Soon after arriving at Emory & Henry in 1950 to teach piano, Alys Sikorski discovered a passion for the students and the people of this region. She joined her husband, Ludwig, in supporting the college and community through music.
“When we first arrived, Alys thought she wasn’t going to teach and planned to relax for a while,” says Pravda Sikorski Bauer, her daughter. “When we got here, a mother and daughter were sitting on the steps waiting for us. They convinced her to start teaching right away. That first student was Jane Reynolds.”
She and Ludwig worked together to provide music at area church services, he playing the violin and she accompanying on the piano. They also worked together to present a spring opera involving students and community members and in support of The Collegians, a male chorus formed by students.
“Putting on the opera every year was a real highlight. We would have six weeks of madness to get the show on the road, but it was great fun. I’d come home from school and run over to rehearsal, stay until suppertime, go home and eat and then we’d go back to rehearse the chorus and then the soloists. It went on all evening and was a real family affair. I started going to work with Alys and Ludwig when I was 6 and was always involved with everything.
“There were always students at the house when I was a child. I never wanted to go to bed because I didn’t want to miss anything,” Pravda remembers.
Sikorski became enamored of music at a very early age, encouraged by her Armenian parents to pursue her interest in the piano. A scholarship allowed her to study at the Yale School of Music, where she met Ludwig.
“They were very much a set. One went with the other. When I was a child, I heard about a tale from Greek mythology about a couple (Baucis and Philemon) who were very devoted to each other. When they got older, they asked the gods that when one of them died, the other would as well. The gods agreed and upon their deaths, turned them into trees (one oak and one linden). They put a bench around the tree indicating they were still together. That was Alys and Ludwig. I thought for them, I’d walk into the kitchen. Ludwig would be telling some story, and Alys would be fixing food and commenting on the story and that would be their final image. They were very much a set,” Pravda says.
Although a masterful piano performer, Sikorski was a passionate music educator. She took pride in the success of her piano students. Throughout the region today, many piano teachers were students of Sikorski or received their instruction from one of her students.
“When I think of Alys the word that comes to mind is ‘teacher,’ because she was always teaching. She loved it when people would ask ‘When did Pravda start to play?’ She’d tell them I was about 1. She said that I walked to the piano, reached up and did what I heard the students doing. Alys thought if I was going to do that, she was going to teach me. She taught me so that I would be playing with thought and intelligence. By the time I was 3, I played the last movement of a Hayden piano concerto in D at a recital. After I learned it, I was playing it one day, and Alys thought it sounded funny. She casually said, ‘That sounds a little funny.’ I said ‘I’m playing it in C. I got tired of playing it in D.’ When we walked out on the stage, she whispered, ‘Remember, it’s in D, you know.’ She says I gave her a withering look and said ‘Yes, I know,” Pravda says.
Sikorski retired from Emory & Henry in 1974 but continued for many years to teach and perform. In 1978, she received from Emory & Henry the William and Martha DeFriece Award, in recognition of her service to the community and the college through her commitment to music education.
To this day, she is remembered as a model for passion and accomplishment in teaching at Emory & Henry and in the music community of Southwest Virginia.
Tribute to Alys
I met Alys Sikorski which I was 7, and it was the beginning of one of the most rewarding relationships in my life.
She came to Greendale Elementary School to teach class piano lessons, and from the first day I met her, I was hooked. It was the beginning of a decades-long relationship between a smart-mouthed child and her teacher. That relationship grew to include Ludwig, her husband, because it was simply impossible to separate the two.
Alys was an inspiring musician and teacher and a friend who always supported me and listened with an open heart.
She loved to introduce her students to new experiences – and not just musical ones. She and Ludwig took me to restaurants where they encouraged me to try new foods, the theater, the ballet and so much more. She brought me culinary treats from her childhood, and with those treats she shared memories of her life and culture. They introduced me to poets and other musicians they had invited to the college. Everything was a teachable moment for Alys.
She was a firm but gentle teacher, who always managed to gently point out how you could improve.
She was filled with a contagious love of music and joy in life. Some of fondest memories I have of here came after my piano lesson. We’d play symphonies or concertos arranged for four-hands on one piano and talk about any topic that popped into one of our heads. Of course, the conversations were peppered with laughter.
The best way to sum up what Alys meant to me is simple ... love, music and respect.