A longtime accompanist steps into the spotlightPeople don’t usually go to Rosemount High School’s choir concerts to hear Margaret Boehlke, but choir director Steve Albaugh knows the performance wouldn’t be the same without her.
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
People don’t usually go to Rosemount High School’s choir concerts to hear Margaret Boehlke, but choir director Steve Albaugh knows the performance wouldn’t be the same without her.
That’s why Albaugh nominated Boehlke for the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota’s Advocate for Choral Excellence award. And it’s part of the reason Boehlke, the RHS choir’s longtime accompanist, received the award earlier this month at the ACDA convention.
Boehlke has been playing along with RHS students for more than a quarter century, but her contributions to choral music go well beyond the walls of RHS. She plays piano for the choirs at Eastview and Eagan high schools, and she’s played for the choir at Chaska High School, where her daughter is choir director. When her daughter takes over at the new Chanhassen High School this fall, she’ll play there.
Boehlke also plays with adult choirs directed by her husband, Steve.
All that piano playing keeps her busy, but Boehlke doesn’t seem to mind. Music has been an important part of her life almost since she was big enough to reach a keyboard. She likes playing with the choirs and the rhythm of the choral season — getting folders full of music every fall and watching as the students master it. There are years she hears the same song sung by four or five groups, and each one is just a little bit different.
“I like the variety,” she said. “I like being in the schools and meeting all the kids.”
Boehlke started accompanying choirs when she was in middle school. She played oboe and was in the choir when she was in high school, but she never got to sing much. The director usually had her playing piano.
Playing along with the choir might have seemed like a natural when Steve Boehlke took over as choir director at RHS in 1976, but in those years most choir directors used students to accompany their choirs.
As students got busier, though, it got harder to find kids who could play the pieces he wanted to perform. In the early 1980s, Steve Boehlke turned to his wife for help. She’s been on the piano bench at RHS ever since.
Boehlke has accompanied choirs at each of the four District 196 high schools at one point, and she’s played for the district’s annual middle school choral festival. She said the district’s choir directors are among her closest friends.
Boehlke stayed on after her husband retired in 2000, and Albaugh is glad she did. He said Boehlke gets a lot of respect from students when she offers feedback. And she makes his job a whole lot easier.
“She is in tune to what I am doing as a conductor,” Albaugh said. “She is as musical an accompanist as you will find. She’s one of those people, we’ve been together so long she knows where I’m going before I know.”
Albaugh said Boehlke is the first person he calls, other than his family, when he gets good news about the choir.
Still, Boehlke said it was a surprise when she learned she had been chosen for the ACE Award.
“I was just shocked,” she said. “I’m the piano player.”
A life of music
Boehlke started taking piano lessons when she was 8 years old. Her parents weren’t musical, but her father loved to dance. When Boehlke’s aunt would come to visit she would play the piano he would dance. Seeing how happy the music made her father made an impression on Boehlke.
Once she started taking lesson, Boehlke would practice for hours at a time without ever having to be told. No matter how long she played, her father almost always sat there listening.
“I just loved the music, all kinds of music,” Boehlke said. “As long as I would practice he would sit in the chair next to the piano and listen, whether it was Bach or Joplin.”
These days, Boehlke doesn’t much worry about composers or titles. She just hears the music and sees the notes. If you put it in front of her, chances are she can play it.
“It’s kind of a kick, because sometimes they’re doing a piece of music from the 20s or 30s that we’ve known our whole life, but it’s new to them,” Boehlke said.
Boehlke has been teaching piano for more than 40 years, but as she’s worked with more choirs her focus has shifted. Her list of piano students has shrunk from a maximum of 30 to 12. Many of her piano students also sing in the choirs she accompanies.
Boehlke doesn’t know how much longer she’ll continue to play for RHS and the other choirs in the area. She’s got grandchildren now, and they take up a lot of her time. For now, though, she’s having fun. And the choir directors are good to her. She’s always felt appreciated.
This latest recognition is just a bonus.