Music came so easily to Ted Rehl when he was a child that he almost took it for granted. Able to play nearly anything by ear at an early age on his family’s parlor piano, he was encouraged with lessons. His talent on the piano was a given, or so it would seem by the matter-of-fact way he describes his musical training. While Ted enjoyed it enough, there were always other things that captivated his interest and challenged his mind, such as math and more “logical” pursuits.
Nevertheless, the young boy from Galion, Ohio attended Oberlin College Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship. It was here on this quintessential Midwest liberal arts college campus that he met Fran, a gifted cellist from Seattle. They were soon married and Ted stayed on to earn his graduate degree in music at Oberlin. After one year in working in New York City, Ted joined the faculty at Washington State University, Pullman before finally settling at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Fran taught music for many years before deciding to take on the different challenges of real estate with a good bit of success. Meanwhile in addition to his faculty responsibilities, Ted was an active soloist, accompanist, and chamber music player; in the 60s he was member of a duo-piano team that had a New York manager and played programs all over the United States.
When offered an early retirement package after 34 years at Lawrence University, Ted took it. He played his last concert with conservatory colleagues in a final hurrah. Perhaps only he knew that this was the definitive end of a chapter when he closed the lid on the keyboard after that concert.
Ted didn’t touch another piano for 18 ½ years. There was no tragedy or drama involved. It wasn’t that he disliked the piano, he was just finished with that and wanted to do other things. He sold his piano, disposed of all of his music, and pursued his other hobbies.
In addition to bridge, puzzles, and volunteer work, Ted turned his curiosity and mathematical logic to the world of computers. It was never dull and he was never aware of any void left by the absence of the piano in his life.
When Fran and Ted moved to Plymouth Harbor, they enjoyed living in and being surrounded by a community rich in the performing arts and music. The intimate Pilgrim Hall struck them both as a perfect recital and chamber music venue.
In 2010 they spoke to Harry Hobson about their desire to provide a fine, recital-quality grand piano to be used by visiting artists in Pilgrim Hall performances. It started simply enough, searching listings of used pianos as well as talking to the regional Steinway dealers, they began to narrow their search. Each time a prospective instrument was presented to them, Ted declined to try it out himself. Listening to the dealer’s playing was enough to test the sound for them.
Until one day, it simply wasn’t enough. They scouted out a dealer who had a Steinway grand piano in a small showroom near Venice. There was something Ted heard that caught his attention. It touched his heart, in fact. No one was more surprised than his wife Fran when Ted agreed to try it out. He spent the next two hours playing, listening, and falling in love with a piano for the first time in his life.
This might sound odd, but Ted had just never met the right piano before. This little Steinway had an alluring sound and touch that inspired a new joy of expression. With the piano soon settled into its new home on the stage of Pilgrim Hall, Ted began to look forward to his time making music with it.
“At first I had no technique whatsoever,” says Ted, “and it was slow getting it back.” He practiced at least 3 hours a day for weeks, even months before he felt comfortable. Urged to set a date for the dedication of the piano with a recital, Ted practiced steadily. Not until about a week before the April 1, 2011 date did he feel confident that he could make it through the program without embarrassing himself.
He was a smash hit and each successive concert since (5 so far) is greeted with a full house and standing ovations. While making his fellow Plymouth Harbor residents happy with his performance, Fran realizes that he’s happier than he had been in years.
Ted just knows that his goal now is to keep practicing. It’s exhilarating to have his technique at the previous professional level, and, he believes, even better than before. His plan is to keep presenting programs that his friends enjoy. He takes requests and slips in some music that he’s always wanted to perform. Fran’s considerable musical judgment is called upon to make sure the programs have the right mix of music to be entertaining for all.
His last program, The Romantic Piano, was recorded. For a donation of any amount given to benefit the arts at Plymouth Harbor, a CD of the program is being given as a token of gratitude. (For more information, contact Becky Pazkowski,The Plymouth Harbor Foundation.)
Ted’s next concert, an all-Russian program, is scheduled for October 18 and will include Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its original form for solo piano. Stay tuned for more on that.