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Grandfather's love of music shaped many lives, including mine

Posted December 19, 2016

I love music.

It began when my dad made me join my church choir when I was a little kid barely old enough to read. I started singing, then playing the piano and then in middle school, I decided to play the trumpet.

I did it for a few reasons. I was drawn to the fact that there were only three keys, I could play it easily, and we happened to have a few trumpets and a coronet hanging around the house. My brother played trumpet — and so did my grandfather, Homer Luther, who died when I was 3 years old.

The trumpets belonged to him.

My grandfather loved music, too, and he owned a little music shop in the tiny town of Ponca City, Oklahoma.

He had trumpets, organs, pianos, records and sheet music, of course; he had it all. At Christmastime, he decorated the store with lights and plastic figurines. I imagine it was a quaint little shop on the main street of Ponca City, filled with my grandfather’s passion.

One of the things for sale in my grandfather’s shop was a set of drums. (Truth be told, looking back, I secretly wish I had learned to play the drums instead of the trumpet, but we didn’t inherit the drum set.) One day in the spring of 1954, my grandfather reached out to a drum manufacturer and invited him to come to his store. Homer sold the man’s drums in his store, and he asked him to teach a clinic for the high school band and percussion section. Homer also said he wanted the man to meet one of his employees.

The man’s name was William F. Ludwig II, son of William Ludwig Sr., creator of Ludwig drums. Ludwig Jr. designed the company’s drums and worked closely with artists to gain their endorsement. At the time that he stopped by my grandfather’s store, Ludwig Jr. was working closely with Buddy Rich, a man who was later named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 greatest drummers of all time.

On May 5, 1954, Ludwig drove his brand new blue and white Oldsmobile to my grandfather’s music store and walked inside.

“When I entered the store, I was engulfed in the beautiful music of Respighi’s 'Pines of Rome,'” Ludwig wrote in his autobiography, “The Making of a Drum Company.” “I located the source of this music in the record department, and Homer introduced me to Maggie Parker, the department head. … It was love at first sight, pushed along by the music.”

Ludwig proposed to Parker that night, and they were married within two and a half months. The next year, they had a son, William Ludwig III, and had been married 47 years when Ludwig published his book in 2001.

Ten years after Ludwig visited my grandfather’s music store, a new band used a Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl drum set as they made their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show." As Ringo Starr bashed his Ludwig drums with the Beatles logo written on them in black and white, Ludwig’s company was forever changed. He worked with other famous artists, including John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, and he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

“After 45 years in the business, William F. Ludwig II is recognized as a leading authority in the manufacture of all types of percussion instruments and guardian of the Ludwig family heritage,” J.J. Rusch wrote in an article for the Percussive Arts Society.

To think, after all of these years, my grandfather played a small, but very important role in Ludwig’s life. I guess that is the power of music, a power my grandfather passed down for generations.

If only he’d passed down the drums, too.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.

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