Dave Teeple of Port Huron Music
“You could not have found a better choice than Dave Teeple for this inaugural award honoring Don Johnson,” declares Denny Senseney, formerly of Senseney Music, who has known Teeple for years. “Dave has not only been a trusted and valuable partner to the school music programs he serves, he exemplifies the highest forms of integrity Don valued throughout his life. Through our association with Dave Teeple, many of us have learned what it means to be a true leader in service to others and to our industry.”
MMR has established an annual Don Johnson Music Service award to honor those in the industry who go above and beyond making an honorable living to having an authentic impact on their community and industry. Teeple of Port Huron Music is an obvious choice – a man who has tirelessly advocated the benefits of music making, held leadership positions within the industry, and has enriched the lives of thousands by bringing music into their world.
The award, presented at NAMM, reads: “In recognition and appreciation for your outstanding advocacy and support for music education both at the community and national level.”
“Don was our editor for 25 years, loved the industry and its people, and was a strong supporter of music education,” says MMR publisher Sid Davis. ” In our conversations with vendors, retailers and the NAMM community, we found that David Teeple’s efforts and advocacy to be exemplary in supporting so many music programs.”
Teeple was born in Port Huron, and in high school, much to his chagrin, got the lead in an operetta at the coaxing of his mother and the music teacher. By 1962 he was singing with a local rock group when the guitarist, who was also worked at a local music store, asked him to take on some students. That Teeple didn’t really play guitar didn’t seem to a problem. “My guitarist said he’d keep me one lesson ahead of the students!” he laughs.
He got good fast and soon had 55 students a week. But that wasn’t all that was keeping him busy at the store. “I sold a ton of guitars,” he says. He would then go to work for Grinnell, a large chain of music stores that held dominance in the industry during the 1970s. “They had a Hammond organ franchise and were a big Conn dealer. They had stores all over the midwest just when having music stores in malls was becoming a trend.”
Next stop in Dave’s career was A&G Central Music, a music store that specialized in band instruments. Run by Al Kriewal and his cousin George Welder, Teeple went on the road during the school year visiting band directors and in the summer, was schooled by the two veterans in the art of instrument repair. The owners appreciated Teeple’s skills and work ethic so much they actually encouraged him to go out on his own. He and his wife Barbara opened their first shop in the Detroit area.
But their first foray into MI retail would not go well: 10 months after opening there was a fire at the store and the Teeples lost everything. “I didn’t have insurance – didn’t even know what it was,” he adds. “There I was, 26 years old, and I owed everybody money. But I told all the suppliers that they would get every cent back.”
A return to his hometown would be the next move. A pair of band director friends encouraged Teeple to return to Port Huron and set up shop there. So in 1971, with the help of a brother-in-law, a $100 a month in rent on a small shop, patient suppliers, and a bit of nerve, Port Huron Music was founded.
Teeple would hit the road visiting schools during the day while wife Barb worked the cash register and handled the books. “She worked for nothing for the first seven years, because it took us that long to pay everyone off from the fire But I put my head on the pillow every night feeling good,” he says. His suppliers did get paid back, something he admits benefited him and raised his reputation. “To this day a lot of them know they can trust us.”
From the beginning, Port Huron Music was a full line store. A decade later they outgrew their original outlet, and continued to expand. Today they have 13,000 square feet of store and employ 17 people. As for Teeple he is still out on the road visiting schools. Even the current tough times haven’t phased him: “I haven’t missed any meals, and we’re very active in recruiting [music makers],” he says.
Mostly Dave sees himself as an educator – not just to individual new players, but also to the community. And he’s particularly good at putting it all into perspective:
“I played sports my whole life, and I have friends who are coaches, but I tell them: ‘You don’t really understand teamwork like we in music do.’” Teeple explains that in a football game, if the quarterback isn’t doing well, you bring him out of the game and send in a replacement. But go to a lot of school band concerts and you’ll never see a band director call a clarinet player out in the middle of a concert and scream, “I told you three times that it’s an E-flat during that passage – you’re benched for the rest of concert!”
“Every kid is dependent on everyone else,” he notes.
When asked what inspired him to advocate for music, Teeple pauses, and then returns to his unintended lead roll in that high school operetta.
