Challenges Met Through the Ivories

Music teacher Celia Celis, standing, helped deaf student Mara Ladines master the piano.
Music teacher Celia Celis, standing, helped deaf student Mara Ladines master the piano.

By Isiah REYES

Though she’s been teaching for more than 30 years, Cecilia Celis, music teacher and pianist for the Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta, has no plans of leaving her profession – and her passion.

Celis is a composer, pianist, arranger, teacher and organist, and holds a bachelor’s degree in music, major in piano, and a master of music, major in composition. She first started teaching in 1973 after she arrived from the Philippines. Around that time, an organist from the Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta saw her playing at the Glendale Galleria and asked her if she would be interested in playing at the church. Celia accepted and has been playing there ever since.

In addition to playing at the center, Celis teaches piano lessons for CC’s World of Music. Celis said she sees herself teaching well into her 90s; she loves to teach that much.

“The most I enjoy about teaching is seeing the students’ progress,” said Celis. “They sometimes start when they are 4 years old, and to see them when they go to college and they graduate and then they are working, I am so glad.”

It’s not only piano that students learn from Celis. They also learn discipline. Some of Celis’ students contact her years later to tell her that if it weren’t for her lessons in discipline, they wouldn’t have stuck with their job or any other challenge they faced.

One former student in particular who faced a challenge was Mara Ladines, who was profoundly deaf in both ears. Ladines was able to learn, with the help of Celis, to hear the rhythm of the music by feeling the vibrations on the floor or through the piano’s pedals. Ladines was one of the recipients of the Art and Science Award from the Alexander Graham Bell Association.

“A student’s progress depends on three entities: the cooperation of the teacher, the student and the parents,” said Celis. “Without any one of them, there is no success.”

Another of Celis’ former students is Kiersten Abueg, who received her high school diploma in social music through the National Guild of Piano Teachers, a division of the American College of Musicians. Abueg transferred to CC’s World of Music at the age of 6.

“She’s a really great teacher,” Abueg said. “It’s hard sometimes because you have to put so many hours into practicing and to really master your skill in piano there’s a lot of skill that comes with it. I realize now after graduating how much her training has helped me. When I practice now and when I attempt to play other songs, all of her expertise and all of her training has really helped me.”

Another facet of Celis’ talent that makes her stand out is her ability to improvise. For example, from just three musical notes she can play an entire song.

Besides teaching, Celis presents yearly student recitals, piano workshops, competitions and judging tours. She also presents her students annually in the guild auditions for membership into the National Fraternity of Student Musicians.

To contact CC’s World of Music, call (818) 353-8457 or email at