Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
When Laurane Schultz began learning piano as a child, she didn’t know she’d later study at Juilliard among some of the world’s best musicians or have a radio show or raise a new generation of talented instrumentalists. At the time, her name wasn’t even Laurane Schultz.
Lily Greenberg started taking lessons with a neighbourhood North End piano teacher when she was five. She learned by ear, and showed talent quickly. Her teacher found the name "Lily" too drab — a star needed a stand-out name, so it was changed to Laurane (pronounced Lorraine).
"Her teacher had it in mind right away that she was going to be a major star," said Lois Schultz, Laurane’s second child.
Laurane Schultz was born May 14, 1926 — but her first piano teacher may have changed that, too. Schultz celebrated on May 14, but thought she was actually born March 14, her children say: the piano teacher might have lied so she could enter the student into competitions she was otherwise too young to qualify. The original birth certificate is missing, Lois said.
Schultz, 93, died of pancreatic cancer Jan. 25 in Winnipeg.
As a child, Schultz landed a spot on a weekly CBC radio show. A more established piano teacher in Winnipeg heard her and wanted to take her on as a student so Schultz made the switch.
"The plan was for her to be a world famous concert pianist," Lois said.
Then seven or eight years old, she took the trolley from her home in the North End to her teacher’s residence in River Heights.
However, the new teacher bullied her because of her background (her family were Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland). The woman commented on the "odours" that would accompany the child student.
"It’s surprising that she stayed with the piano after this because it was a terrible experience," Lois said. "Throughout her life, she’d have nightmares about this woman."
By 12, Schultz had switched to a new instructor, one she actually liked, named John Melnyk. Her 60-minute piano lessons would stretch to three hours. She took those lessons on top of theory courses, harmony classes and regular school.
She became the piano accompanist in St. John’s High School productions and, after graduating, moved to Montreal to study piano. Around a year later she received a scholarship to Juilliard, a prestigious arts school in New York City.
Schultz lived and studied among other young women pursuing professional music careers. Her best friend from Winnipeg, Seemah Wilder, also moved to New York City, to study acting. Later in life, Schultz told her children how award-winning actor Walter Matthau, then a classmate of Wilder’s, would ask Schultz to convince Wilder to fall in love with him.
But boys were not to distract Schultz in New York.
"It was piano, piano, all the time piano," Lois said.
In 1950, Schultz’s teachers recommended her for a scholarship to study under highly-regarded Soulima Stravinsky in Santa Barbara, Calif. So, the 24-year-old moved down for a year and perfected her musical talent.
She lived in a ladies’ rooming house filled with young, aspiring starlets. She later told her children she’d see then-movie star (and future U.S. president) Ronald Reagan picking up girls from the rooming house for dates.
One trip back to Winnipeg in late 1950 changed everything. On a visit with family, her friend set her up with a guy she thought was her type. It turns out, Albert Schultz was.
She decided to move back to Winnipeg for good. "I don’t think she ever looked back," said Erica Schultz, Laurane’s first-born child.
Albert and Laurane married in December 1951. She taught the neighbourhood children piano; he ran a business, the Wonderful World of Sheepskin. Eventually, there were four kids under the age of six running around the house.
"She was a homemaker, and she loved being a homemaker," Lois said.
Erica, Lois, Victor and Myron Schultz grew up surrounded by music. They had front-row season tickets to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; they’d lay under their mom’s grand piano and listen to her play.
However, Schultz was shy about her music. Often, she’d play with nobody around. "I remember sitting outside the window just listening," Victor said.
Each child became interested in their own instrument. Erica played the piano and harp; Lois, the flute; Victor took to the violin; Myron studied clarinet. Albert and Laurane ensured they had the best teachers and musical opportunities. Schultz also coached and accompanied her children.
Erica and Victor attended Juilliard. Victor is a violinist in Manhattan; Erica a pianist and teacher in Winnipeg. Myron has played clarinet in several bands; Lois has been involved in concert productions.
"She put us out there, and we added," Lois said. "She created a next generation. But then, when that big job of hers was done, she started finding out that she had lots of other interests."
Schultz pivoted to helping her husband with his store and attending trade shows. When he retired, they travelled the world and got a house in Palm Springs, Calif., for family to visit. She learned about politics and pop culture, sculpted, and cheered for the Winnipeg Jets. She entertained and baked, and loved her three grandchildren.
Giving, welcoming, and patient, Schultz was more than a piano prodigy, her children say: she led by example.
"You treat all people with kindness and care and respect," Victor said. "Our parents embodied this."
Community journalist — The Headliner
Gabrielle Piché is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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