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Self-proclaimed pianist shares gift of music with locals | Entertainment

OSCODA — Like many of us approaching middle age, Tom Erlenbaugh has set a goal for himself. He decided that after he was given a Casio keyboard and when he turned 50, he decided to learn to play the piano himself.

All four of the older Erlenbaugh sisters had lessons as children, but none of them succeeded in learning how to play with chopsticks. Erlenbaugh, the last of seven children, was born and raised in Indiana. By the time he asked for piano lessons, his parents had become frustrated with their children taking piano lessons and said no.

Erlenbaugh came to Oskoda to serve in the Air Force at the former Wurtsmith airbase. In 1983, he spent a whole year three hours a day learning how to play the bass guitar. After leaving the serviceHe taught himself how to play, grew his hair long, and joined a heavy metal band.

“Everyone wanted to be rock stars, to be ahead of the curve, so becoming a bassist was easy,” he said.

Since then, Erlenbaugh has played in many bands, and over the years has been a member of grounded, a band in which he still plays bass guitar. Playing bass in bands for 30 years, he had an ear for music that made it easy for him to learn to play the piano.

“I have hundreds of songs in my library,” he said, pointing to his head.

Now aged 60 and with a shaved head, Erlenbaugh can be seen playing the piano several nights a week at Tait’s Bar and Grill on Dwight Street in downtown Oscoda.

Although Bill Tait, the owner of Tait’s, was initially hesitant to let him play, Erlenbaugh has been a regular at the bar for the past five years, where he plays out of sheer love of music and tips. He was very excited when Tate recently tuned the piano.

Erlenbaugh accepts requests spanning several decades and musical genres. He can play blues, jazz, country, contemporary Christian, easy listening, classic rock and honky tonk.

“The honky-tonk hides when the piano is out of tune,” he said. Blues and country are the easiest to play because they are pretty much based on three chords,” he said.

Given his 30 years of bass playing experience, he was told by classically trained pianists that he plays the piano like a guitar. He only plays songs using lower octaves. Erlenbaugh describes himself as a “pianist”, a “terrible singer” and as someone with a “tin ear” but a great sense of rhythm.

Erlenbaugh’s favorite genres of music that he plays on the piano include jazz and blues. In addition to performing music written by others, Erlenbaugh has four original songs that he wrote for piano. “Flat Bag” reminds him of a rainy Monday and uses B flat, A flat and G flat chords. “Nod to the Big Band Era” is reminiscent of big band songs from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of his original compositions remain untitled.

On Saturday nights, Erlenbaugh can be found at the Methodist Church in downtown Oskoda, where he plays bass with Tones of the world. He likes to play the piano in church. Erlenbaugh can also be found playing the piano at the Shoreline Theatre, Oscoda Senior Center, Oscoda Villages Clubhouse and occasionally at the Bavarian Bakery. He appreciates that each piano sounds a little different and fits the music he plays, the piano sound.

Erlenbaugh credits Bill Rudolph, who conducts the Methodist Church’s worship band, for challenging him to become a better pianist.

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