Tillisch takes up piano as an adult

The Good Life


Deanna Tillisch wanted to play an instrument from a young age. But, raised in a family that moved often, she never had the opportunity.

Tillisch, chief executive officer of the United Performing Arts Fund, later had three daughters, two of whom went on to study the piano.


“I wanted them to learn an instrument because I had not been given that opportunity and I knew the benefits of it,” she said.

Tillisch figured she would pick up an instrument at some point in retirement, but when her father passed away after a brief illness two years ago, she gained a new sense of urgency.

“Why wait?” she said. “Do it now, because you don’t know what the future holds. You never want to look back and say, ‘I wish I would have done that.’”

At age 54, Tillisch had her first piano lesson in January. Now, nine months in, Tillisch sticks to a daily regimen of practicing on her keyboard at home and sets weekly goals for herself.

Learning to read music for the first time while also learning to play the instrument has proved challenging.

But Tillisch is determined. After a busy day at the office, she finds practicing to be relaxing.

“It’s a reprieve,” she said. “And really, believe it or not, I look forward to practicing.”

As someone whose job involves promoting Milwaukee’s art and music scene, Tillisch has found learning an instrument gives her new insight into that role.

“My appreciation has increased ten-fold because I recognize how much you have to work,” Tillisch said. “…The discipline it requires to be a musician is so impressive and I don’t know if people truly recognize what it takes to play at the level they do, but I have a greater appreciation for it now.” 

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.