Story By Natalie Salvatore / Photos By Robert Noles
Ever since she was a young girl, Christi Gibson has had a passion for the piano. She had a music-loving family to look up to and knew it was a skill she wanted to learn.
Now, with many years of experience under her belt, the Opelika resident regularly plays piano for veterans in the community, using her interests and talents to honor veterans’ service to this country.
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gibson began her life on a farm. Her family relocated to Tuscumbia, Alabama a few years later. Gibson missed the farm life, but the move allowed her to begin piano lessons in Florence, Alabama at five years old.
“At that age, I learned the basic elements necessary to play with two hands, and my strong desire to excel and play more difficult pieces disciplined me to practice non-stop for hours at a time,” she said.
The budding pianist continued developing her proficiency without lessons, as she did not click with her instructors or their teaching styles. She diligently practiced on her own, played pieces she enjoyed and purchased music books, which all contributed to her tremendous success.
She began lessons again in high school, this time with a new instructor her father had hired. This teacher, who played piano by chord, sparked her interest in learning the different playing style.
“I owe my ability to write music and ad lib to his instruction, which has truly been a blessing in my life,” she said.
Gibson has lived in several different states in the U.S. where she has played piano for audiences of all ages. No matter where she is entertaining others with her music, Gibson said she strives to show active military personnel and veterans just how much she cares.
She plays patriotic songs and has performed in many different venues, including veteran centers and hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and, recently, the White House.
The pianist says that her favorite place to play is at a venue for veterans. Gibson’s first veteran experience came when her friend nudged her to visit the Veterans Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Despite her initial reluctance, as the veterans were busy eating their meals when she arrived, she sat down at the baby grand and began to play.
She placed her fingers on the keys, and after a few notes she was able to connect with not only the veterans there, but also with everyone else passing by.
The combination of the piano’s optimal location in the hospital’s foyer and Gibson’s impeccable talents and generosity contributed to the success with the veterans.
“I truly felt as if I was filling each and every person in the establishment with love for the country and the veterans in our midst,” she said. “I was so moved and inspired by my first experience that I committed to play every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and later on, twice per week.”
Patients would request songs, take longer to eat their meals to hear her music or even have personal conversations with her about the struggles they endured during their times of service.
“There was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness the gratitude and love my music inspired there,” she said.
Now, Gibson continues her love for honoring veterans back home in Opelika. Venues here snatched her up, all hoping she would grace them with her musical talents and warm heart. She has played for veterans at the Museum of East Alabama, at the Tuskegee Veterans Hospital’s Convalescent Care facility and at many Saugahatchee Country Club events in Auburn.
Gibson had planned to continue playing piano for veterans this year. However, those plans have changed with the coronavirus pandemic. She is no longer able to play for anyone in hospitals or convalescent homes because of health and safety concerns.
“There are no words to express how much I miss being able to give those who are confined with a disability, injury or are ambulatory a bit of joy, a smile or a means of reminiscing through my music,” she said. “So, I continue to hope and pray for the day when there is a resolution, and life may return to normal, especially for those who need entertainment the most.”
Piano is a huge part of Gibson’s life, she said, and a blessing from God. Playing this instrument gives her an outlet, she said, to express different emotions, such as joy, sadness and thankfulness, all while being therapeutic.
What makes piano even better is when she can use it to honor veterans, Gibson said. She said she recognizes veterans’ courage and selfless honor to their country and wants to show them this by offering beautiful pieces of music to their listening ears.