd is the director of the Ecumenical Choir, and has been its sole accompanist since its inception. She was the Harbor Baptist Church’s organist for 40 years and retired about four years ago, but still plays on occasion.

Todd grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the hometown of former Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. She first came to Block Island in 1970 when she took a job as a server at Ballard’s Inn, and later met her husband, which led her to settle on the island.

Todd told The Times that she has no formal school training in piano, but began playing at a young age as a hobby. She majored in economics and math and never had any aspirations of teaching piano, but now admits that she never wants to give it up. Todd noted that her mother played piano until the age of 90. 

She said teaching piano is all about that “aha moment” when one of her students grasps what they’ve been taught, leading to an epiphany. “I think for all teachers that’s probably one of the most rewarding things,” she said. Her motto is: “music lasts a lifetime.”

As part of her teaching, Todd said she holds what she calls a “theory class. It’s a group lesson for the beginners. We study eight of the major classical composers. We play rhythm games — to introduce them to a lot of different things about music” to form a basis of study.

Todd gives private lessons beginning at 3 p.m. during weekdays to Block Island School students, covering second grade through high school. This school year she is teaching a total of 37 students. Her piano is covered with framed photos of the students that she has taught over the years.

“I take their picture at the spring recital,” said Todd. “The kids who have gone all the way through their senior year, their pictures are placed on my piano. I tell them, ‘you’re with me until the day I die. Those pictures will never leave.’”

Todd stumbled into her role by happenstance in 1980 when piano teacher Maureen Whitman, the wife of former First Warden Herb Whitman, asked her to take over teaching her students. Maureen informed Todd that she could no longer teach since her family was moving to the mainland to live.

“She asked if I would take them on as students,” explained Todd. “And my response was: I don’t know anything about teaching piano. But I figured some lessons are better than no lessons, so I gave it a shot.”

Todd has never looked back, serving as the town’s beloved and respected piano teacher ever since. She admitted that when she first took over the role she had to learn by trial and error. “I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve really learned a lot,” she said.

During her very first lesson, Todd said that panic set in as she began her instruction. “I looked at the music, and thought, how do you teach somebody to look at this score, and teach them how to count; the note value, the pitches, the fingers; when they don’t know anything?”

Todd said she has learned over the years that the teacher can sometimes become the student. “The kids teach you that you don’t know as much as you think you do,” she said. “The little ones can be so straightforward.”

“I love the Christmas and spring recitals,” said Todd, who noted that the community has been supportive of her and the arts. “It’s nice to just sit back and listen to the kids play. They’re two of my favorite nights of the year.”