Helicopter pilot lands on a career teaching piano

By Kristina Jackson

When Emily Quiles sets her mind to something, she knows how to make it happen.

Quiles started her own business as a piano teacher when she moved to Manhattan. She started training for another of her passions, piloting helicopters, as a teenager. She’s pursued both interests at different times in her life, but she’s found ways to connect them and make both a part of her career.

“I never did them at the same time, but one helped the other,” Quiles said.

Quiles, 24, started taking piano lessons at her mother’s urging when she was 7, and took lessons for 10 years in her home state of California. Along with many classmates, Quiles said, she stopped piano lessons in high school and focused on other interests, including a Civil Air Patrol cadet program for kids. Founded just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a way for civilians to help patrol coastlines, the organization’s main missions are connected to aerospace education and emergency response. The cadet program Quiles joined met weekly to discuss safety, emergency services and other training.

She also got to participate in orientation flights, which set her on the path to becoming a licensed helicopter pilot.

“I was exposed to aviation that way,” Quiles said. “A helicopter landed in the trees and I remember thinking that was so cool.”

After seeing that, Quiles decided she wanted to learn to fly helicopters and started flight school when she was 17. She researched the differences between helicopters and planes and decided to focus solely on helicopters, even though they are sometimes considered more difficult to fly.

“I liked that it was a challenge,” Quiles said.

Originally, her goal had been to fly for law enforcement, and while that didn’t work out, she volunteered as a dispatcher and went on several training flights, including landing on a snowy mountainside in California. The training in flight school was very intense, Quiles said, and didn’t allow for any excuses.

“If you were sick, you had to fly,” she said. It was a lot of work, but Quiles said she enjoyed the experience of flying a helicopter.

“You get to be low to the ground and get to see angles a plane can’t,” she said. “And you can land anywhere you want. You can land on a mountain or in the middle of a forest.” After getting her license, Quiles found her way back to piano when she moved to Manhattan two years ago when her husband, Eric, was stationed at Fort Riley. She had been away from piano for about two years, but she decided lessons would be a good source of income that would allow her to work from home. She said her piano teacher when Quiles was a child inspired her.

“She tried to make it as fun as possible,” Quiles said. “I wanted to be able to do that for kids.” Quiles also was diagnosed with several learning disabilities as a young adult and feels this might help her adjust to different learning styles of her students.

“It’s just an instinct forme,”shesaid.“Maybe some boys tend to understand rhythm better through (the video game) Minecraft, so we’ll use that.”

Quiles’ dog Abrams also helps with some students. Abrams, a pit bull/mastiff mix, is a music therapy dog. This usually entails sitting next to the piano while the students play and giving them an audience that won’t judge them. Her other dog, Gertie, is also training to be a therapy dog.

“It’s great to see him help students,” Quiles said. “Sometimes they’re frustrated and he comes in then they’re not because the dog is here.”

Quiles said she tries to find things that will help kids have that “aha moment.” She tries to help them learn but still makes sure they’re having fun.

“It’s good to see the kids leave happy,” she said. “If you’re laughing, it’s gotta be OK.”

Quiles’ friend Stacey Chizek said Quiles knows how to engage with her students and find their needs.

“I think she figures out what connections she needs to make,” Chizek said. “She’s taken the rigidness out of it because they need to see it’s fun.”

Chizek also said she has seen Quiles has tried to be involved in the community, especially through her students. Recently, Quiles and her students have been collecting pet food for the Riley County Humane Society.

“She loves what she does,” Chizek said. “You want to know you’re doing things for the right reasons and she’s got it figured out.”

Nowadays, Quiles is working her way through flight instructor school. Quiles said studying to be a certified flight instructor is hard, but she keeps working because loves teaching. And because of this passion for teaching, she will continue teaching piano as well.

The two interests don’t always seem to go together, but for Quiles, working the pedals and keys of a piano flowed into the controls of a helicopter.

“I don’t think I would have been coordinated enough to fly without piano,” she said.









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