By Donald Ketzler
A short time after we went back to school in the fall my teacher, Miss Libby, came to see my parents. She told them that Don Vaughan (our weekly music teacher), had talked to her about my gift and joy of music. They had agreed that a budding talent should be nurtured by taking piano lessons. They were both friends with a young, talented musician from Portsmouth who came to the home of his students. He, Nelson K. Ward was a well- known organist and clarinetist who had studied organ in Boston with a master organist, Harris S. Shaw, and clarinet with the first chair clarinetist of the Boston Symphony.
My parents agreed with the idea of piano lessons and it sounded good to me so arrangements were made for weekly lessons. There was a problem though. No piano!
But in no time, from somewhere and someone came a piano. It was an old upright but it was playable.
At the appointed time for the first lesson I waited anxiously, looking out a window. I saw a Terraplane auto coming up the road and knew it had to be the teacher. He pulled into the yard and we started a wonderful journey through the world of music.
In retrospect what strikes me is how one person can affect your life’s journey. In this case it was a young, caring, dedicated teacher in a one room school house in Eliot, Miss Libby.
The lessons went well. I learned the rudiments easily and with the fun of practicing (Yes, fun!) I was quickly playing the classical music that Nelson gave me to learn.
In about a year I got my first organ job.
This non-paying “job” was organist at the East Eliot Methodist Church located at the corner of Brixham Road and Goodwin Road. We learned that they needed an organist through my mother who was an active member there.
The church was a typical white country church. Quite nice inside with maple wood walls and ceiling. Outside, a shelter for horse and buggy still stood. One could picture the scene of families from the surrounding countryside arriving for church in their best carriage dressed in their best “Sunday go to meeting” clothes.
The church organ was a challenge. It was an Estey Reed organ with one manual, a few stops and powered by the player pedaling two foot pedals. The Estey organs, made in Vermont, were popular because of their affordability and durability. They were to be found in many smaller churches and home parlors. They were a challenge to play because you had to get the hang of pedaling steadily with your feet while playing different timings with your hands. It was similar to the challenge of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.
After about a year on this job Nelson decided it would be a good experience for me to sing in the boy choir at the church where he was organist, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth. I did this and took organ lessons there with him until one day he told me I was ready to give my first organ recital. I did this. It was well received and I gained some notoriety when the Portsmouth Herald ran a front page story, with my picture, about the recital.
The Eliot schools had consolidated by this time and I was no longer with a few kids in the one room school. We were bussed to a larger school (Lora V. Dame?) and I was afraid of how the kids at my new school would react to this newspaper story, particularly when the heading on the story was “Boogey Woogey isn’t for Donald. He likes the classics” No problem. The kids accepted me.