Throughout her life, Ashland piano teacher Kim Levy has turned to music for emotional healing and sheer joy.

Throughout her life, Ashland piano teacher Kim Levy has turned to music for emotional healing and sheer joy. But she's also resisted traditional lessons and approaches to piano, something she keeps in mind when helping children and adults nurture their own love of music and their creativity.

"I love my students and I love all their ways of learning," she says. "If teachers truly look at kids, they can see that each kid is trying really hard in his or her own way. That's what keeps it fun for me, seeing their variety of styles and being creative with music."

Tina Margulies, whose 6-year-old son takes lessons from Levy, appreciates her individual approach. "Kim is a superior piano teacher," Margulies says. "She blends all the structured techniques of chords, fingering and reading sheet music with playing by sound, keeping rhythm and having a blast. Kim is a great communicator, full of life and just gorgeous inside and out."

Levy, a graduate of Southern Oregon University, spoke with the Daily Tidings about her passion for music and the importance of trusting a child's musical instincts.

DT: How long have you lived in Ashland?

KL: I grew up here. I went to the University of Fairbanks in Alaska for a while, but moved back to Ashland when I was 21. I love it here. My family is here, SOU, so many people and places I love.

DT: How did you come to play the piano?

KL: I started goofing around on the piano when I was a baby. No one in my family really played much. When I was 5 years old, my father passed away. I think when I would play the piano I felt a kind of special connection with him for some reason. He didn't play piano, but for me music is very emotional and I could connect better with my emotions about his dying.

DT: Did you take lessons?

KL: I took piano lessons off and on when I was little, but I didn't like them and I ended up quitting. For me, the lessons became a really negative thing. I would go to my lesson and I hadn't practiced enough or whatever, and I intuitively didn't want to be there. My mom actually listened to me. I told her either I quit the lessons or I never play the piano again. I think a lot of parents would have insisted on the lessons, but she said OK and took me out. After that I just learned a lot on my own. By the time I went to college I knew I needed more tools so I could be a better player, and I was open to learning more.

DT: Was it a difficult transition?

KL: College in Alaska was a hard road for me. I was so behind musically and so intimidated by the other musicians, but I worked really hard. The hard work continued at SOU, where I studied with pianist and teacher Alexander Tutunov. There have been challenges, but also many rewards.

DT: Who are some of your musical influences?

KL: Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer. I love his music. This may be embarrassing, but Yanni. I like him because he doesn't read music, but he puts together entire performances. This is a hard question. It's not so much a specific person, it's a feeling I listen for. I like anything that touches on an emotion for me. I enjoy classical music, but I also like heavy metal, rap, even some country.

DT: What are the ages of your students?

KL: I have students from ages 4 to 75, but most are kids.

DT: Do you have any advice for an older adult who wants to learn piano?

KL: I'd say have a lot of compassion for yourself. Everyone has challenges with music. Just set attainable goals, take small steps and be patient. It's worth it.

DT: What can parents do to help kids who are interested in piano?

KL: It's really important to help kids develop a healthy relationship with music. Don't be critical, always encourage them. Structure is good, but a healthy structure. Make piano lessons fun, maybe play with them or reward them with a favorite snack or something. Most of all, I'd tell parents to really listen to their kids. Kids have really strong instincts and if they don't like something, it's probably for a good reason.

DT: What do you like to do in your free time?

KL: I love animals. I raised four chickens in my kitchen, though now they are outside. Lately, I've been getting into whitewater kayaking and traveling.

DT: Who in your life inspires you?

KL: This isn't about music, but my fitness coach, John Hacker. He just pushes me to work hard. John is one of those people who is always telling you to be yourself, that not enough people are true to themselves. He's great. My partner, Tony Starkey, he is supportive and amazing, and my mom. My mom is an inspiration because she has had a lot of fears, and step-by-step she is working through them. Now, she is following her dreams and moving to Costa Rica. She's breaking out of her box and living her life fully.

DT: What are your plans for the future?

KL: In the near future, I'm going to Costa Rica this summer and when I come back I want to focus on teaching piano. I have students of all ages, but I want to focus on kids who are interested in piano, but who are little more out of the box. The kids who are like I was. It's important to me that students feel empowered to do the kind of music they want to do at the pace they want to do it.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.