Retired professor finds new life as fiddler

 Former physics professor won composing music contest

By Tom Watts
The Macomb Daily

HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. (AP) — As a physics professor at Wayne State University, Talbert Stein had no time for fiddling around.

When he retired 10 years ago, the Huntington Woods resident found he could pursue the things he always wanted to do.

Stein, 73, picked up the fiddle after setting it aside for 45 years and rediscovered his passion for music. He recently won a composing music contest sponsored by Fiddler magazine.

“I am totally excited about it,” said Stein, whose recent work was judged by a panel of expert fiddle players. “There were 110 entries and mine was chosen as the first-place tune.”

The winning tune, “Muddy Clam,” was named after a clam hunting trip to south New Jersey.

Stein told The Macomb Daily that he will enjoy the $100 cash prize, three volumes of DVDs from the Fiddle Masters Concert Series, and will always relish the letter recognizing him as the winner.

Stein will also get his winning music score published in the 20th anniversary issue of Fiddler magazine coming out this spring.

Not bad for a former professor who took up playing the fiddle again after retiring.

“When I entered college to study physics, I put the violin aside,” Stein said. “I played since I was 8 years old through Detroit Public Schools and Detroit Cass Tech. I always had a love for music.

“Music was one of things I wanted to renew when I retired. I found a local fiddle teacher; took eight lessons and told her my real focus was to get together and play with people.”

Stein explored the club scene and was welcomed with open arms from other musicians.

“I dived into playing with people,” Stein said. “I made a few connections. At that time I was 63 years old and thought I might have problems finding people.”

To the contrary — Stein got connected early and often in the music scene.

Performing at cider mills, farmers markets, weddings, fundraisers and private parties have kept Stein busy over the years since retirement.

Stein said he currently plays in a duo called Stringtime with guitarist Tom Allen on Sundays during the cider mill season. The duo entertains visitors to Goodison Cider Mill on Orion Road in Rochester.

“For several years, Tom and I also played at Paint Creek Cider Mill every Saturday during the season,” he said. “It is a totally joyful thing.”

Stein said his fortunes changed in 2009 when a woman, Mackenzie Lerchen of Ann Arbor, asked if he could play “Devil’s Dream,” a well-known fiddle tune.

“I asked her if she played fiddle, and she was active in country music,” Stein said.

Stein soon got guitarist Ryan Blankenship, 38, of Royal Oak, to join Lerchen, 29, in the twin-fiddle/guitar trio Devils Dream.

“I remember giving Mackenzie a call and asked if I could bring Ryan to her studio in Rochester,” Stein said, noting the trio has played at the Oasis Dessert Bar in Rochester and at Goldfish Tea Café in Royal Oak.

“We’re not playing a lot (now) because Mackenzie works full-time, but we started this and decided to call ourselves ‘Devils Dream,’ because of her request at the time,” Stein said, noting Lerchen also plays in two other bands, The Flutter and Wow, and The Scott Thompson Band.

Stein said he wrote all the songs for the CD “Tunes from the Woods,” which he recorded with Devil’s Dream. Special guest, David Mosher, recorded the music in his “By the Lake Studio” in Brighton. It is available on Amazon, iTunesand CD

Stein also has a self-published book, “Tunes from the Woods,” which includes 40 of his jigs, reels, and waltz compositions. Chords are included as well as the stories behind a number of the tunes and their titles.

Stein said he plans to reconnect soon with his Devil’s Dream bandmates. Until then, he will keep adding to his collection of over 5,000 songs he has either written or composed or “sung into a little mini-recorder the size of a pill box.”

“It’s purely the joy that music brings you, and the joy music brings to other people.”


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