Ben and Audrey Niemi are my parents. Both of them were fine musicians and teachers.
Ben Niemi (1917-2000) graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago after studying under Dudley Powers who taught at Northwestern for more than 30 years and was the chairman of the strings department for many years. Dad could have taken a position with the Chicago Symphony upon graduation, but instead he chose the education path, which was a much more suitable lifestyle for him than the cutthroat world of professional symphony musician. He taught at the International Falls public school system from about 1951 until 1972, after which he took over the music department for Rainy River State Junior College which had recently opened. Besides cello, Ben played trombone and had actually served as a trombonist in a military stage band (entertainment battalion) that was stationed in Hawaii during World War II. The stage band was led by popular trumpeter Ray Anthony, to whom Dad usually referred to as a “ladies man” who got by more on his looks than his lip. Dad also had fond memories of many poker games that included the troupe’s stand-up comedian, Larry Storch. Larry Storch went on to have a career in television in the 60s as the zany Corporal Agarn on the popular series “F Troop” along with many other successes in show business.
Audrey Niemi (1925 – ) will celebrate her 90th birthday in February 2015. She began her piano studies at age 5 under Patricia Lynch in International Falls. She doesn’t play much any more, but at the height of her powers she was a remarkable, powerful performer who had amazing sight reading capabilities. I have never seen anyone who could play music on sight as well as she could, including master works from the standard piano concert repertoire. Mom had a Baldwin grand as a child that burned in a house fire. She was finally able to get a concert quality replacement for that piano in 1963, which is a Mason & Hamlin A. The piano now is part of Euphonic Studio.
Mom decided to pursue an education degree late in life, and in the late 60s began studying at Bemidji State University. She studied piano with Lemke Karikas, a teacher whom I had met and taken lessons from during summer music camp at Bemidji. Mom graduated with her Education degree in 1971. It was moot; she had been a world class performer and piano instructor for decades before she got her degree.
Strangely, we have very few recordings of Ben and Audrey. One summer I took my Tascam Portastudio up to their place on Rainy Lake. At this time they were snow-birds, spending summers in the Falls and going to Harlingen, TX for the winters where they had a 4 bedroom home. I coaxed them into playing a few pieces. They played for fun in these days, both having retired from teaching and performing at least a half-decade before that. The conditions for this recording session were less than ideal. The room was a bedroom in a log cabin. I didn’t have any recording quality mics at the time, just stage equipment, and the instruments were not their best. Dad gave his fine cello to sister Nancy, and the Mason & Hamlin was down in Harlingen so Mom was playing a medium-scale Wurlitzer studio piano, one of 2 we had when she was teaching in town. Nonetheless, I find these recordings compelling because of the performances and despite the flaws (which there are some and I have resisted fixing) I hope you will enjoy them too.
It is fitting that musicians of this caliber who dedicated their lives to teaching others how to play and enjoy music should have a tribute page. I guess this is it. I have about half a dozen recordings to put up, will start with two today.
~ Bill Niemi, Euphonic Studio
Bach Cello Sonata BWV 1028 in D Major Mov. I & II
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns The Swan from Carnival of the Animals
You might say this was Dad’s signature song.
For those of you who don’t have a player on your portable device, I am uploading these to the Euphonic Studio SoundCloud page.
Thanks for listening.
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