Sep 14, 2020

Longtime Conservatory Owner Offers the Sound of Music—Remotely

Pianist and teacher Tanya Végváry has learned to improvise

By Ed Goldman
Add Tanya Végváry to the list of entrepreneurs whose business might actually have improved because of the pandemic shutdown.
 
Végváry is a piano teacher and the founding owner of the Sacramento Piano Conservatory/School of Music, a handsome building that sits incongruously in the middle of one of the capital region’s unmistakable industrial zones. In its immaculate classrooms, approximately 200 students, ranging in age from post-toddler to post-career, take piano lessons and learn to play a number of other musical instruments from Végváry and nine other instructors.
During the past several months, some of the students have been given the option of distant learning—and some of those, “especially businesspeople on work breaks and parents who are homeschooling their kids have found it convenient and even enjoyable to take their lessons remotely,” she says in a recent Zoom of our own.
 
To switch the teaching of piano, an obvious hands-on skill, to an online experience “was a huge learning curve for me,” says Végváry (whose name, if you’re not speaking it in Hungarian, rhymes with “beg Barry”). Proper placement of the computer or camera phone was mandatory so that both teacher and student could watch each other play. Végváry also can mark up the printed page of a musical score by hand and show it to the student on camera, just as she would if they were together in person.

Tanya Végváry and a very small glass piano. Photo by Guy Kowarsh of GK Multimedia

“I tried a lot of variations but think I finally hit on the right formula,” she says. “It was hard when the thing I do in person isn’t just teaching piano. It’s also about feelings and nuances.” She adds, with an almost apologetic mock-sigh, “You know: that heart stuff.”
 
When I first interviewed Végváry four years ago for my Sacramento Business Journal column, she told a funny story about herself and her Budapest-born dad, Ivan, a civil engineer by trade but also a classically trained pianist—with a seemingly incongruous passion for playing jazz. Yet all his daughter wanted to do was play the classics and compose some of her own. This runs counter to old-movie clichés, which hold that the child wants to be hep, hop or hip-hop (choose your era) but the parent wants her or him to embrace only the traditional opuses.
In that earlier interview, Végváry told me she’d “found the piano when I was three years old. I touched one of the keys and that did it for me. I could feel the vibrations of the universe. I connected with it.” Her father, realizing he had a prodigy on his hands, became her tutor when she turned four.
 
At 51, Végváry still has Carly Simon-at-30 looks. Tall and lanky, she can rock the glam in photo shoots but also has an endearingly loose-limbed girl-next-door quality that instantly puts her diverse clientele at ease. She knows that some of the younger ones get yanked to her classes by well-meaning but perhaps overly aspirational parents. As she told me in 2016, “The parents (may) want Little Billy to take piano lessons, but Little Billy wants to play soccer sooo bad—and hates this.” True to her sense of integrity, she’ll graciously tell the parents that maybe Little Billy’s time to take piano lessons, if it ever comes, is still in the future.
“Meaning,” I say to her recently, “you sometimes turn away business.”
 
“I think I turn away possible heartbreak,” she says.

Végváry and her husband of 23 years, Anthony Plescia, who owns A.J. Plescia Plumbing, have three children: Elijah, 27, a chef; Anne, 21, a violinist whom I’ve heard and seen perform with her mom in a lovely video; and Kenneth, 17. “All of my kids, are very musical,” Végváry says, smiling. The two sons play guitar.

This may be a good time of year for parents to consider enrolling their kids in Végváry’s school, which can be explored at sacpiano.com. Even if they’re being home-schooled or educated remotely, this is a fairly painless way to introduce art into the kids’ curriculum. It may even leave time for them to play soccer.


Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).