A decent piano could unlock a future

Editor's Notebook


The locusts are buzzing. The tomatoes are coming in. Nights are cool. The Beavers are in Blue and Maize on the field. Wood, Wine and Blues was summer’s final fling in Sunset Park. Dread.

School started Tuesday.

Those natural and human signs still put a pit in my gut. I continue to have dreams about showing up for school in my underwear or not graduating from college.

Stress. Rejection. Imprisonment. Corporal punishment.


“You should be an orthodontist,” me dear Mudder said.

“What, are you nuts? Math and chemistry? And four more years of school?”

They drop you off and pat you on the head. Then they lock the doors behind you. The bully is waiting past the last patrol guard, near  Sliefert Funeral Home. He has my number, again.

“Sister Virginette told us that she had to show you the gates of hell,” my parents said as I returned home from detention at 8 p.m. pleading ignorance. “Now we’re going to show you what’s inside.”

 School just got me in trouble.

I couldn’t handle algebra. I was the last kid picked for the kickball team. Girls would rather kiss a cockroach than dance with me in junior high. And then when the track coach told me to run extra laps for being last out of the shower, I had to re-evaluate my Olympic career.

So school was tough for me. And for most people of creativity and messy desks.

Education gave me freedom through one avenue and one alone: music.

I could not play an instrument. I was the youngest of six. The oldest was supposed to be Debussy or at least Gene Krupa. By the time I came along mom had given up completely on piano lessons.

Sister Matthew played Mahalia Jackson singing gospel. I had never heard the like. She taught us how to sing and count. She would threaten to make mince meat out of us if you did not hold for a full beat, or did not sing a perfect fifth below the tenor.

College was almost a complete waste other than to point me in the direction of swearing off beer. Except: They let me into the choir. We specialized in chamber music and a capella Gregorian chants. I was a cheap baritone and the worst of them at that. But there were moments with the Minnesota Orchestra when you really would know there is a God. And that made the whole college thing endurable.

Even in a low-slung brick building that looks like a women’s reformatory, real education can seep through. I think it comes in art class or music rehearsal. Maybe for some at football practice. Definitely not freshman algebra.

Some of us might wonder why, nearing the century mark, Bob Ohrlund would throw himself head first into raising money for a piano that will cost over $100,000 for the Storm Lake High School performing arts center.

The new auditorium and stage will be dedicated at an open house on Sept. 25, once the final electrical work is complete.

I took the pre-dust-off tour. The hall is impressive. The acoustics sound perfect.

The theatre cost about $8 million to build.

You don’t want to put Sister Matthew’s upright Wurlitzer in there or a player piano from a South Dakota saloon.

You need a Steinway for this building.

They have their eye on one. Not the best, not the least. Something that will fit in Storm Lake.

You don’t put up a scoreboard with wooden cards anymore, unless you are in Chicago. You need something with some luster. And that’s what this auditorium needs. Something that matches its class.

Not everyone can play the clarinet or the piano. I know. I can barely type. But anyone can sing. Through it you learn to listen. You learn to shut up. You learn to respect an alto and let the sopranos do what they do. You learn that someone else is always better. Unfortunately, you learn that at its base music is math.

So now I appreciate math.

Enough to know that it won’t take that much if everyone digs deep and chips in to buy that piano.

The school board can’t just spring for it because someone would call for their heads. This has to be a fundraising play.

Music holds the key to open up the minds of children who come here from all over the world. It plugs them in. The huge Storm Lake High School choirs kept some kids on track when nothing else could. That is a splendid thing. The piano should reflect it.

Let Bob Ohrlund know you care about unlocking an education as much as he does.