Auburn woman, 100, still teaching piano

Jane Lyman has been playing for 92 years
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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The sound of piano music can frequently be heard coming from Jane Lyman’s room, interspersed with the sound of her softly coaching a student through a difficult piece or giving pointers on style.

“When you walk by, if somebody requests something and you go to their apartment, or to help somebody, you hear the piano going and it’s just beautiful,” said Colleen Albright, life enrichment coordinator at Emeritus at Emerald Hills. “You just have to stop and listen, and you kind of lose yourself for just a minute.”

Lyman, who turns 100 years old today, has been playing piano since she was 8 years old. Although she suffers from macular degeneration and is losing her eyesight, and her fingers can no longer tinkle the ivories, she continues to teach adults how to play.

For students like Alliene Thym, of Auburn, who has played piano since she was a young girl, Lyman assists with sound, expression and style.

“She’s not too critical,” Thym said. “She doesn’t scold me for my mistakes.”

Cammy Fuller’s children started taking piano lessons from Lyman in 1974. 

“Jane gave musical background and the love of music to many, many young people,” said Fuller, now a student  herself.


“The story of my life”

Lyman was born May 20, 1912, in Portland, Ore. She grew up there and attended the University of Oregon, studying for a career in the medical field. She worked four hours a day in Health Services at the university. She was a Delta Gamma, a big deal in those days, she smiled.

Lyman became an X-ray technician, a job she had for six years. While delivering films to another clinic, she met her future husband, Rollo, the head of the X-ray department.

After an X-ray technicians party, Rollo drove Lyman home, and the young woman worried that because Rollo was 13 years older than her, he might not want to see her again. So she devised a plan.

“I called him the next day and asked him if he had found my compact in his car,” she remembered. “Now, I didn’t say I’d lost it ... he went out on his lunch hour, took the seat out of the car, no compact. He called me back, no compact, but they were having a dance at the hotel where he lived and would I like to go? So, it was successful.”

The couple married and had three children: Joan Martin, of Reno, Nev.; Greg Lyman, of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Jeff Lyman, of Spokane, Wash. Lyman has eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The family is Auburn this weekend to celebrate Lyman’s birthday.

The Lymans moved to Auburn in 1948. Because Rollo suffered from heart attacks, work was often spotty. So Lyman got a provisional teaching credential and became the music teacher in Meadow Vista.

After a year of that, Lyman was asked to take over teaching first grade, which she did for 19 years. She also gave piano lessons after school.

Rollo died in 1992, at the age of 93, Lyman said, and she gave up playing piano then. 

Fuller said she asked Lyman, “‘Jane, how do you keep your attitude up?’ and she said, ‘Well, whenever I feel like I have a negative thought, I just turn on classical music and it goes away.’”


Keeping the music alive

In addition to teaching, Lyman played organ for 44 years at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Auburn, and at countless weddings and events.

While she keeps the number of students small, Lyman makes sure they have a goal to work toward, including regular recitals at Emerald Hills.

“We set them up in the dining room, and each student gets up and plays a piece,” Albright said. “And they, to me, to my nonprofessional ear, sound amazing. They sound totally professional.”

So what keeps this lover of all genres of music, this teacher of technique and style, continuing to educate as she enters her 100th year of life?

“I love the friendship, and the involvement, and to see progress that people make,” Lyman said. “And to know that I’m keeping people playing.”