By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

A lively bit of music

Ted Eastman delights and entertains with his accordion


November 7, 2019

Lois Johnson

Ted Eastman plays his accordion at performances at nursing homes and assisted living homes in the area.

Music has been a passion of Ted Eastman's all of his life, and now it is his saving grace.

"I was 6 when my dad started giving me accordion lessons," he said in a recent interview. "I was 8 when I started playing professionally. Dad took me to Stein's grocery store. That was where the community center is now. Earl Stein's dad had the store and then Earl took over later.

"When I was 10, I went to the state hospital and played with the patients' band. At 12, I played at the Moose Club. There were dances there all of the time."

Another local musician, Florian Chmelewski is a well-known and life long accordion player from the area.

"He was a competitor but he played more polkas," said Eastman. "I used to play at the Bohemian Hall in Denham, the Farmers' Hall in Cromwell, Happy's by Hinckley, the Star Club, the Pine Camp by Finlayson, and at a place in Pine City.

"I played at the Shamrock Ballroom by Big Sandy Lake and two other places. I played at Latin American clubs in the Cities and at golf clubs. People asked me if I played golf. I told them that I played there but not golf."

Eastman's claim to fame was to play for shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and bandleader Xavier Cugat.

"I played Greek music for Onassis," he said. "And I played Latin American music for Cugat. He was married to Abbe Lane at the time. He was later married to Charo. They said that she was 15 and he was 65. I think that she was more like 25 when she married him.

"It was an honor to play for Aristotle. The music is nine beats to a measure. It feels different, it's not like a polka or a waltz."

Eastman is versatile in the kinds of music that he can play.

"One thing that makes it fun is that I can play Ukrainian dances and Latvian dances," he said. "Those are all very different."

But, at the age of 85, Eastman is still open to learning something new.

"Now I am into Finnish music," he said. "Jeanne Doty is 100 percent Finnish and a concert violinist as well as a concert accordionist. She's also a retired professor from UMD.

"I played with her and a group at the Sons of Norway Hall not long ago," he said. "She has a Finnish brother that lives in Norway. He came in for the concert. He sings opera there. What a powerful voice he has!"

Jeanne and Dan Doty now live in Moose Lake and are part of the group that started Agate Encores last year, a non-profit organization that brings a variety of music to the community.

"We just had our first concert for the season," said Eastman. "It was very well received. On Nov. 17, an accordion orchestra is going to perform. It is called an accordion orchestra but they only have one accordion player."

Teaching music was Eastman's career.

"I taught in Hinckley for a few years and then taught band in Moundsview for 22 years," he said. "I can play the trumpet and baritone because I had to know how to play them so I could teach the students."

In retirement years, Ted and his wife, Pat, spent the winters in Florida.

"She remembered what winters were like in Minnesota from when she was growing up," he said. "She didn't want to live here in the winter. We built a home on the lake where we spent the summers."

The couple had been married for 60 years when Pat died in January 2016. Such great loss is continued to be felt.

"It's still hard," he said.

They have a son in Denver and a daughter in St. Paul and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After the loss of Pat, Ted just didn't have the interest in music that he once had.

"I quit when Pat died," he said. "But I kept getting calls to perform. I called Rose (Kuhlman, whom he knew from the community band)."

The two now go and perform an average of twice a week at nursing homes and assisted living homes throughout the area, from Cloquet to Hinckley.

"Rose is real good on the clarinet and she really gets the crowd going," said Eastman. "We play waltzes, music from the 1930s and sing-alongs. I find that a lot of the people in the homes are younger than I am. Some are in their 70s and a few are 100."

Eastman was the director of the Moose Lake Community Band for a couple of years but stepped down a year or two ago. He still plays his baritone in the band.

As he looks back on his life, music has been a big part of it, even now in his senior years.

"Music has been in my whole life," he said. "I don't know what I would have done without it. It keeps me going."


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