Piano professor plays on despite stroke

Clarfield helps a student develop a deeper appreciation for music during one of her piano lessons.

By Christopher Exantus

At first glance, Westminster’s professor of piano, Ingrid Clarfield, does not seem like the type of person who has had to deal with hardships. That is not meant to belittle what she has been through; in fact, it serves as a testament to just how strong she is. Sporting her trademark hair (“The hair isn’t so big thanks to the rain [today],” Clarfield joked), as well as an incredibly inviting personality, it is easy to stand in awe of Clarfield who, despite her condition, has managed to achieve so much. She is quick to point out, though, that she is a human being who simply enjoys what she does.

On March 29, 2007, Clarfield suffered a life-altering stroke that caused the entire left side of her body to become paralyzed. For most, this might have put life completely on hold; yet, through both hard work and determination, Clarfield was able to overcome her disability and continue to teach her students — both in her private studio and on campus.

“I say this now because I had a stroke, but I have always considered myself the luckiest person. Everyday I do what I love to do,” she said.

Despite her playful attitude, Clarfield admitted that it was a difficult road to recovery. Shortly after her stroke, she decided to write an article about her own struggle towards normalcy titled “Excellence is Excellence,” a unique piece comparing her teaching methods to that of the process of her own recovery.

Clarfield does not wish to be made into a victim, though. Instead she hopes that others take her experience and use it as the basis for their own inspirational breakthrough. This is what she believes Take a Bow, a documentary following her life after her stroke, achieves.

“The point for me is that one person walks away and says, ‘I can do more with my life,’” she said.

She also mentioned how the film has helped others who are also dealing with a disability.

“I feel really fortunate to know that I’ve been able to inspire other people to move on,” she said.

The idea for Take a Bow originally came to Lu Leslan, the movie’s director and producer, and fellow music professor, after she heard Clarfield speak at the 2009 Washington State Conference.

Clarfield was adamant, however, that the film focused on more than just her stroke.

“The focus had to be not just about my health, but about who I am,” she said.

Even after her stroke, Clarfield continues to mentor young students. Perhaps one of her most well-known students right now is pianist Charlie Liu, an elementary school student who has been making waves across various talk show programs because of his professional-level skills on the piano.

“He’s all over the place,” she said about Liu.

Shortly after her stroke, Clarfield was given the honor to teach young Liu after his father begged her to take him on as a student. Talented individuals such as Liu set the standard for what she expects from her students — she only takes on 12 students for her private studios.

Not only is Clarfield a teacher, but also a successful author, which was not originally an intended career path. It was not until she began to receive constant encouragement from her peers that she decided on turning her lecture notes into books. Now, with fourteen books throughout her span as a teacher, Clarfield is now looking into writing another series of books.

Even teaching in a university was not something she had initially planned on doing.

“I never had an interest in teaching in college,” Clarfield said. “I was very happy teaching privately.”

I was not until Phyllis Lehrer, Westminster’s Department Head, approached her that she even considered taking the job.

However, no matter who she is teaching, Clarfield devotes herself entirely. To her it is all about bringing inspiration and an appreciation for classical music.

“To me, the idea of somehow changing someone’s life in any way inspires me,” she said about introducing people to the arts. “If you’re teaching music, you’re changing their perception towards music [and] maybe even changing their idea of classical music.”

And that is what it is really all about for her — inspiration. Clarfield finished by giving advice for anyone who is struggling, whatever the problem may be.

“You never know what you can do in a crisis until it happens — you’d be surprised.”

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