Starla Raley smiles while talking about learning to play piano. Raley said she had the choice of piano lessons or being a Girl Scout. She chose piano and has been playing ever since. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Starla Raley smiles while talking about learning to play piano. Raley said she had the choice of piano lessons or being a Girl Scout. She chose piano and has been playing ever since. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Starla Raley didn't know just how much a decision to take piano lessons instead of joining the Girl Scouts in the second grade would shape her life.

Raley's grandmother had a piano in her home, and her mother had taken notice that Raley seemed interested in music. Yet the Girl Scouts also were taking new members at the time. Raley's mother left the choice up to her young daughter - but Raley only could choose one.

"You can be a Brownie or take piano lessons," Raley remembers her mother telling her when she was 7 years old.

The Illinois native chose piano lessons. She still doesn't regret her decision nearly 47 years later.

"I have always felt very blessed to have such a passion for piano," she said. "I've never felt tired of it."

Raley continued to take piano lessons from second grade through high school. The classical pianist also learned to play the organ after being asked to perform in church after an eighth-grade piano solo.

"I remember being so honored," she said.

Even though the two instruments may seem similar, the piano and organ do have significant differences - such as the organ's numerous pedals and the volume - that Raley had to learn to master.

"It's kind of apples and oranges," she said of the two instruments, even though almost all organists begin on piano.

Raley chose to continue her musical education by earning a bachelor's degree in piano performance from Illinois Wesleyan University. She also earned a master's degree and doctorate in piano performance from the University of North Texas and studied at the Vienna Conservatory in Vienna, Austria.

Raley taught at East Central University in Ada, Okla., as a professor of music for 22 years. She also taught private music lessons until moving to Indiana this year.

In June, Raley and her husband, J. Michael Raley, moved to Madison when he accepted a teaching position at Hanover College. The couple had just married in May after meeting through mutual friends while her husband was editing a book about hymns and music.

"We like to say we met over a book," Raley said.

The move to Madison combined two households from two different states. Raley moved to Indiana from Oklahoma, while her husband moved from Michigan.

"It's really exciting to me," she said of the move. "It's an adventure."

Raley continues to perform and teach. She serves and performs as the organist at Christ Episcopal Church near her home on Mulberry Street. She also teaches as an adjunct professor for music appreciation at Ivy Tech Community College Southeast and gives private piano lessons at the Mulberry Music Studio in her home.

She attributes the mix of playing music and teaching from not tiring of the piano over the past four decades. The musical repertoire of classical pianists are much too large to complete in a lifetime, she said, which helps to keep musical pieces new and fresh.

"Every single day is different, and every single student is different," she said.