It was just what the doctor ordered. Back in 1962, when William “Doc” Tietze was director of bands at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, he had the opportunity to direct the swing band while trumpeter Doc Severinsen sat in as guest soloist.
“He held back,” Tietze said. “It wasn’t like you saw him on Johnny Carson. (When I saw him on TV, I thought), ‘Gee, that’s not the same guy.’ He’s a wonderful player, and he still is.”
This meeting of the Docs is just one of many musical memories Tietze, of the Village of St. Charles, has gathered over the years.
While a member of the U.S. Navy Band, Tietze played for a couple of presidents.
During a big band performance at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., around 1943, Tietze had heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be attending. But at the beginning of the show, he only saw Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor.
“After intermission, (FDR) was there,” Tietze said.
In 1948, Tietze was asked to play with a small group at President Harry S. Truman’s Little White House in Key West.
Also in the 1940s, the U.S. Navy band was part of a show featuring comedian Bob Hope on the Russell Islands, about 30 miles west of Guadalcanal.
“Being green behind the ears,” Tietze said, “playing for such an individual was scary.”
During the late-morning rehearsal, a shaded area had been cordoned off for more than 200 dignitaries, while other officers were sitting in the sun. Tietze said Hope asked him and the rest of the band why they were sitting in the sunny area, then cut the rope when he found out.
“He was a man for everybody,” Tietze said of Hope.
From football player to musician
Tietze, 89, and his wife of 68 years, Pernella “Perkie” Tietze, 90, both play instruments: Doc plays the saxophones and clarinet, while Perkie plays the piano. Doc also has directed several college bands and swing bands.
“(Music is) about feeling free, whether it’s conducting or whether it’s playing,” Doc said. “I feel like I’m in a different world.”
Growing up in La Crosse, Wis., the two knew each other from church, and they both had a love of music.
At first, Doc was more interested in sports than instruments. In the ninth grade, he played the fullback position on the high school football team.
During one game, he took a hit to the stomach and got knocked out.
He woke up the next day in the hospital.
Despite this setback, Doc asked his father if he could get back to playing football once he got better.
“My father came unglued,” Doc said. “Then my mom said, ‘Why don’t you take up an instrument?’”
As for Perkie, she was 5 years old when she started taking piano lessons.
Throughout her life, Perkie played classical pieces at professional gigs. She also taught piano.
“That’s always interesting, to take a child who’s 5 to 6 years old and get them to know how to play,” Perkie said.
In addition to the piano, Perkie liked to play the vibraphone.
Doc and Perkie became a couple about a year after the events of Pearl Harbor.
“After I had done a lot of work with her accompanying me for recitals, I realized I had a built-in accompanist,” Doc said, “and they’re hard to come by. We had the same interests and goals. Away we went.”
Playing and conducting music
Around that same time, Doc joined the Navy and headed to Washington, D.C., to spend six years with the band. After serving in the Navy, he found himself in Jacksonville, where he joined the city’s symphony orchestra, playing with that group from 1950 to 1951.
“That was unexpected for us,” Doc said. “I just happened to be there.”
He went to the Jacksonville Conservatory of Music, which eventually merged with Jacksonville University, to earn his bachelor’s degree in music. He later earned a master’s degree of music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate at the University of Iowa.
Doc’s most recent musical contribution took place in Naples, when he conducted the Gulf Coast Big Band for three years.
Doc and Perkie have passed on their love of music to their five children.
Since moving to The Villages about a year ago, Doc has been recovering from a couple of health issues, but said he might try to enter the music world here once he’s back at full strength.
“I love to play and I love to direct,” he said.