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NORMAL - When Shirl Knopp sits down to the grand piano at Von Maur, the room comes alive.

Sometimes it's a show tune enlivening shoppers at the department store. Sometimes it's an easy-listening tune.

Either way, there are those who hum along.

The most attentive customers are usually men waiting for their wives to finish shopping, Knopp said.

Knopp, 69, of Bloomington, plays about 25 hours a week at the Normal store. The Wisconsin native said she likes the work because she "likes playing piano."

How old were you when you learned to play the piano?

I started when I was about 7. My family moved into a house where a piano was left, and that's how I got started. Unlike most, I loved to practice.

How did your piano playing progress?

I went to a small high school, and I played in choruses and whenever they needed a piano player. I went to college in Eau Claire, Wis., and majored in music. At one point I wanted to be a concert pianist.

Do you play at home as well as at Von Maur?

Yes. I practice my Von Maur routines and try to vary my arrangements. I've played for weddings and anniversaries and played at a funeral last year.

Are there any piano players you idolize?

I liked Liberace and how he would play without music. He was such a showman.

Why is music important, and what do you do when you're not playing piano?

Without music I don't know what the world would be like. It opens horizons and relaxes people. I love to make desserts but I'm often too tired by the time I get home from piano playing.

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