The picture above is the only mall in the Hespeler area of Cambridge (where I grew up). If you look carefully, you’ll see that it’s currently being demolished (at the time of this post, it is almost entirely demolished). I moved back to Hespeler after school to raise my daughter because it was a place I knew well, and I have many fond memories of this mall because I used to work there teaching piano for George H. Jenner.
I heard that George passed away over a decade ago of cancer, and his wife shortly after. I can’t even find their obituaries on the Internet, so I don’t know the exact dates. In fact, much of George’s life took place long before the Internet - his only claim to fame on the Internet is a single picture of one of his albums:
So I decided to write a proper post for my friend George - if anyone should be immortalized on the Internet, it should be George.
He was born blind with a hairlip and only two fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot. But he was the nicest man I’ve known, and one of the most amazing organ and piano player of all time (he used other parts of his hands to “cheat” to get specific notes to play together when needed). People would be stunned when they heard him play - he wasn’t just “good” - he was “OMFG AMAZING!” He could make any piano or organ sing in a way that I’ve never heard anyone do. Some of his albums and tapes occasionally appear on eBay (like the one shown below), but it’s not the same as hearing it live.
He started a very successful and posh piano store called “George H. Jenner Pianos” in downtown Hespeler, which later moved to the mall. He was trained as a piano tuner, and could do it by ear perfectly - his wife and him would come to our house and tune our old Evans Bros. piano. He even tuned for Liberace when he was in Canada.
When I was 15, I was sick of working at KFC, and asked him for a job teaching piano at his studio (he ran a small piano studio next to his store), and he said yes. I’ve never taught piano before that, but I had a burning desire to do it, and I was well organized and diligent. Here is a picture of George shaking my hand at one of our recitals in the mall outside of his store:
That’s when I really got to know George. When I wasn’t teaching, I was in the store, hanging out and talking about anything and everything.
I helped him move some pianos too - George had an illiterate farmer friend named Big Bill who had a mail truck that was converted to a piano moving truck. With George being blind and Bill being illiterate, someone needed to read the street signs to some place they’ve never been before. I remember one time getting to the desired street, but we didn’t know which way to turn on the street - George said “Let’s see, it’s Tuesday. Turn left.” ;-)
George also had a glass eye (his real eye had to be removed years ago), and some times it would fall out and he’d be looking for it with his wife on the floor. But he could always produce the correct change from his pocket (bills included) when he needed to buy something.
What I remember the most about George, and what I’ve come to realize is an incredibly important quality is his generosity and smile. George ALWAYS smiled, always joked, and always had a tremendous amount of faith in people that made them instantly like him. He was genuine, and someone who enjoyed life every day.
Every Christmas, he would throw a huge, expensive party at some fancy restaurant for all of the people he worked with (including suppliers, and friends). And this is someone who wasn’t rich (he just owned a piano store). And he did this until the day his store closed.
Unfortunately, the few years I worked for George were also the years where the mall started to decline - when I started, the mall was mostly full, but you would see stores close almost every month. By the time George closed his shop and retired to a life of piano tuning only, there were less than a half dozen stores, and a movie theatre. It was sad.
Before he closed his shop, I bought a brand new piano from him at cost (I still have it), as well as a slew of other instruments (which I sadly no longer have, including a massive Hammond B1 organ). I remember getting a really expensive piano bench with my piano by accident that meant that he was losing money on it. When he found out, he just said with a beaming smile “Well, that’s OK - it couldn’t go to a nicer guy!” That was George every day.
But the piano is not what I appreciate the most from George - it was the lessons I learned from him. I won’t go into detail about the backstory behind each one, but here they are:
- There is no such thing as too much bass.
- Life is too short not to smile every day.
- Give people a chance, and they won’t let you down.
- Nobody’s disabled. Make the most of what you’ve got!
I later went into teaching full time, but it wasn’t for piano - it was for computer science and Information Technology (IT), and I was incredibly successful at it (everyone wanted to be in my class ;-). I know that I wouldn’t have been good at teaching whatsoever if George hadn’t taken a chance on a 15-year-old kid who wanted to teach piano. And I’ve always joked with my students that much of what I learned about teaching came from teaching piano - after all, it was “hands-on” training! But more importantly, George showed me how to be a good teacher:
- I smile every day, and enjoy my students as much as they enjoy my humour.
- I give everyone a chance…and no one has let me down in 16 years.
- Attitude is 90% of what makes you successful, and I remind my students at every opportunity: If you want to do it, you’ll do it. Just make sure you have fun in the process. And I’ll be here to help.
I have fond memories of working for George, and I certainly owe a lot to him.
Rest in peace good friend - I consider myself fortunate to have known you.