Magazine Feature / People

Piano professor feeling the music again

Ted Lichtmann said when he retired from DU’s Lamont School of Music in 2007 after 37 years of teaching, “musicians cannot really retire.”

Indeed. After the classroom, Lichtmann continued to play recitals to the delight of many. But then he faced the sound that haunts musicians the most: silence. Debilitating arthritis had been gradually robbing his hands of their cartilage over the years.

Lichtmann says his last four piano recitals were done in “extreme pain.”

Last November, surgeons operated on his left hand and then in May, on his right hand.

“Not being able to play anymore was a distinct possibility — it actually still is, since I don’t know how long the recovery will take,” Lichtmann says.

Today there is a glimmer of good news: He can play about 30 minutes a day. “Way too little,” he says. “But it’s steadily, albeit slowly improving. So I haven’t totally lost my playing ability, there are much worse cases around, and I’m optimistic about the future. Living with and about music is about 97 percent of my life; I won’t lose that.”

And he adds that while giving private lessons, which he does occasionally, he can still demonstrate briefly for his students.

But the pain remains: “Every motion with my thumbs is painful.”

If he can return, he will perform with cellist Richard Slavich in February at Lamont and two concerts in March, one at Lamont and another at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins.

He admits he misses DU. “I miss the interaction with students and colleagues.”

Lichtmann began teaching at DU when Richard Nixon was in the White House, and one of his more prominent students was Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state. “I gave her piano lessons when she was a very young student at DU,” he says.

Lichtmann grew up in Switzerland where he says he heard music at home “from babyhood on.”

He started studying piano at age 5, and by 15, he was appearing professionally as a collaborative pianist.

“He’s one of the best sight readers I’ve ever known,” says Slavich, who has known Lichtmann for 29 years. “He can pick up basically anything and play it instantly.”

Here’s to breaking the silence.

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