Arlington Heights piano teacher inspired hundreds of young musicians

  • Joan Drolet, right, speaks with Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes during the village's 2018 Hearts of Gold banquet. Drolet received the "Young at Heart" award that night.

    Joan Drolet, right, speaks with Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes during the village's 2018 Hearts of Gold banquet. Drolet received the "Young at Heart" award that night. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Joan Drolet

    Joan Drolet

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 9/10/2021 6:30 AM

Joan Drolet had to stand next to the podium, instead of behind it, when the village of Arlington Heights honored her with its "Young at Heart" award at the Hearts of Gold dinner in 2018. Standing less than 5 feet tall, she couldn't see over the dais to offer her thanks.

Although her stature was small, her legacy was large.


Drolet, then 91, had taught piano in her home for 60 years and played daily Masses at Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Arlington Heights since the day it opened in 1957.

Visitors and the medical staff at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital near Lake Barrington, and more recently at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, enjoyed listening to her play duets with her daughters in their lobbies. She and daughter Dorothy Dirks of St. Charles played at Northwest Community as recently as Aug. 9.

Drolet died Sunday. She was 94.

Parishioners at Our Lady of the Wayside cannot remember a time when Drolet was not accompanying Mass. Drolet also directed the church's early choirs, trained prospective organists and helped families with wedding and funeral music.

"She was a mainstay here," said Dan McMahon, director of the music ministry at the parish. "She worked for every pastor since the founder and played for weddings and funerals for multiple generations."

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Drolet also filled in at area churches when they needed accompanists, including at St. Colette Church in Rolling Meadows, St. Raymond de Penafort Church in Mount Prospect and at the Rolling Meadows Community Church.

Through it all, Drolet shared her love of music with her piano students. She and her husband, Dick, carved out a studio in their basement when the family moved from Rolling Meadows to Arlington Heights.

When her children came home from school, they knew to keep quiet while their mother taught lessons.

"Even with the door closed, she sometimes had to come upstairs and tell us to be quiet," said Dirks, her oldest daughter. She estimates that her mother taught as many as 40 students a week at her peak, or more than 550 over the years.

Most of Drolet's students were children, but in recent years she drew some of her students' parents to take lessons.

"She was a very traditional teacher who wanted to give students the basics, including learning chords, playing scales and how to count," Dirks said. "She really wanted to give kids a foundation and appreciation for music."


Drolet expanded her reach when she helped establish the Northwest Suburban Music Teachers Association. Its mission remains the same: to advance an appreciation for music and music education, as well as offer support for teachers -- and performance opportunities.

One of the performance opportunities the group created was the Festival of Pianos, which featured six grand pianos in the center of suburban malls, where students joined their teachers playing duets. The festival took place at both Randhurst Shopping Center in Mount Prospect and at Northbrook Court.

Drolet also is survived by her children Richard (Anne) Drolet, Michele (Frank) Bedo, Renee (Michael) Mullaney, Patricia (Kevin) Bowens, Dennis (Susan) Drolet and Mary (Darryl) Zettle,as well as 20 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, at Lauterburg & Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Highway, Arlington Heights. Prayers will be said at the funeral home beginning at 10:15 a.m. Saturday before an 11 a.m. funeral Mass at Our Lady of the Wayside Church, 440 S. Mitchell Ave., Arlington Heights.

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