The clench of arthritis had quieted Reinecke's fingers last year, leaving the classically trained pianist, 93, unable to lift her right arm and play as she had for decades.
As a couple of dozen friends and students packed into Reinecke's Catonsville living room Saturday afternoon, the music returned for the first time since her shoulder replacement surgery a year ago, filling the space with the sounds of Frederic Chopin, Sergei Rachmaninov and Claude Debussy.
"I think life is a commission to be," Reinecke said after her performance. "You can't just sit on a sofa somewhere and take a nap. If I can do it, I must. It's a calling."
Reinecke, a concert pianist who has played in churches, galleries and universities along the East Coast and in Europe and Brazil, had a reverse shoulder replacement last August at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. It's a rare procedure in which both the shoulder's socket and ball are replaced, according to Union Memorial officials.
Reinecke, who has been playing piano for more than eight decades, said she was elated to be able to perform again after the surgery.
Reinecke's friends said Saturday that they admired the passion and energy that belies her age. She still lives independently at her home in Catonsville and hopes to host more piano "salons" there in the future. She's also known to eat dinner at 10 p.m. and play piano well into the early hours of the morning.
"The average pianist would have given up, but not Virginia," said Frank Akers, 80, a fellow pianist who has occasionally joined Reinecke in duets. "This particular performance struck me. I've never heard her play so eloquently. We grow old fighting, and Virginia's a fighter."
Reinecke, who grew up of limited means in Baltimore, started playing at age 6 as a student at St. Agnes School. After graduating from the Peabody Conservatory in the 1940s, she taught there for nine years. Over the course of her career as a concert pianist, she studied with Mieczysław Munz in France and met the von Trapp family, upon whom the musical "The Sound of Music" was based.
Reinecke and Baltimore resident Eileen Twynham founded Music in the Great Hall in 1971 at Maryvale Preparatory School, where Reinecke served as artistic director of the series for 30 years. She's been recognized by Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz declared April 10, 2011, "Virginia Reinecke Day."
Carolyn Rosinsky, 23, a former student of Reinecke's who is now a cellist, said she finds Reinecke's style of playing as unique as her voice.
"You can't hear that she has a new shoulder," Rosinsky said.
At Saturday's performance, Reinecke spoke of the history behind how some of the songs were composed during breaks. When she played, her face fell into a mask of concentration as her fingers sped across the keys.
"The doctor wasn't sure if she would be able to do it," said Dorothy Pula Strohecker, a friend. "She sounded right back up to snuff to me. It's incredible what the lady can do."
Reinecke said she started practicing again about three months ago. Before the surgery, she found her arm to be a "dead weight" instead of being able to keep it suspended in the air to play. To have a creative talent is a gift, Reinecke said, and she was glad to be able to put her gift to use again.
"It was like I was born again," she said.