by Lou Mancinelli

What could possibly keep someone interested in his/her job after almost six decades of work in his/her chosen field beyond a need to survive, serve a passion, heed a calling or simply occupy time?

Marilyn Granahan (left), a regular church organist at both Seven Dolors and St. Genevieve’s in Flourtown as well as St. Anthony’s in Ambler, recently coordinated a Master Class for regional music teachers at Jacobs Music Company in Willow Grove and hosted Professor Ingrid Clarfield (center), who was recently named the “Number One Music Teacher in America.” Clarfield had a stroke and recovered the use of only her right playing hand, so when she performs demonstrations, she works with a “left hand” artist at her side. In this case, it’s her colleague, Kristen Topham (right). Both women teach piano at Westminster Choir College in Princeton.

For local piano teacher Marilyn Granahan, a Chestnut Hill College (CHC) educated former nun and teacher who on weekends plays the organ at mass at Seven Dolors Parish in Wyndmoor and Saint Anthony of Padua R.C. Parish in Ambler, playing the piano and organ brings her closer to the core of herself. It is her private way of serving the Lord in the presence of and with others.

In October, 2010, at her home studio in Glenside, Granahan, whose past experience includes teaching music at Mount Saint Joseph (MSJ) and Chestnut Hill and Cabrini Colleges, St. Hubert’s Catholic Girls’ High School and Hallahan High School, launched “Classes in Recreational Music Making for Beginning Adults.” The class brings together a group of at least five adults who have little or no musical background for a social learning event and to learn to play the piano.

This past February, Granahan coordinated an event that brought the Music Teachers National Association’s Teacher of the Year 2012, Ingrid Clarfield, professor of piano at Westminster Choir College at Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey, to Jacobs Music Company in Willow Grove. Clarfield is the subject of “Take a Bow,” a new documentary about her struggle to relearn to play the piano with just her right hand after suffering a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body in May, 2007.

“I was moved to tears,” said Granahan, who preferred that her age be withheld, about the performance Clarfield gave at the event. When Clarfield performs, graduate students play the left hand parts of pieces while Clarfield plays the right.

Granahan, program director of the Northern Delaware Valley Chapter of the Philadelphia Music Teachers Association, of which she is a past president, was raised in Mt. Airy and in the 1940s attended Holy Cross Grade School and Cecilian Academy. After high school she studied piano at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, now the University of the Arts. She heard a calling for the religious vocation and left the academy after one year to enter the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SSJ) Philadelphia.

In the early 1950s she began teaching music, first at a church in Kensington and then in schools around the area while taking classes at CHC on Saturdays and in the summer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music in the 1960s from CHC and in the mid-1970s earned a master’s degree in music from Catholic University of America.

Granahan, who now teaches piano but over the years also taught organ and vocal lessons, could only begin to guess how many students she has educated since entering the sisterhood in 1953. Her split, in official vows at least, from SSJ came in 1987 when she left to care for her father, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. When he died that year, Granahan stayed with her mother at her parents’ Glenside home until her mother passed away in 1993. That is when she made the decision not to return to the convent.

Today Granahan lives and runs her piano studio in her parents’ former home. She said she still feels like a SSJ. Whether by official nomenclature she is a nun or not, Granahan’s organ playing at religious services keeps her connected to the religious life that has been part of her since her parents instilled the Catholic doctrines in her as a child.

“Playing the organ makes my prayer deeper,” said Granahan. “As I am playing the organ and listening to the singers during a liturgy, I feel that together we are praising God in a special way, singers lifting up their hearts and minds to God in song, and I, at the organ, am the vehicle through which that song is enhanced.”

Music has been part of her life since she played the organ in church in grade school. She said students seem to her much the same as they have always been and not much has changed during her time. She explained that a short attention span is overcome when a student begins to show even a little interest in learning piano.

In addition to expanding recreational music classes for beginning adults, Granahan has performed her own recitals at the University of Galway and Temple University, where she once served a post-graduate fellowship. She led an award-winning choral group at MSJ in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and she still plays for funerals and occasionally substitues at St. Genevieve’s in Flourtown.

“When I am playing music I am at the core of my inner-being,” said Granahan, who founded and directed the choral group the Choraliers of Breachmenders (1990-2006), and is a member of the National Conference of Music Educators, National Catholic Pastoral Musicians and the American Choral Directors Association. “There is a great religious truth there.”

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