Avid pianist does things her way

Published 9:49 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

Barbara Simmerman




WINDSOR—Pianist Barbara Simmerman said her music teacher once told her mother to save the money she was paying for Simmerman’s lessons because her daughter was going to play the way she wanted to regardless.

“Well, I got bored with constantly repeating chords and the way my teacher wanted me to hold my hands,” Simmerman said, with a grin. “I could do better my way.

“In fact, my mom let me quit taking lessons with the only other piano teacher I’ve had because I said she taught by playing “ping pong” and I told my mother that I wanted to play a faster “pingity pong,” she added. Simmerman was 6 at the time.

The avid musician has not done badly “her way.” Mostly self-taught, Simmerman has served as the pianist in every church she has attended for 45 years.

Born and raised in Surry County, Simmerman comes from a musical family, she said.

“My mom, dad, sister and I could all sing. Only my brother, who spent his time messing around with cars and learning how they worked, had no interest in music.”

Simmerman said she took six months of piano lessons about the time she started school, but asked her mother to let her stop, “because I felt like I was already better than the teacher.”

She came down with rheumatic fever when she was 9, however, and had to curtail her music playing.

“I had to rest a lot, even had to rest when I returned to school while the other kids played outside at recess.”

But the determined patient was back on her feet after about two years, Simmerman said, and resumed her piano practice.

“This was when mama decided I should take lessons again and my teacher decided within a few days that it was no use, because I was going to do things my way. I was there only a few weeks, and since then I’ve been doing just that.”

Simmerman started playing in church, playing for school plays and for any occasion she was needed. She reads music of course, but plays basically by ear.

“I enjoyed it,” she said. “I really do love to play piano.”

Simmerman went on to finish high school and married shortly after her 18th birthday. Her first child was born before she turned 19.

She said her seven other children were born within the next 10 years.

It was not until after her first marriage broke up and she later married Pastor John Spencer that she acquired two of the other five and later, when she married Simmerman, the remaining three.

“I consider that I have 13 children,” she added. “I love them just like my own.”

Simmerman said she and Pastor Spencer were married for 25 years.

“I loved being a pastor’s wife,” she continued. “We were so compatible.

“You might say we were a package deal. In every church he served, I was the pianist. Plus, he had a beautiful voice and we often worked as a duet.”

Sadly, Pastor Spencer passed away during the 1990s. His last church, Maranatha Southern Baptist, asked Simmerman to continue as their pianist, however, and she still holds the position.

In 2005, Simmerman married James Simmerman. They live on Rte. 258 near Windsor.

Simmerman says he is a wonderful husband.

“I am very lucky.

“Jim had to retire from his automotive restoration business when he had a stroke, recently,” she said. “But he’s doing fine, has regained all of his strength.”

She quipped that she is the one with a health problem now.

“I have to have eye surgery soon, but I’ll still play the piano at church. Only difference is I’ll most definitely be playing by ear.”