BETTY DEROSA / 1911-2005
Piano teacher, 94, taught for last 50 years
Musician and music teacher Betty DeRosa touched the lives of hundreds of piano and organ students in Hawaii from the early 1950s until just last month.
The 94-year-old gave her last lesson 16 days before she died Sept. 26 at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center.
"You should have heard her play," said Dr. Marianne Tanabe, who had been taking organ lessons from DeRosa for the last three years. "She'll floor you."
Tanabe, a geriatrician at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, never knew her organ teacher's age, guessing she was in her early 80s.
Tanabe wrote about DeRosa in an essay published in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: "Vibrant, elegant and passionate, her age remains a mystery to me."
She regrets never learning the secrets of her longevity. "I didn't realize she was that old," Tanabe said.
When playing the organ, DeRosa displayed flawless dexterity, and her left foot would easily glide from pedal to pedal, while her right foot would guide the expression pedal "from gentle solemnity to resonant crescendos," Tanabe wrote.
She said DeRosa was a patient teacher, but her performance was what inspired her to emulate her. "She inspires me with her music -- beautiful, divine, and truly unforgettable," she wrote.
DeRosa came to Hawaii in 1950 and began her teaching career. She taught hundreds from 1951 to 1978 with Thayer Piano Co., then at a studio at Sanders Piano & Organ Co. until shortly before her death.
DeRosa may be best known for entertaining diners at the Pearl City Tavern in the '60s and early '70s, and for performing as a member of the Hugh Finley's "Strolling Violins" at the Halekulani Hotel in the mid-1970s.
She also played the organ at Hawaii Islanders baseball games, accompanied silent films at the Hawaii Theatre, performed at the old Civic Auditorium, the Cannon Officers Club, cruise ships and the former Kahala Hilton. She also performed at the Furusato Room at the Waikiki Grand.
Born in Raymond, Kan., DeRosa gave her first piano lessons at the age of 8. The town milliner promised her a new hat if she gave lessons to her granddaughter.
She continued teaching after her family moved to Portland, Ore., where she also played organ and piano in theaters, ice- and roller-skating rinks, vaudeville and magic acts, and the symphony and orchestra.
DeRosa's daughter Linda Colburn attributes her mother's long life to her teaching, which kept her stimulated through interactions with many people, and to playing lots of bridge, which kept her mentally sharp.
DeRosa was also an avid global traveler, counting at least 17 cruises. "She was very, very vigorously engaged in all aspects of life," Colburn said.
DeRosa is also survived by son Robert Sims and daughter Sharon Hinckley.
A memorial service will be held Monday. Call 955-1342 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. In lieu of flowers, donations to the American Cancer Society-Hawaii Chapter are welcome.