By Ross Markman
The student sat facing the majestic instrument, his fingers arched over the 88 slabs of ebony and ivory, his feet rhythmically pressing on the three pedals beneath, and the rich sounds of Guaralidi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" emanating from within.
The teacher hovers over his right shoulder, nodding her head and directing her young pupil. Rosie, one of the teacher's three cats, pounced onto the great piano.
"She almost played the right note, didn't she?" she said.
The instructor is Marge Holt, a Havre resident who teaches piano, voice, and guitar to about 75 students each week. Her youngest student is 5, and she once taught a 75-year-old woman who was a beginner.
Holt has been teaching music out of her Havre home for nearly three decades. Piano isn't her passion; it's her life.
"I do have a good time. I wouldn't do it if I didn't have a good time," Holt, 59, said.
Her student for this half-hour, 17-year-old Matt Welch, said his three years of lessons with Holt have helped polish his craft.
"She basically took the rough teaching I initially got and then just kind of progressed it beyond that," Welch said. "She pretty much sharpened the edge."
Piano, Holt said, has always come as natural as breathing.
"It's the one thing I can do and do it easily," she said. "I should really thank my parents for giving me lessons."
Holt began playing at 4 years old while growing up in Manchester, England. Her parents, Edith and Wilfred Baker, were musicians, mom on the piano, dad on the violin.
The family's home was equipped with a piano in the front parlor, a room with no central heating.
"For me to go practice, it was very special," Holt said, a hint of an English accent in her words. "They had to light a fire."
After high school, Holt attended the Manchester College of Music, where she earned degrees in music and teaching in 1965. Following graduation from college, she joined Ivy Benson's All Star Girls Band, a 17-piece ensemble that played Glenn Miller-type arrangements.
Holt then spent a year entertaining enlisted soldiers in Germany.
"So, of course, I married a GI," she said.
The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1967, where Holt was a stay-at-home mom raising their son, Martin.
In 1973, the family came to Havre. Holt and her husband, Skip, were frequent performers at the Havre Eagles Club, he on the drums, she on the piano.
"We played country western. But I've played everything from Beethoven to classical to rock 'n' roll," she said.
Holt's passion these days is jazz a genre she does her best to encourage her pupils to learn.
Building her clientele was a slow but necessary process, Holt said. The teaching ultimately evolved into a full-time job for most of the year, with many students not taking as many lessons during the summer.
Some come for a half-hour, others for a full 60 minutes.
Holt enjoys every one of them.
"It should be fun. If we don't laugh one time through the lesson, I'm not doing my job," she said. "Part of my job is entertaining."
The job also includes the coordination of recitals, the most recent of which featured 35 of Holt's students performing at Montana State University-Northern last week.
"They all played well and nobody threw up on the piano," Holt said, laughing.
As for her future, the thrice-married Holt said she'll likely spend the rest of her life in Havre. She never plans to retire.
"I don't ever make choices. Things happen and I like it here," Holt said. "I'll probably die under that piano."