He pulled it off again! This comes as no surprise since he’s been “instrumental” in bringing it to life for nearly a quarter century.
The “instrument” in question is a grand piano, while the “it” is the Ottawa-Glandorf High School Choral Music Department’s annual dinner theater production. In case you’re interested, “he” is a talented yet modest director content to play mostly from behind the scenes while more than 250 high school students take center stage four nights in a row singing their hearts out in front of hundreds of family members, friends and musical enthusiasts.
If the survey experts on the leading phobias are correct, Ottawa-Glandorf choral teacher Ted Ellerbrock, also known affectionately as “Mr. E,” has helped thousands of youth take bold steps toward overcoming at least two of those fears. If the dread of “public speaking” reigns supreme among the populous, the fear of “public singing” must be of equal rank. The fear of heights is officially second, but this too is mitigated as students take firm hold of a microphone and step up on a stage to sing, and sometimes dance, in front of the masses.
Logistically, coordinating the evening performances might qualify as a nightmare. Fortunately, Ted grew up on a Putnam County farm and has extensive experience channeling livestock into a corral. Similarly, he knows how to direct lively youth into a melodious chorale.
Some people, it can be argued, can’t carry a tune in a bucket. This could never be said about young Theodore growing up on his family’s dairy farm. He and his brother made sweet and beautiful music regularly as they twice-daily milked a couple dozen cows.
A diverse skill set was being shaped back then with jobs that included bailing hay, hauling manure and watering hogs and calves. These were just a few of the seemingly endless farm chores. There was something special, however, about the steady rhythm, beat and sound of fresh milk squirting rhythmically into a tin bucket. Such labor built character, a valued work ethic, and, to another degree, strong hands and fingers that would serve him well as a “tickler of the ivories.”
With a passion for music planted early on, Ted starting taking organ lessons in second grade and became a church organist in junior high. At that time his repertoire was limited to barely four hymns. These days there’s hardly a melody he’s unfamiliar with. Time marched on, and Ted received further fine-tuning and tutelage as part of a barbershop chorus called the “Putnamaires,” which also led to a quartet called “Three Lads and a Dad,” literally.
When Ted attended Ottawa-Glandorf High School, there wasn’t any choir short of a little folk group that got together to sing during lunch hour three times a week. Music was in the air, and in Ted’s case, was in his blood as he secured a music education degree from Bluffton College. Following a brief stint teaching music to elementary students in Kalida, he quickly yearned for home and was hired to start a choir program at O-G.
In the corner of the band room, during first period, and with only four kids, a novice choir began. Seven more girls caught the bug, joined practices after school and with almost a dozen voices, the school’s first choral concert took place in December of 1989. His job description initially included directing the “senior musical,” but this was not Ted’s passion, and so he offered up the idea of a “school musical” instead.
Prompted and inspired in part by his wife, Kelly, by the spring of 1994, the OGHS Dinner Theater was born. With a theme of “An Evening With Disney,” the program had an ominous beginning as the borrowed stage lights in the multi-purpose room blew a fuse. Even though the mood may have been diminished due to electrical failure, there was still electricity in the air, and, as they say, the show must go on! With the “house lights” now setting a brighter mood, the opening song, “The Lord is Good To Me,” filled the gym with a promise that still sounds forth through the O-G High School’s annual dinner theater almost a quarter century later.
Expanding year after year, the diverse “review” satisfies most every musical taste from country to rock and roll, solos to combined choir harmonies, show tunes to the patriotic and even a sprinkling of some blues and hip hop. Before the night is over upwards of 60 songs will be sung. This year’s theme of “A Year in Songs” was another outstanding production, but the truth is, there’s been 24 years in songs to date.
Each year new students, new talent, new memories, new confidence, new inspiration, new songs and new themes make their way up the stage and under the lights. Students sing with all their heart to the delight of the hearts of all those in attendance.
Look off to the side one of those nights, and you’ll see a man bent over and humbly yet effortlessly working his hands up and down a keyboard providing encouraging accompaniment.
Thousands of choir members, past and present, are grateful Mr. E still sits on a piano bench rather than a barn bucket and helps bring forth beautiful music to the ears rather than milk to a pale.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org