As 7-year-old Jose’s hands searched for the right notes on the piano, Judith Neville watched in eager anticipation. For him, she said executing the melody “Yankee Doodle,” Jose’s latest accomplishment, is as important to him as a Beethoven piano sonata would be for another pianist. The second-grader is one of Neville’s many students, ages ranging from as young as three-years-old to students in their 70’s, who come for lessons at her store, Gratz Opus 118 Music and Dance.
“It’s very much a family atmosphere,” Neville said. “There’s a line in the show Cheer’s opening song which says, ‘Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.’ That’s what we have here at Gratz Opus 118.”
Neville, executive director of the business, teaches at her store and sells sheet music from classic conductors to more modern melodies. Harry Potter, Disney and contemporary hits are among those offered. While she loves teaching piano, Neville said she equally has fun assisting customers in choosing sheet music.
“I’m sitting here looking at sheets of Mozart, Beethoven, Broadway musicals…” Neville said. “It’s sort of a dream come true. Every day, I get to come here to immerse myself in what I love to do.”
Gratz Opus 118 Music and dance is owned by Neville Ministries, a nonprofit organization created by Neville, her husband and her children. She and her family bought the business after the late owner, Michael Gratz, passed away after opening the music store in 1985. In January 2016, the Neville family opened their doors, keeping “Gratz” in the name and adding “Opus 118 Music and Dance.”
“’Opus 118’ comes from Johannes Brahms, my favorite composer in the world,” Neville said. “I started playing when I was four. I had been playing 15 years by the time I was a sophomore in college, and my piano instructor gave me Brahms’ Opus 118 No. 2 to listen to. When I got that piece, I heard God in the notes. When I listened to it the first time, I thought, ‘This is what I have been after.’ It’s what I now call having an Opus 118 moment.”
Neville worked as an adjunct piano instructor at Valparaiso University from 1993 to 2000, also directing the VU Gospel Choir during some of that time. Afterwards she worked 16 years as the sole piano instructor at the Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy in Gary.
“I got to watch the development of a lot of wonderful young men and women,” Neville said.
Neville was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, the youngest of three sisters. Her father was a minister, and her mother was a music teacher. In her adult life, Neville has taken up both passions full force: faith and music.
“From the time I was three or four years old, music has been a part of my life,” Neville said. “I grew up with a piano in my home, and my mother was a piano teacher. So, music has been my entire life. What I love about my job is that I get to spend all of my time teaching or selling music.”
Both Neville and her husband, David, are ministers who started the Unity A.M.E. Zion Church in Merrillville and continue to run its ministries. There, they have youth programs and serve the community while practicing their faith. Though ministry and music appear to only mix in the church choir, for Neville it is a connection far deeper.
“I have a saying I live by that came to me in a music conference: ‘God is in the notes.’” Neville said. “For me, that’s part of the mission for Gratz Opus 118. For me, I communicate with God by playing piano.”
Visit Gratz Opus 118 Music and Dance at 2701 Beech Street, Suites C & D Valparaiso, or check out their website at gratzopus118.com.