HALLOWELL — Joyce Fessenden has been playing piano in public for 70 years. At the age of 83, she still plays four or five times a week at area nursing homes and assisted living centers. She has no thought of quitting.
“Music has always been a very important part of my life,” Fessenden said. “I’m very grateful for that. I don’t plan to quit playing.”
On a recent Tuesday, Fessenden played old favorites on the piano at the William S. Cohen Community Center in Hallowell. Her music blended in and enhanced the boisterous sound of lunchtime diners.
“I love it here because the food is good and the people are kind,” Fessenden said. “If somebody says ‘play the piano,’ the only thing I ask is where and when.”
Fessenden reads music rather than playing by ear. She says she has 17 large piles of piano music in her Winthrop home. She graduated from Cony High School in the Class of 1949, and she attended Colby College, majoring in French.
Linda Johnson, volunteer coordinator at the Cohen center, said, “I think she’s very good at what she does. People like to come in and talk, and with her beautiful music in the background, it helps them talk.”
Fessenden, whose maiden name is Peters, had a mother who worked for the state of Maine and a dad who worked for Hallowell Shoe Co.
“When I was 10, I started taking piano lessons from a teacher who I adored,” she said. “She was just marvelous.”
That piano teacher, Marion McVea, lived in Fairfield, but came to Augusta to give lessons. Fessenden took lessons for four to five years, and “then I learned the rest just by experience.”
She played for performers in Cony’s Chizzle Wizzle variety show for four years running and also played for Glee Club concerts.
Fessenden plays at Grey Birch and Glenridge nursing homes in Augusta, at Heritage Manor in Winthrop, at the Alzheimer’s center in Gardiner and at the Cohen center. She has also played at churches in East Winthrop, Belgrade, Rome, Manchester, Monmouth and Winthrop.
She was a regular performer at St. Mark’s Home for Women in Augusta until it closed.
“I consider myself very lucky to have the people who invite me,” she said.
Fessenden plays familiar old favorites that people like to sing along with such as “Ain’t She Sweet?,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Home on the Range,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” and “Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet.” She always ends her programs with something patriotic like “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.”
She met her husband, John Fessenden, when they were both students at Cony, and then both studied at Colby College. John went on to become an attorney in Washington. He was a descendant of William Pitt Fessenden, who was secretary of the treasury under President Lincoln and a highly respected Republican senator. John passed away in 1982.
The Fessendens had three children, and one daughter is a piano teacher.
Fessenden played piano at the Blaine House and was named Musician of the Year by the Cecilia Club. She played in Constitution Hall in Washington for her son’s high school graduation. She played for Gilbert and Sullivan operas put on by her son’s high school throughout southern states.
For several years, Fessenden led an old-fashioned band called “The Olde Tymers,” but the group broke up after several members passed away.
Now Fessenden performs by herself or with a singer, bringing her energy and gusto to each performance.
“I really thank God for my God-given talent,” Fessenden said. “I would like to say ‘thank-you’ to the places that have offered me the opportunity to play the piano.”