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Amazing Grace Notes: Longtime Dixon teacher still sharing his music with the world

DIXON – He’s been tickling the ivories since back when they actually were made of ivory.

Music teacher Bill Hertel, 73, of Dixon, owner of Grace Notes Music Studio, has been playing piano since he was a toddler, and he started giving lessons when he was a sophomore in high school.

“I started playing when my dad would take me as a kid to the bar with him, and I’d play on the bar piano,” Hertel said.

“That is my favorite instrument. I played the baritone horn in band in the sixth grade, and I knew from the eighth grade I wanted to be a band director.”

“I still get to do what I love. I’ve lived all over, but we moved back to Dixon because this is home.”

His studio at 94 S. Peoria Ave. is home to the piano, keyboard, and half-a-dozen band instruments. Beginner or skilled musician, Hertel can help people further develop their skills – as long as those skills don’t involve stringed instruments, which he does not teach.

He taught in the El Paso, Illinois, public school system for 5 years; in Sterling, in elementary and high school, for 23 years; and in Mattoon for 5 years.

He worked for a short time at the now-closed Kidder Music in Sterling before opening his first music studio next to The Good Book in Dixon. Now, he is a few blocks down the street.

His students range in age from 10 to 85. Some want to learn to play hymns for church, others prefer band music, a few write their own music, and all just want to improve. One writes a song a month.

“I named my business Grace Music because it is only by the grace of God that I can continue to do what I love with very interesting people. We’ve got doctors, lawyers, police, other professionals, and the music just helps them to unwind.

“My students who have gone off to college to study another field sometimes continue their musical pursuits and join the band there. Some of them get paid to do it.”

Hertel earned his bachelor’s in music education from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1968, and married his wife, Janet, in 1969.

A piano major and trombone minor were followed by a master’s in music education from Illinois State University, and a master’s in school administration from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

He and Janet have a son, John, and two grandsons, 11 and 10, who play the violin and viola.

“My son worked in aerospace industry, and he told me that if they had two identical candidates for the same position, they would hire the one who had the most musical ability or inclination,” Hertel said.

“Someone with musical ability could be given a problem and solve it, they can work in a small group, or a large group – like an orchestra.

“Other benefits include the joy of playing music and the expression of it, and the discipline you can build through practice.”

Hertel enjoys leading workshops, and also has been a guest conductor, education consultant, and music contest adjudicator.

He also is proud of the support he receives from local band directors. Through word-of-mouth advertising, he stays just about as busy as he wants to be.

His keyboard, organ, vocal and bell choirs inspired him to compose and arrange his own songs.

“The first song I wrote, ‘He Came Down from Heaven,’ we were watching ‘The Waltons’ on TV, and the character, Jason, had written a song. Two days later we were supposed to go on vacation, and I had this tune stuck in my head. I told Janet, ‘We cannot go yet; I have to write down this tune. Then we can go.’”

He’s written songs for choirs, and his vocal and accompaniment scores from PDF files or MIDI files with MP3 are available for rehearsals and performance. Once the music is downloaded, directors can make as many copies as they need.

Three songs – “Thanks to the Father,” “He Came Down from Heaven,” and “There Was a Babe Born in Bethlehem,” are available through Northwestern Publishing House at Children’s choirs especially enjoy the music and the message.

“Music has been good to me. I teach, write, play, and through challenges with students, I learn from them as they learn from me,” he said.

“Music doesn’t just come from the head; it has to come from the heart. I am so thankful to the Lord that I can still play. It has brought me much joy.”


Bill Hertel's music lessons include one-half hour a week for $48 a month.

The senior rate, for those older than 55, is $40 a month.

Emphasis is placed on technique, theory, musical sensitivity, and composition.

Grace Notes Music Studio is at 94 S. Peoria Ave. in Dixon, contact Hertel at or 815-284-9855 for more information.