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Eight hands, 176 keys, one beautiful sound

December 25, 2012 12:10 am


'Ladyfingers' (from left) Miriam Parsons, Ann Doumas, Edie Dyal and Rhoda Eagan run through a dress rehearsal earlier this month at Doumas' home in Fredericksburg before giving their annual performance for the Mary Washington ElderStudy group. lo122512piano2.jpg

Edie Dyal (left) and Rhoda Eagan--and fellow 'Ladyfingers' Miriam Parsons and Ann Doumas--are lifelong piano players who enjoy the mental and physical exercise. lo122512piano4.jpg

Eagan and Dyal navigate the keyboard, in a blur, during a duet.


After four women started performing together on two pianos--at the same time--one onlooker described their concerts as "so Jane Austen."

The quartet laughed, but the comparison to the English author's stories wasn't far from the truth.

Edie Dyal, Rhoda Eagan, Miriam Parsons and Ann Doumas work all year, perfecting the concertos and waltzes they present in December. They practice to master Mozart and Bach as well as everything from American composer Irving Berlin to Italian pianist Clementi, whose compositions Mozart didn't care for.

Their concerts last almost two hours, as the four ladies sit at two pianos in the Doumas home. Guests sit nearby, gasping in amazement as eight hands glide over 176 keys--88 on each piano.

The women admit to being over 75, but that's as much detail as they give. They're all lifelong piano players who learn new music to keep their brains sharp and their fingers nimble.

"This is fun, because we get to show off what we've done," Dyal said.

The group does a practice run with friends and family members in early December. Then, the quartet performs for the Mary Washington ElderStudy, a group of retirement-age people who enjoy new learning experiences.

The ladies say they're not bothered by the jitters.

"We're too old to get nervous," Eagan said. "We've reached the point of serendipity."

Besides, if they lose their place--as they did during the rehearsal--they just announce they need to start over. And, Doumas jokes, when there is a mistake, one pianist can always blame it on another.

The Doumas home is in Fredericksburg, but it could just as easily be in Colonial Williamsburg. The two pianos sit, back-to-back, in a room dotted with candelabras and hurricane lamps. Nearby shelves and a buffet came from a downed cherry tree and are patterned after the dining-room furniture in the Mary Washington House. A framed black-and-white print of a wild turkey hangs over the fireplace, and there's a hint of wood smoke in the air.

Before the concert, Doumas' husband, Bill, hauls away the hefty dining-room table and fills the space with rows of wooden chairs.

Then guests find their seats and pianists--whom Bill Doumas pegged as the "Ladyfingers"--take their places on benches.

"Just like a judge," Parsons said.

The women give some background on the composers whose music they play, and the necks of those in the audience crane to see pairs of hands prancing up and down the keyboards.


There are quartets, when all four women play at the same time, performing music written specifically for eight hands.

There are duos, when two women at two different pianos play the same piece of music, together.

And there are duets, when two women sit at one piano and play a piece written for two pianists.

"It takes a lot of coordination and synchronization" for two or four people to play together, said Jean Calloway, a piano teacher. "In a way, it's more difficult than solo playing."

Anne Platt was at the tennis court the morning she heard about the concert and headed straight to the Doumas home.

"I just am amazed at the skill of their fingers and the lightness of them, darting across the keys," she said, complimenting their flexibility, movement and strength, especially for such complex music.

She was glad she was in the audience, even if she was still wearing her tennis skirt.

"I can't think of a more lovely thing to do on a Monday afternoon," she said.


The quartet has played together since 2005. Dyal and Eagan, as well as Doumas and Parsons, played as partners before then.

None had done quartets because it's difficult to find a place with two pianos.

All learned the piano as children and enjoyed playing into their adult years, as time and schedules allowed.

Parsons taught others for 24 years, and Dyal earned a doctorate of education in music and taught on the college level.

Doumas learned the piano from her mother and was an accompanist to her own children and their friends when they did school shows.

Eagan enjoyed choral singing and piano lessons through her teen years. Later, when her parents retired in Florida, they sent her "my little piano, and I was so happy."

The women practice weekly throughout the year, as long as one or the other isn't vacationing or visiting relatives. They're devoted to their music, but not to the point that all they can think about is delivering the perfect performance.

After the first concerto of the rehearsal show, Parsons let out a big sigh of relief.

She turned to the audience and said: "I'm always happy when we end on the same note."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

INSPIRATION is an occasional series about people who encourage others with their kindness, courage or perseverance.

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