IN THEIR OWN WORDS – Summer 2016
“I haven’t played it since 1959. That’s a lot of years. But I can remember it. I can hear it. I can feel the emotion in it. I can close my eyes and see it all over again.”
– Rudy Treml ’62 on performing Mendelssohn at Norwich
RUDY TREML ’62*
When my father came over from Czechoslovakia at age 14, he was a gypsy violinist, and he taught violin while learning English. He ended up in East Islip, Long Island, New York. After high school my father won the third-chair violinist slot with the New York Philharmonic. But he couldn’t make a living playing music, so he became a beautician—his father was a barber. Still, my father kept up playing his violin. It was just natural. He was president of the Islip Lions Club and orchestra leader of the club’s annual traveling show, raising funds to help the blind in our community. All the time I was growing up, our house was filled with musicians.
When I was eight, my parents started me on private piano lessons. When I was 10 years old, I became a conductor for a Polish accordion band on Long Island. At 16 I was part of a combo dance band and we went into New York City to try out for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. We thought we were pretty good, you know, until we got a look at the other acts.
My parents, being beauticians, had some clients whose children had gone to Norwich, and the school appealed to them. You see I was a little bit lazy on studying. I ended up turning down a scholarship from Crane School of Music to go to Norwich. I think what pushed that decision was my father, because he couldn’t make a living playing music.
So when I came to Norwich—I was majoring in chemistry—we were in a big auditorium and they were asking us what we liked to do. A professor told me to go over to talk with the music director, Captain [Jon] Borowicz. And that’s how I got recruited into Band Company. I started on the glockenspiel, then went over to the bass drum, and that was a big responsibility because the bass drum kept the whole Corps in step. General Harmon was a stickler on 120 steps per minute. I swear he had a metronome in his head.
When Captain Borowicz learned I played classical piano, he approached me and said, “Would you want to play a concerto with the Regimental Band?” I said, “Okay.” What else could I say? He gave me the music, and I thought to myself, Oh boy. I really put my foot in it. So over the holiday season while most kids were relaxing, I was taking instruction every day from my piano teacher on Long Island, learning how to play the Mendelssohn concerto.
So the holidays are over and I’m back at Norwich, and when the concert band was practicing the piece, I would sit at the piano and watch the music and watch how Captain Borowicz was getting the band to express themselves. And then one day, I just started playing. Not any time did Captain Borowicz push me in any direction. He actually took my lead. If I would express myself on the piano, he conducted the band to stay in the same mode. We worked together as professionals. He hardly knew me and I hardly knew him, but we had one thing in common … the love of music.
In March of 1959, my parents came up from New York for the performance, and they were so proud I don’t think they could talk. Then we went on tour in New England and received a very good reception because we played a variety of music, not just military marches. I think we offered something special to people seeing us for the first time, that Norwich was more than just a military university.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it also turned out to be the last time I ever performed as a classical pianist. Chemistry was demanding. And you know the rest.
* Formerly Rudolph Beinstein
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