The Family That Plays Together
Hazel Keithahn sits on a white sofa in the great room of her Columbia home. A tall ceiling and soft blue and bright white walls define the living area. A gray carpet covers the dark hardwood floors. A black baby grand piano claims much of the space, but there is still plenty of room for seating. Sunlight spills through the large windows and bounces off the walls, where portraits of Hazel and her three siblings — Harrison, Helen and Hope — are on display.
Hazel isn’t tall enough for her feet to touch the plush carpet, so she swings her legs as she talks about her violin, which she describes as a “chocolatey brown” color. Silver tape on the neck of the instrument helps her know where to place her fingers and a round duck sticker shows her a harmonic. The 7-year-old explains how to tune her violin and sings as she describes notes in colors. The A string is blue, the E string is light orange, the D string is a pretty green, the G string is a dark orange.
All of the Keithahn children play instruments, learning with the Suzuki method, a program that introduces children to musical techniques at a young age. They continue to practice their instruments daily, and now perform as a quartet.
In June, the Keithahn clan was named “Missouri’s Most Musical Family” by the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs. Mother and father, Mari Ann and Steve, thought the award was a practical joke at first. The award is authentic, they learned, and the six Keithahns were honored as a group. Steve was excited because “there are few times your whole family gets an award. It was cool to be recognized for something we do as a family.”
Mari Ann is soft-spoken and petite. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and began playing the violin in sixth grade. Her family purchased the violin for $75 from a man living on a boat in Waikiki, and her father applied shellac to the instrument “to make it look pretty,” she says. She wanted to learn the piano, but there wasn’t enough space for the instrument in their one-bedroom apartment. She didn’t have the opportunity to take lessons until she attended Carleton College in Minnesota. Mari Ann is now an eye surgeon in private ophthalmology practice in Columbia.
Steve Keithahn has a deep, powerful voice, and he is strong and athletically built from years of training for triathlons. He was raised by a church minister father and church educator mother in the small town of Benson, Minn., where he grew up performing music in his church.
“My mom said I could sing before I could talk,” he says with a laugh. Throughout his ’60s childhood, he sang in choirs and played piano and trumpet. In college, he sang as a member of the Whiffenpoofs, an elite a cappella group at Yale University. Steve is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at the University of Missouri and is a physician practicing internal medicine and pediatrics. He also co-directs the youth choir at the family’s church, Columbia United Church of Christ.
The couple met as medical students at Duke University in Durham, N.C. They were cast as the leads in a spoof of the musical “South Pacific,” which was called “Duke South Pacific.” They began dating in 1988, and were married in 1990.
“We started out with the love of music and musical theater in common. as well as the interest in medicine,” Steve says. When they began thinking about starting a family, the couple decided they wanted music to be a part of their children’s lives. In 1996, their first child, Harrison, was born. Three months later, the family moved to Columbia so Mari Ann could pursue a career as an ophthalmologist.