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MICHIGAN MUSIC

August 1, 2001 "BEST OF" ISSUE

Meet Ted Strunck... Renaissance Guy

INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY PT QUINN

Ted is many things... but this is about his music and how it impacts Michigan music for decades to come.. 

I first met Royal Oak resident Ted Strunck about 20 years ago. He and his wife Jane had built a rather impressive solar house, and I produced a segment about it in a TV show I put together called “Sunspot” at a local access cable station. He took us through a grand tour of his home which included a greenhouse, solar panels, super insulation and a whole
lot of heart. In the late seventies the Strunck’s with the help of  some really good friends built it with their own hands utilizing recycled materials like barn beams and hardwood floors from structures slated for demolition , and wherever they could find them. The results are impressive and the house is doing just fine. One thing Ted built is an upper loft which serves as a music room with its piano and space for home recording. 
Ted is many things... a husband, father, builder, musician, teacher, and purveyor of making the extraordinary seem
unremarkable in his understated demeanor. But this is about his music and how it impacts a lot of kids. Born in Detroit 52 years ago, he was raised in Muskegon from the tender age of 2. The music bug hit Ted when he picked up his first guitar at the age of 8, and it has been with him ever since throughout the course of his life.  He played guitar in his
first rock and roll band in the 7th grade quite frankly because it became second nature. His agile fingers grace the fretboard in a seemingly effortless way as he floats about and investigates the incantations and nuances of the sound. 

...picked up his first guitar at the age of 8

The first time I heard Ted, I thought he was a pop star. Never flashy, his compositions reminded me in substance of the Beatles. He even sold a few of his songs to a couple of Canadian top 40 groups. Ted gave me copies of a few of his self produced cassettes. The one I still have goes from produced pop songs on one side to a Vivaldi guitar solo on the other. I always had respect for Ted on a number of levels. Sure, the solar house saves the family money, and adds
to the quality of their lifestyle while reducing the need of fossil fuels. That’s a given in it’s design. Ecology is something Ted and Jane have always championed. When Ted was in the 8th grade his Dad moved the family to Ann Arbor where Ted continued to take guitar lessons and play in several dance bands. later while attending Michigan State, he considered but rejected majoring in music. Now he recalls: “ I didn’t want to hate music, dislike music. I thought if I took it at the formal university level I might. So I stayed away from it”.  Ted started playing folk music in the coffee house circuit with a group called “Touchstone” who got some nibbles but no contracts from a few record labels. 
After traveling to Europe by himself in his freshman year, Ted decided he wanted to become a professional musician.  After a 4 year stint at the Renaissance Center coffee house downtown Detroit, Ted re-examined what to do next. In ‘91 he pulled out his teaching certificate and went to work at Upland Hills School in Oxford Michigan.  He found the private school much to his likening. It was conducive to the encouragement of the performing arts and had an ecology awareness center across a gorge. So Ted started teaching music to youngsters. Then, his building background surfaced. Over a 2 year period, he and his students went to work and built a wonderful wooden bridge across the
gorge making it easy to cross over to the ecology  center and turning it into a performance venue... where Ted and fellow instructor Karen Moore mold kids into becoming singers and actors in productions like Alice in Wonderland. Ted adapted his own music. The kids loved it and now every year they produce a new musical.

Ted and Jane have a couple of kids, Jesse and Stephanie. They all live an idealic but modest lifestyle that’s somewhat obscured at the end of a dead end street next to a golf course adding to the view. When I hooked up with Ted for this story, he was busy working out the details of Alice. I spent an enjoyable few hours watching Ted and Karen rehearse
their students for some shows coming up that weekend.  

...he was busy working out the details of Alice. 

During a break, this is what he had to say.....
PT Quinn: Why Music?   Ted Strunck:  It’s the most spiritual activity a human can do in the physical plane.  It’s a bridge. A non material thing that affects people deeply.  I like the power of music.

PT:  What inspired you to give up a professional music career to began a new profession teaching kids?  Ted:
When I was in college, I took education classes. I took whatever I felt like taking. At the end of my junior year I piled them together into a teaching certificate. I actually graduated with one in ‘71, but I never used it until 20 years later. One of the changes came after Jane and I adopted 2 kids. That changed my life incredibly. I guess I wanted a normal schedule. Being home and awake when they’re home and awake. A musicians life is pretty rough. It can kill you if you let it. I had enough of it really. I just didn’t want to play in Ed’s Bar on 8 mile or whatever it was going to be. I didn’t want to leave Detroit. I was making good money as a musician. My goals just changed.

PT:  In your solar house, you have a music room in the upper loft. Is there an ambiance there for creativity?  Ted:
There is. It’s where I write most of my music. Living inside a house that was once inside your head is a fulfilling experience. When a person looks around a solar house they’ve built, it becomes more than a shelter. It’s a mental state. It grew out of an awareness of environmental issues.

We had to come up with materials that were free, easy to work with, and structurally sound.

PT:  That bridge across the gorge is pretty impressive. Tell us about that.  Ted:  The director walked me from the school down the gully over to the center. I thought it was too tough and I didn’t want to be lugging my instruments up and down that valley. And I thought what a neat place to build a bridge. Several years later when I was given the opportunity to teach the oldest group of students, 7th and 8th graders... I didn’t want to be trapped in a class room. I wanted to get them outside and wear them out. I’d get them back into the classroom and they’d be tired...  ready to sit there and listen. The director said we could build it, but no money was available. We had to come up with materials that were free, easy to work with, and structurally sound. It took a couple of years.  Now we’re building a geodesic dome greenhouse. Next year we’ll try to replicate the cyclical systems of the planet. Water, air, pollination, learn about them within the confines of the dome.
PT:  In the middle of all this you’re teaching kids music.  Ted:  I love being a teacher. I love working with children. What they teach  me. Kids demand the best... honesty all the time. They make me want to be the best I can be every day I come here. I like their youthfulness. I like passing on my values about the natural world.

I love working with children.

PT:  All that plus music is a noble cause.  Ted:  Oh yeah. Some of them go off to become professional musicians. One girl I had a few years ago put out her first CD and we’re all excited about that. Another at Interlochen is a wiz-bang piano player and composer. A lot of my kids write songs and learn to play guitar and drums. I teach 
the entire school music.

PT:  You and your director Karen Moore are now doing a production of Alice in Wonderland. This is part of your philosophy about teaching. Getting them into performance.  Ted:  Yes. We feel the performing arts are a great teaching tool. We try to incorporate values. One piece is about how important good friends are... what they mean.. what they can be to you. We’ve written shows about the natural world. Songs about being involved in the dance of life. We wrote a song about heroes. How you can change the world and make a difference.
PT:  What advise would you give somebody who wants to teach music?  Ted:  You have to take courses in academics and music. It’s a double whammy.  It’s really tough to do that. If you teach anything, it should be
something you love. What the students leave with are the things that you as a teacher love.  I like to model my students into figuring out things they don’t know. What it takes to do a task.
PT:  One last question. If you could spend a month on a desert island with somebody, who would that be?  Ted:  Wow!  For the intellectual stimulation, spending time with Albert Einstein would be fantastic... All the questions I could ask!

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Published in Recording Engineer's Quarterly and Alexander magazines with permission

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