MARQUETTE - Bob Buchkoe has shared the stage with national acts like The Coasters, The Drifters and The Platters.
He has earned a master's degree in music education.
But those things don't top the list when he thinks about his musical life.
Marquette musican Bob Buchkoe has been playing the piano for 50 years and has been teaching the instrument for 40 years. He’s shared the stage with national touring acts, and said he still loves teaching piano and instilling an appreciation and passion for music in young people. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"Perhaps the greatest reward," he said. "is keeping great music alive through my students and knowing I have had an impact on their lives."
As of this fall, Buchkoe has been playing the piano for 50 years and has been teaching the instrument for 40 years but neither has gotten old for him.
"In the summer, some of the students take some time off, but I had one who wanted to continue on while he was going to Bay Cliff," said Buchkoe, referring to the camp in Big Bay for kids with physical challenges. "I went up there to visit and to do lessons as part of hyis phycial thearpy. I enjoyed that."
Buchkoe, 56, is a Marquette native whose original home might come as a surprise to many.
"I grew up at the (Marquette Branch) prison," he said. "My dad was the warden. I lived there from the time was 6 months old until my first year of college. My brother, Tom, and I both grew up there.
"We lived up there in the main building, on the left side where the offices are," he said. "It was just the four of us in a 31-room mansion. It was kind of like living in the White House."
The intimidating surroundings didn't deter Buchkoe from making friends at school.
"We could send the prison driver to pick us up after school, so my cousins and my friends could visit," he said. "There was never any trouble. The trusties were trustworthy."
The piano lessons were something older brother Tom started with first.
"He's five years older than me so he started first," Buchkoe said. "My parents had both played so it was the thing to do.
"I quit after two years of lessons, but I never stopped playing," he said. "Ten years later, when I was in high school, I went back to the teacher who had to cure me of some bad habits I'd developed. But I was already playing Beethoven sonatas. I have always had the ability to play by ear and to improvise."
Buchkoe was in high school when he started to teach. HIs first student was his cousin Debbie who is now a high school teacher in Ohio.
"It was Debbie first, then her siblings," he said. "My first real professional student was when we moved here (to his home on Fourth Street)."
Through the years, Buchkoe has averaged perhaps 40 students a year, sometimes having as many as 55 people taking lessons at any one time. There hasn't been an upper age range, but the youngest is a recent student, who started at age 2.
His public performing career has been going for about five decades as well.
"My first was when my mother had me play for a Daughters of Isabella event," he recalled. "I have played for more weddings and private parties than I can count."
Buchkoe also has gigged at local venues like The Crow's Nest, the Ramada Inn, the Northwoods Supper Club and Wahlstrom's.
"I played once in Escanaba for a show with comedian Rip Taylor," he said. "And another time, I played with a small group for The Coasters, The Drifters and The Platters up in Calumet. One of The Platters told me in all the years they'd had people play with them, I was the only pianist who knew how to play the intro to 'My Prayer' correctly."
Buchkoe doesn't stick to one musical genre.
"I am equally comfortable with all styles of music," he said. "I recently figured out stride, which is considered the hardest of all pop styles. It's a lot of jumping around. It's kind of like target practice.
"I could play with a country band or a rock band. I know the styles," he said. "But 'cocktail music' is what I have done the most of, so far.
"I was drawn into music for the love of it and I love performing and bringing all kinds of music to my listeners, in hopes of expanding people's musical experiences and tastes."
Teaching continues to bring Buchkoe a great deal of satisfaction.
"I also love teaching piano and instilling a love and appreciation for music in young people. It is so gratifying to hear my students perform and to know that many of them grow up with a love for it that will be passed on to their children," he said.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.