In School Or Strip Joint, Dietrich Kept The Beat For 50 Years

May 19, 1991|By Sherri Kimmel Diegel | Sherri Kimmel Diegel,Special to The Carroll County Sun

He had a ball with Lucille, went over the rainbow with Judy, thankedBob for the memories, played sweet music for the Candy Man, and endured Jack Benny's torturous fiddle twangings.

In his half-century as a professional musician, Carl Dietrich has performed with the best -- Ball, Garland, Hope and Sammy Davis Jr.

He's performed with the least dressed, too.

Sunday mornings inthe '60s found the lanky trombonist working on The Block, Baltimore's notorious show bar district. Dietrich played while strippers practiced at the Gayety Burlesque Theatre.

Yet on weekdays since 1967, Dietrich has kept time in WMC's Levine Hall. He's been giving lessons on myriad instruments, administering "theory lumps," or jolting his high-energy voltage into the many music ensembles he's conducted during 24 years at the college.

Last month, at age 65, Dietrich retired. He was honored May 3 with a free concert led by trumpeter Christopher L. Tranchitella, a 1980 graduate of WMC and holder of the trumpet position for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra in Washington.

Not only is the retiring music department chairman known for his deft ear, which can pick out the one sour note in an orchestral crescendo, he's also known for his sympathetic ear, which students often sought.

"He cares about every student who walks through Levine," said Karen Baldridge, class of '90 and a voice and clarinet major. "There were times when I really was upset, and he was the one person I would turn to. He really wants to see you well and happy and to succeed."

Richard Porter, a 1970 WMC grad and now a high school choir teacher, remembers Dietrich as a professor concerned with the whole person, not just the academic or musical aspects.

"He's always had a jolly, upbeat personality, and I always admired hisplaying ability," said the instructor at Old Mill Senior High Schoolin Anne Arundel County.

It's not unusual for a conductor to play a number of instruments, Porter said. But it's rare for one to play so many so skillfully.

The versatility was perhaps inherited. Dietrich's father, Gus, was a violinist with the Trenton (N.J.) Symphony Orchestra, a singer, flutist and guitarist.

"My earliest memory is of the five of us kids sitting on the floor of the living room while Dad played a violin concerto and Mom accompanied him on piano," he said. "That's not a bad beginning.

"When I was 7 I asked for a violin for Christmas. Dad gave me one and, by the end of the

day, I could play all the Christmas carols on one string."

Carl began taking violin lessons, but not from his father. The elder Dietrich had tried to teach Carl's older brother, Gus Jr., and ended up breaking the instrument over the boy's head in frustration.

When Gus Jr., a trombonist, was drafted into the military during World War II, he left his instrument behind. Carl learned that, too, and it remains his primary instrument. His second is the viola.

Before serving two years in Germany and France during the war, Carl played with the Trenton orchestra and began a 20-year career of playing in bands that backed upfamous entertainers. He recalls his faux pas with TV's most famous redhead.

"Lucille Ball was a budding starlet on Broadway and came to Trenton to perform. I saw her backstage and said, 'That's Lucille Ball? She isn't so beautiful.' "

Dietrich nearly melted through thestage when he realized a nearby microphone was on. Ball shot him a vicious stare.

After the war, Dietrich joined the West Point band. His trombone instructor recommended he enter the Peabody Conservatoryin Baltimore. Dietrich took a job in 1952 at McDonogh, then a military school, but now a prep school in Owings Mill, Baltimore County.

"(In the '50s) I took over as conductor of the Preakness Band. Through that job I met a couple hundred musicians, who became my contacts."

From then on Dietrich was a regular on the Baltimore music scene, playing, singing or conducting for the highest to the lowest of brows: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Bach Society, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Baltimore Comic Opera Company, the Baltimore Colts Marching Band,and performers such as Tony Bennett and Henry Mancini.

And, yes, he played at the Gayety Burlesque Theater, which he claims was his oddest musical experience.

"Anyone with clothes on was weird" he said. "We'd rehearse Sunday mornings. While everyone else is in church, here you are down on The Block practicing with stripteasers."

Dietrich was so sought after by band leaders because of his sight-readingskills.

"I can read music better than I can the printed page," hesaid.

He often was called on during emergencies, such as when a regular performer suddenly became ill.

Dietrich acquired a taste for teaching when he was an instrument salesman for Menchey Music Service in the late 1950s.

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