Roger Gale takes his piano recitals seriously, but that doesn’t keep him from mixing them up with a little humor.
“I always wanted to be a standup comic,” Gale said, “but whenever I told jokes the audience always told me to ‘Sit down. Sit down.’ Playing the piano allows me to be a ‘sit-down’ comic.”
So, if you’re in the mood for swing songs from the 1930s ’40s and ’50s and some wit from Gale, plan to attend his free recital at 6 p.m. Saturday at Southport Presbyterian Church, 7525 McFarland Road.
The recital will feature compositions by Duke Ellington. “That’s my kind of music. It’s what I grew up on,” said Gale, 87, who performs three shows a year. A sampling of his comedy might be: “People want me on the stage all right. ... The one that will be pulled out of town by 10 horses.
“I find playing just as enjoyable now as it was 50 years ago, but there is no reason to play if you keep it to yourself. You have to play so others can enjoy the music and life. I play a lot of my own arrangements. I play music like Duke would have written it ... and add my style to it. I like to see the smiles on people’s face when I play. I like to see them walk out happy. I know I am not the best, but I love to play. I hope I get to play in heaven.
“I’m practicing about 45 minutes every day – in between my naps. I have to set a good example for my students,” a reference to the 23 pianists who take lessons from him. “I know when my students haven’t been practicing, and I let them know it.”
Gale said he would like to take on more students, but that would cut into his practice time, which he cherishes.
Born in 1928 in Frankfort, Ind., Gale began playing the piano five years later. The first piano that he banged away on is still in his home; it’s one of five throughout the residence.
He graduated from Warren Central High School and Indiana University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He taught all grade levels in Brookville and at Richmond High before teaching art at Southport from 1965-1990. “If someone would have told me that I would move to the Southside when I resided on the Eastside, I would have said they were nuts,” he said. “The Southside was nothing but dirt and farmland. But I love the Southside.”
Gale recalls going to the Circle Theater in the 1940s and early ’50s to watch movies and news reels and listen to the likes of Duke Ellington and Frankie Carle. “It only cost about 50 cents, and the bands would play up to five times. I purchased a piano that Duke might have played on. I gave it to one of my students,” said Gale, who was a second lieutenant in the Air Force. “Can you believe I was an intelligence officer.”
He is in the midst of recording his first compact disc with the assistance of the Rev. Tim Shapiro, his son-in-law. “It will be my Christmas greeting if it’s done on time.”
Gale and his wife of 59 years, Virginia, have four children, Eric, Gretchen, Sarah and Tom, all of whom played in the orchestra at Southport. The couple also have 10 grandchildren.
The couple spend much of their free time spreading the joy of knowing Jesus to those they meet each day. “If I hear about sick people through friends or the church, I’ll call them, write them notes or take them out to lunch,” Roger Gale said.
The octogenarian isn’t the least worried that his playing days might be numbered. “My oldest brother, Bill, is 91. Mark is 85, and my sister, Barbara, is 83. I had a grandmother who lived to be 101.
Gale once performed before more than 700 people at Warren Central High and entertained at the governor’s residence for Frank and Judy O’Bannon. As a member of the Indiana State Fair board, he started the young Hoosier pianist competition, which is still held.
The Gales’ residence sits off of McFarland Road in a parklike setting that features the chickens they raise. They use to have horses until they sold off some of their acreage. “We love it here,” he said. “Sometimes there will be 25 cardinals at the bird feeders.” The couple’s home teems with breathtaking geraniums – brought inside for the cold months – in hues of red, orange and fuchia.
Named after the professional baseball player Roger Hornsby, Gale once asked his father, who also played pro ball, whether he regretted that his son was not an athlete as were other family members. His father answered, “Of course not. You’re the happiest man I know.”