By Karen Billing
100-year-old Gwen Given closes her eyes when the sound of music fills the room as the piano in the Emeritus community room is being played — her piano, which was a gift to the Carmel Valley senior center. She listens to the notes and with a knowing smile identifies the composer: “Chopin.”
Gwen Given celebrated her 100th birthday on Nov. 29 and the former concert pianist can easily say that in all her 100 years, the gift of music was the best she ever received.
“I love music,” said Given. “Music has always been a part of my life.”
Her most favorite piece of all time? Debussy’s “Clare de lune,” which pianist Lori Rittman played for an appreciative Given on her birthday.
At her birthday party, Gwen celebrated with family and then with the center residents, who were treated to champagne and birthday cake.
The “happy” 100-year-old Givens is a fourth-generation San Diego native.
“My great grandfather came here after the Civil War and he worked at the first saw mill and built buildings,” Given said.
She recalled the address of the house he built for his family, in Golden Hill, on 30th and E Streets—now she believes it is a tennis court. Given was raised on music by her grandmother and aunt, who were concert singers, her father was a violinist and her uncle “a wonderful pianist.”
She attended San Diego High School for just one month before her family re-located to Riverside. Her first marriage brought her three children and Gwen was married to her second husband, Bruce Given, for 58 years until his death in 2009.
“He was a great basketball player for the University of San Francisco,” said Given. “He quit to go to World War II.”
She now has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. While some family has scattered to other parts of the country, her son Michael still lives in Pacific Beach.
Up until a month ago, Given still played her piano at Emeritus but eyesight trouble has caused her to stop playing for awhile. She is optimistic that she will be able to play again soon,
“My eyesight is getting better all the time,” Given said.
Given isn’t quite sure to what she should credit for her longevity.
“I never did anything really special, I wasn’t much of an athlete,” Given said. “I read books. I love books.”