Dottie Hallauer held up the folder she’d brought with her to the Manor House at Wildwood. She would be playing piano for guests taking the holiday tour for the next two hours, with the folder propped up in front of her the entire time— but there were no musical notes inside it. Only a list of songs, handwritten by Dottie herself. Traditional Christmas music. Religious tunes. Some more fun fare, for variety.
Dottie doesn’t read music, you see. Everything she plays, she learns by ear. And she’s been doing it for over 80 years.
When Holidays at the Manor House began over three decades ago, Dottie was there, and after several years began playing classic holiday tunes with her own flair. Now 86, Dottie returned to the Manor House on Thursday, December 7 to do it all over again.
There’s a pianist here
“They got the grant in ’74, the Champagne Party. I did not play, but I stood there. We had to guard the rooms, make sure nobody stole the Christmas tree ornaments,” Dottie said with a smile.
“I was a guide for many years. The piano would sit, but nobody played. And I can’t remember when I said— I think I started with a tea. And Mary Alice Powell did the lunch, the tea, with sandwiches and there were card tables set up here. And there was a piano there. And one of my girlfriends said, they must have forgotten to bring a pianist! So that was kind of a jab, and I thought, well, there’s a pianist here!”
Dottie began playing piano at age 5, teaching herself to play classics by ear. Her ability to adapt to a performance is a big reason why the versions of tunes you hear her play may not be exactly what you expect from old standards.
“I’m very, very lucky to do my own arranging. And I feel so free with the piano because if I make a mistake, I got a whole new arrangement; I just cover it and add it to the next time I do that song.”
Joy to the house
The energy Dottie brings to a performance defies her years on this earth. As Dottie sat down to play, she began pounding out Christmas standards with a joy that was infectious. Her left leg bouncing with the music, making it impossible to suppress a smile.
For many years, Dottie wasn’t around for the Manor House’s holiday celebrations— she began visiting Florida for the holidays about 25 years ago. But she returned in 2015, offering her services at the piano once again.
“I said I would like to play at the teas, and they said they have one man play at the teas, one special man, all the time. And I said, well, okay. But I will pursue that again if they change their mind!”
But for now, it’s clear that Dottie was grateful for every second of being able to help visitors celebrate the holidays as they tour the beautiful facility. Looking at the piano, she held up her hands, which have helped her generate beautiful music for over eight decades.
“Thank God that my fingers still work! 86 years old!”