KINGSTON — If anyone would ever be so silly as to suggest a person in his 90s could be too old for piano lessons, John “Jack” Hilsher would set that whippersnapper straight.
“Baloney!” he said, pausing in the middle of a lesson with teacher Andrea Bogusko. “You’re never too old.”
At 98, Hilsher is Bogusko’s oldest student, and he might be her most mischievous, too.
“You’ll notice how he sneaks a different song in there,” Bogusko said, pointing out how Hilsher started playing a tune she assigned, then subtly switched to one of his favorites, the old jazz standard “Jeepers Creepers.”
“I wanted to see if you were paying attention,” Hilsher said.
The piano student likes to segue into the vaudeville number “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” too. Both are songs he has memorized and plays by ear.
Music stays with a person a long time, said Hilsher, who can easily reprise “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” a song he used to play as his classmates marched into the auditorium for assemblies at his middle school in Williamsport.
“The principal would wave at me when to start, and when to stop,” Hilsher recalled. “I was scared to death.”
“He told me he played that about 50 years ago, but it’s more than 80 years,” Bogusko said, explaining she recently wrote out the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” notes for him and he committed it to memory.
“He instantly memorizes,” said the teacher, who started visiting Hilsher at ManorCare Health Services in Kingston about a year ago for a weekly, hour-long lesson.
“It’s very satisfying,” Hilsher said. “I enjoy it.”
With her younger students, Bogusko said, their parents often ask her if they’re practicing enough.
“In this case, it’s his son who asks,” Bogusko said with a chuckle.
Hilsher’s son, Jim, of Kingston, said the piano lessons seem to help his father’s memory and concentration and add enjoyment to his day.
“He played piano many, many years ago and wanted to pick it up again,” Jim Hilsher said. “He looks forward to it every week.”
For years Jack Hilsher built model ships as a hobby, his son said, and one of his intricate creations is on display at Cooper’s Seafood Restaurant. More recently the elder Hilsher, who turned 98 in September, has worked on smaller wooden models.
He likes to watch jazz programs on a Chromebook computer, too, when he’s not playing his keyboard.
“My father has always had to keep busy,” Jim Hilsher said, noting his father used to write a column for the Times Leader and the Dallas Post about 30 years ago. “That was another way he kept busy.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT