By San Slomovits • Photos by Joni Strickfaden
When I emailed Anne Ormond to ask if I could interview her for this profile in the Crazy Wisdom Journal she replied, “Sure, why not? For Crazy Wisdom? That is a pretty good description of me—crazy wisdom.” The answer is typical Anne; brief, perceptive, a little self-deprecating, and witty. In a later conversation I said to her, “A lot of people your age are doing a fraction of what you’re doing,” she shot back with, “A lot of people my age are dead.” Anne is 83, and still busily engaged in a dizzying array of organizations and activities. “Well, I got to be 83, and I am still healthy—through pure luck and heredity, and maybe also thanks to my healthy life-style. I am constantly doing things; physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Many things that I do fit into more than one category. I choose to do things that I love. I have passions.” And she seems compelled to seize every opportunity to wring as much as possible out of every single moment.
Nevertheless, amidst all this plethora of interests two dominant themes emerge; music and moving. Anne plays clarinet and piano in a nU-Mber of local ensembles. She still plays an average of forty concerts a year with, among others, the Ann Arbor Concert Band, the Ann Arbor SU-Mmer Civic Band, the Dexter Community Band, the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra, Pittsfield Open Band (Contra Dance Band), Clarinet ContinuU-M, and various chamber music groups. “All amateur, just for fun.” She is also a proud member of the Ann Arbor AlU-Mni Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon International Professional Music Fraternity.
The Fraternity is committed to the advancement of beautiful music in local communities and around the world – fostering “Service to Others Through Music”— as well as the promotion of musicianship and scholarship among its members.
Music has been a lifelong abiding passion for Anne. A short upright piano and a small baby grand occupy pride of place in her living room. When I remark on them she says nonchalantly, “Well, I play with a partner.” She continues, “I begged for a piano from the time I first touched one when I was five. I put a finger on a key, it made a sound and I thought that was the most marvelous thing that had happened to me in my life.” Her parents were not musical. “They liked Lawrence Welk. They hoped I would forget about this, but I kept asking, and when I was seven, all of my schoolmates in our neighborhood had to take piano lessons on the piano in their dining room, which they all had. And I could not. I asked my parents, they said, ‘Well, you’ll learn better, faster if you wait till you’re older. Besides, you should be able to reach an octave before you try to play the piano.’ I don’t know how my parents knew the word octave. (Laughter) Anyway, I kept trying, and when I was ten I came home before Christmas and said, ‘Mom, I did it. I reached an octave!’ My parents bought that piano in 1942, (she points to the Howard upright), gave me lessons with a woman down the street, and I was very happy. The Kimball baby grand, I bought at King’s Keyboard in 1990.”
Born Anne Dowling in Chicago in 1935, her family moved to Willamette, Illinois when Anne was about to enter high school. In her sophomore year she decided to join the marching band as a way to make friends in her new surroundings. She laughs as she describes how she wound up playing clarinet. “My father said, ‘No brass—it’s not ladylike.’ My mother hoped not the violin, she couldn’t stand how screechy they were. Little did she know what the clarinet could do. The band director said, ‘No brass? Well, we have too many flutes already, and surprisingly, we have enough oboes, and besides you wouldn’t want to play that because oboists go crazy.’ (Imagine hearing this from a band director!) ‘How about the clarinet?’ he asked. I said, ‘Great.’ I had no idea what one was.” But, because of her years of musical training on the piano, she took to the clarinet quickly and after high school entered Michigan State University as a music major on clarinet. She transferred to the University of Michigan a third of the way through her college sophomore year because, “I’d been to Interlochen and worked with Maynard Klein, who was choral director at U-M, and I wanted to include vocal music in my education.” She graduated from U-M in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.
She also met her first husband there, renowned clarinetist, Fred Ormand, who was completing his bachelor’s at U-M. Anne taught vocal music at an elementary school in Wayne and then near Lansing while Fred completed his Master’s degree at Michigan State. A few years later, in 1962, after living and teaching in Texas, the young couple moved back to Michigan, and Fred became a member of the faculty of the debut year of the Interlochen Arts Academy. Now the Interlochen Center for the Arts, is an arts boarding school for students in grades 3-12, as well as offering a yearly SU-Mmer Arts Camp, concerts, classes and many other arts events. Their first child, Keith, had been born in Texas, and, “We happened to have the first Academy faculty baby, our second child, Kirk, that November. We were up there with other young people, all in about the same stage of life, early 20s, early 30s,
having kids, families growing up. For the next few years, among the faculty, all living on the campus at Interlochen, there were twenty-two pre-school children, all wandering around free. There were no fences around houses, we all knew everybody there was safe.
When I lived there, nobody ever locked their doors. I never locked my bike, even in the sU-Mmers when the campers were there. This was a different era, this was a different community. Everybody knew everybody. When the kids went trick or treating they didn’t have to have an adult with them. Our back door opened out into the woods. We cross-country skied in there, we walked in there, we biked in there, we did everything in those woods. They wandered without supervision. They knew where they were going, they knew how to get back. If a kid said they were going out into the woods—if they thought to even tell us—they’d be OK. (Laughter) They wouldn’t get lost. They all survived.
One time when my kids were four and five, it was winter and there was snow, and they came back (after being outside for awhile). “Guess what, Mom! We stamped out a big SOS in one of the fields in the woods, and we were waiting to be rescued, but they haven’t come yet. (Laughter) We had to go to Traverse City for the hospital (to give birth). My daughter, Carol, was actually born in fifty minutes between two concerts that my husband was involved in. (Laughter) We left one, he drove me to the hospital, she was born, he left me, drove back, and watched his kids do the other one. It was fun.”
After ten years Fred was going to take a leave from Interlochen, and they were going to live in Spain for a year, “Because it was cheap. So,” she says matter-of-factly, “I had to learn Spanish. So, I learned Spanish to go to Spain–sat in on classes at Interlochen.” They never did go to Spain, instead, the family moved a nU-Mber of times, first to Evanston, Illinois, where Fred played with the Chicago Symphony for several years, then to Fredonia, New York, back to Michigan at MSU, before they finally settled in Ann Arbor, where Fred taught at the U-M from 1984 until he retired in 2007. “I was fortunate. I got a job every time we moved, one kind or another. After I learned Spanish, I added it to my teaching certificate and when we got here I got a job teaching Spanish at Ypsilanti High.” She taught there till she retired in 1997. There were some momentous events along the way, and she glosses over them quickly. “Fred and I divorced in 1990, and I met Z, Zoltan Drago, we got married; I inherited his kids, who were all grown at the time, and mine were just about too… He worked at Argus when Argus was contracted by NASA to do the lenses for the Apollo Mission. Therefore, he has lenses on the moon, and also in the Voyager that has left our solar system. Zoltan died in 2011. But we had twenty years, twenty years before he died. And I was married thirty-three years to Fred.”
The conversation turns back to music. Anne quit playing the clarinet after her second child was born. “Who had time?” But when she remarried, “Zoltan’s grandkids were learning musical instrU-Ments, and Mike said when he was ten, ‘I am learning to play the clarinet. You used to play the clarinet. We could play duets.’ I went to Carty’s to buy a clarinet. We had sold mine, I hadn’t played for thirty years or more. There were clarinets hanging on the wall, red, white, blue, green, and yellow to co-ordinate with band uniforms. (Laughs) I said, ‘Do you make these things in black anymore?’ So, I bought a cheap, and not very good Bundy, plastic clarinet for almost what my parents paid in high school for my professional model Buffet.” In three weeks, after she got her embouchure back, she started playing duets with her grandson. He eventually gave it up for football, “But I did not give it up.” And playing music fulfills another of her passions—interacting with people and giving back. “There are so many volunteer opportunities. It is always wonderful to be of some help to others. My volunteering is through music. This requires practice, rehearsals, the concerts themselves and travel time. All told, I volunteer around 500 hours each year to do these things. Besides the fun and absolutely emotionally thrilling time that my music groups give me, they also provide great opportunities for travel.” Anne goes to Interlochen every year for the adult Chamber Music weeks, has played in a Bands-at-Sea in the Caribbean every winter for the past seven years, travelled to Eastern Europe with the Dexter Community Band, to Scotland with the MSU AlU-Mni Band, and to China with the Valparaiso "Windiana" Cultural Exchange Concert Band.
Which brings us to another important theme in Anne’s life, moving. Besides all, the travelling she still does, and her family’s many moves, Anne has also long been, and continues to be very active physically. Last year I cross country skied with her in Miller Woods, “This winter I only cross country skied twenty times, “she says. “I consider that not good. One winter gave me seventy times, here in Ann Arbor. I did every day at Interlochen.” She ended one email exchange with me earlier this year with the following, “PS. My pneU-Monia seems to be going away.... back to skiing.”
She says she swims every day possible during the sU-Mmer. She leads a hike for friends every year in Miller Park, “To try to catch the Dames' Rockets at their peak.” I have caught glimpses of her enjoying the swing sets in Maryfield Park, and have seen her biking on our neighborhood streets. “I had a bike from the time I was ten. We didn’t have kid’s bikes, we had to learn on a full size. I learned on some neighbor kid’s. I still have my first bike, a 1945 Elgin, made in Elgin, Illinois. I call it an all-speed because it will go as fast as you can pedal. (Laughter.) It’s very big, red, and very heavy. I take it to Interlochen every year because I live in campus housing at the edge of camp, and I bike back and forth to every rehearsal, session, or meal. The car sits there parked for the entire two weeks. At one time, that bike had a kid seat behind the front handle bar and another kid’s rigged-up seat over the back basket, so that I could take two kids at once. Now at Interlochen it carries instrU-Ments and music.” Her second husband, Zoltan was a cyclist, and a member of the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, “I started riding with him, and we did club rides.” She still regularly joins the club’s Tuesday South Lyon ride to Kensington Lake, the Friday Hines Drive ride, and the Saturday morning Ann Arbor to Dexter breakfast ride, though she rarely continues on to Chelsea, “I have no reason to, the good stuff is at the Dexter Bakery.”
Of course, focusing only on her music and moving does not present a complete portrait of Anne. She’s a proud mom of her kids, nine grandkids, and two great grandkids. She’s a published, prize winning poet—writing in both Spanish and English. She’s an avid nature photographer, and transfers her photos into greeting cards for friends. And, in yet another example of her wit and imagination, she’s also Founder, President, and CEO of Rent-a-Skunk International, a whimsical company inspired by Garrison Keillor’s tales of his imaginary town of Lake Wobegone. She invited her son-in-law to be one of her vice-presidents. He agreed and she told him that while she’s out of town at Interlochen for two weeks, “You’re in charge.” (Laughter) “The skunks are free range, I don’t keep them anywhere. You may go catch your own. We rent them by the hour, the half day, the week, the month, the year. Why? Why not?”
Why not, indeed. Anne believes in the importance of continuing to learn and explore, “To keep re-inventing your life as necessary, and to ‘follow your dreams’.” And she adds, almost sternly. “If you have no dreams, find some. Our lives change. Life is a journey, and you have to adjust accordingly. You have to keep creating your new life. If you can no longer do a certain thing, you have to find new things to replace what you lost.”
Though she walks with a slight stoop, Anne’s voice is vigorous, and she tells her stories with dramatic flair, punctuated by frequent and hearty laughter. She is happy to talk proudly about her kids’ accomplishments, but tends to be very matter-of-fact about her own.
“I was lucky to have the parents I had. They gave me good genes, lots of love, and superb guidelines for living. They did not give me everything I asked for, but certainly, everything I really needed.
“I never smoked. That kind of goes along with being a serious musician. Any wind player or singer has to learn how to control breathing. You spend a good part of your life breathing when and how the music dictates, NOT whenever you feel like it. You learn to breathe deeply and make the most out of every breath you take. This has to be a good exercise for maintaining good health. I continue to eat whatever I like, just not too much of it. I have always enjoyed being physically active: walking, running, tap dancing and later folk dancing, Contra, Square, English Country, skating, roller-blading, biking, scootering, skiing, both downhill and cross-country, swimming, water aerobics, and normal aerobics. I am not "good" at any of these things I just enjoy doing them. I think that being both physically and socially active are "biggies" in living a long and happy life. I feel very fortunate to be still doing most of these things.”
Anne and I share some similar, significant interests; music and being physically active are very big parts of my life too. But what has always struck me about Anne is her joie de vivre, her zest for living, and that’s a quality we can all cultivate, no matter what are our unique interests and styles of living.