For nearly 70 years Charline Bambauer has shared her love of music through teaching
Charline Bambauer is 91 years young. She's lived long enough that she's earned the right to say exactly what she thinks, and her mind is filled with almost a century's worth of insights and opinions. When she speaks the words come out in precise thoughts formed from a lifelong love of music, and the instruments that create the music.
Bambauer is smart, knowledgable, opinionated, and talented. She also still drives herself - at 91 years of age - from Fairbury, Nebraska, to Concordia every Monday to give piano and guitar lessons to local residents.
"I love driving," she said with a grin.
All in all, if you're a fan of music and musical instruments, a conversation with Bambauer is going to be one of the most interesting and entertaining ones you'll ever have.
Both of Bambauer's parents were Kansans - her father was raised in Belleville - but she was born and raised in Fairbury. Her grandfather and uncle were tailors, but Bambauer's father didn't want to learn the trade, so he moved to Fairbury and took a job with the Rock Island Railroad.
By the time she was in Fifth Grade Bambauer knew she was going to be a music teacher.
"I just really loved music and singing," she said.
At the age of 10 Bambauer learned to play the trumpet, which remains her favorite instrument. Over the course of the next 15 years she also mastered the piano, guitar, bass, clarinet, flute, saxophone, trombone, and percussion. Yes, she knows her way around a drum set. During the interview with her at Tom's Music House, after a drumstick test and a quick tuning of the snare drum, it seemed certain that Bambauer could pound out a drum beat like a rock star.
Bambauer started teaching music at 18, and has never stopped. She graduated from Fairbury Junior College in 1950, and then graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the College of Fine Arts at the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University).
She began her teaching career at smaller schools across Nebraska, all at the same time.
"The schools were small and there was a severe shortage of music teachers," she said. "I would teach one day at one school, and then one day at another school in another town, and so on."
Bambauer also started giving private lessons to students. She believes it's a necessary step for anyone who wants to learn to play an instrument well.
"The key is to take private lessons," she said. "Music classes in a school are fine, but too often it's one teacher and dozens of students. You need that one-on-one time with a teacher to really become proficient."
In 1962 Bambauer became the band director at Hanover High School, where she stayed until 1969.
"I never had to look for a job. There was always plenty of work and job offers out there for me."
Aside from being a school teacher, and giving private lessons, Bambauer also formed her own band.
"We played what is now called Big Band music," she said. "When we started there were 16 musicians in the band."
Bambauer's band traveled all over the country performing. They even played in Concordia numerous times, at the Moose Lodge.
As if all that work wasn't enough, in 1962 Bambauer opened a music store in Fairbury, and managed it until 1983. One day Paul Rimovksy of Tom's Music House walked into her store to have a look around.
"We hit it off right away," Bambauer said. "He's a very nice man. Very passionate about music. He invited me to come see his store in Concordia, and a few years later I made my first trip to Tom's Music House."
Bambauer continued to take on new roles and new challenges in her life. Over the decades she also performed with the Chuck Bauer Dance Band, the Jay Sterling Band, and the Mustache Joe Polka Band. All three bands toured the country and even played in Canada.
In 1985 and 1987 Bambauer was named the Music Counselor for the Mid-America Music Tour. The tour, in which high school students and their counselors performed together, played in cities in different countries all across Europe.
"We didn't go to Europe in 1986 because that was when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melted down, and nobody wanted to be anywhere near that."
In the year 2000, at the age of 72, Bambauer stepped down from school teaching. Don't use the word "retired", because Bambauer never retired from teaching music. To this day she continues to give private lessons in the basement of her home in Fairbury. She also drives to Concordia almost every Monday to give lessons to local residents.
"I have no relations close by. I'm the last survivor of a long line of relatives. I work in my yard and I teach. It's all I have to do. I never did retire, and I don't ever plan on retiring."
Bambauer started giving music lessons in Concordia in 2000, and has taught hundreds of music enthusiasts in the Concordia and Cloud County area over the ensuing 20 years.
"I wish I had more teachers like Charline," said Kenny Johnston, who along with Paul Rimovsky are the co-owners of Tom's Music House. "If kids, or even adults, are serious about learning a life skill like playing an instrument, the ability to have access to private lessons is a great benefit. To learn from an outstanding teacher like Charline, with her experience and overall knowledge of music, is really special."
"Charline is such a rarity," said Rimovsky, who was instrumental in bringing Bambauer to Concordia. "She's devoted her entire life to teaching the joy of music to others."
"I've really enjoyed all my teaching, in so many different locations," Bambauer said. "I've met so many wonderful young students over my career, and it's very special to me to be able to help them find a passion for music and singing."
When posing for a photograph of herself on the drum set, Bambauer fiddled with the snare drum and adjusted the cymbal stand, and then tested the bass drum and tom-tom.
"Out of tune," she said matter-of-factly, and then proceeded to fuss with the drums some more. She was reminded that it would just be a photograph; no one would actually hear her playing.
Her reply was pure Charline Bambauer: "I will know."
91 years young; a gem of the Midwest; telling it like it is as she teaches students to never settle for anything less than the best they can be.
That is the essence of Charline Bambauer.