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Eight hands, 176 keys, one beautiful sound
Four women, all over 75, play the piano throughout the year as they practice to master Mozart and Bach

 'Ladyfingers' (from left) Miriam Parsons, Ann Doumas, Edie Dyal and Rhoda Eagan run through a dress rehearsal earlier this month at Doumas' home in Fredericksburg before giving their annual performance for the Mary Washington ElderStudy group.
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Date published: 12/25/2012


After four women started performing together on two pianos--at the same time--one onlooker described their concerts as "so Jane Austen."

The quartet laughed, but the comparison to the English author's stories wasn't far from the truth.

Edie Dyal, Rhoda Eagan, Miriam Parsons and Ann Doumas work all year, perfecting the concertos and waltzes they present in December. They practice to master Mozart and Bach as well as everything from American composer Irving Berlin to Italian pianist Clementi, whose compositions Mozart didn't care for.

Their concerts last almost two hours, as the four ladies sit at two pianos in the Doumas home. Guests sit nearby, gasping in amazement as eight hands glide over 176 keys--88 on each piano.

The women admit to being over 75, but that's as much detail as they give. They're all lifelong piano players who learn new music to keep their brains sharp and their fingers nimble.

"This is fun, because we get to show off what we've done," Dyal said.

The group does a practice run with friends and family members in early December. Then, the quartet performs for the Mary Washington ElderStudy, a group of retirement-age people who enjoy new learning experiences.

The ladies say they're not bothered by the jitters.

"We're too old to get nervous," Eagan said. "We've reached the point of serendipity."

Besides, if they lose their place--as they did during the rehearsal--they just announce they need to start over. And, Doumas jokes, when there is a mistake, one pianist can always blame it on another.

The Doumas home is in Fredericksburg, but it could just as easily be in Colonial Williamsburg. The two pianos sit, back-to-back, in a room dotted with candelabras and hurricane lamps. Nearby shelves and a buffet came from a downed cherry tree and are patterned after the dining-room furniture in the Mary Washington House. A framed black-and-white print of a wild turkey hangs over the fireplace, and there's a hint of wood smoke in the air.

Before the concert, Doumas' husband, Bill, hauls away the hefty dining-room table and fills the space with rows of wooden chairs.

Then guests find their seats and pianists--whom Bill Doumas pegged as the "Ladyfingers"--take their places on benches.

"Just like a judge," Parsons said.

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