“That was kind of cool,” he says of that experience. “And since then I’ve always thought that we were put on this earth to get along and appreciate each other. I believe that if you can take a kid from any culture, religion, or education background, and get them to sing notes with others, play notes with others, teach then to work together through music, a lot of the prejudices would go away. We can take kids from around the world and teach them to play in an orchestra or a choir, and get them to work together. I’m convinced music can make a difference. Until someone proves me wrong, I’m going to wave my banner and keep trying.
“I read something a long time ago that goes, if not you than who? If not now, when?”
One of Teeple’s greatest successes was the New Horizons program – an initiative to provide entry points to music making for adults, including those with little or no musical background (www.newhorizonsmusic.org) — which he saw great potential for from the very beginning. One of the first to implement the program in the country, he got community leaders and members involved, and plenty of media attention to fuel the fire. “The funny thing is that only six people came to the first rehearsal, but a woman reporter from the local newspaper came and wrote an article about it,” he tells. “Then that story got picked up by the Associated Press! All these other dealers wanted me to mail them information on it and after a while, I handed off that part to NAMM.”
As for his program, “we’ve had great support from the group because they’ve had a great time. We don’t just rehearse – we also have a Christmas party and a summer picnic, things like that.” It’s blossomed beyond his wildest imagination: In addition to performing in the concert band, some members splintered off and also formed a 20-piece big band. Another group added a Polka combo to the mix. “And now we have an orchestra with strings … we’ve chuckled and said if we were willing to open the shop late every single night, people would come here to play music every single night.”
The group has played at nursing homes and community events and in addition to having fun and spreading the joy of music, has received a lot of press and community good will. “Mostly though it’s a chance for us to get up and talk about why music is important,” he says. “A couple of times a year we get asked to guest on a radio program, and we always look for those opportunities.”
Another initiative with roots going back two decades is Teeple’s High School Honors Band program, which he started to give opportunities to the better players in the smaller schools to perform with their musical peers. Good literature and guest soloists were involved, but not the expectation that it would be such a hit. Today it’s an annual event that garners big audiences and very satisfied kids.
“You just have to look for opportunities that exist – NAMM is good at that.” There’s certainly a mutual respect between Teeple and the organization. He gives high marks to Mary Luehrsen and Joe Lamond especially. “They provide great material to the retailers, and I use it all the time.”
“Dave Teeple’s effort to support music education in his community echoes his belief that every child must receive the benefits of music learning as part of a complete education,” says Luehrsen, NAMM’s director of public affairs and government relations. “He works closely with local and regional school administrators, school board members, parents and teachers as a cheerleader for the importance for music for every child. Because he believes so deeply about the benefits of music education, he is a reliable and respected source for advocacy.”
Teeple repeated that it was an honor to receive this award, citing Don Johnson’s support of those advocating music through the years. “When I was on the board of the National Association of School Music Dealers, then later president, Don was always helpful. He was like, ‘what do you need?’ He had a passion for the business and you could tell it by reading his editorials.”
He adds that he was “absolutely shocked” when he heard the news of the honor. Those who know him well and have seen his work were not so shocked.
“From the first time I met Dave, he came across as a very straight forward and honest businessman, with a real care for his customers,” says Yamaha’s Rick Young, who earlier in his career was a Yamaha district manager in Teeple’s territory. “As I have had the opportunity to get to know and work with him over the last 20 years, I have seen so much more. His passion for music, students, and educators is the driver for his business. Sometimes when I am talking with him it seems as though his business is secondary to his care for music education and all of those who are involved in teaching our children.”
“Dave Teeple is probably the most sincere, honest music dealer and individual that I’ve known,” says Roger White of Whitehouse Music. “He’s a hard working fellow and a caring person, and not just in the music industry. He dearly loves his job, loves music education, and wants everyone involved and not just for his own mercenary gain, but for the kids. He knows what it will do for us. He’s stood up for us. He’s been in Washington, stood up for our cause …
“Dave goes outside the box, and tries to improve music education throughout the country,” White adds. “He absolutely has made a difference. He is a shining light to show us how to be a music educator, and again not just for our own wallets but also for the children involved. You couldn’t have picked a better one to receive this award.”
Luehrsen: “Dave is an example of a true music education advocate who relentlessly pursues the opportunity for every child, and every person to have access to music education.”
At one point during the conversation with Teeple, it was noted that many of his peers have retired. “Yeah, my wife asked if I thought about retiring,” he says. “Maybe I’ll slow down a bit, but it’s still kind of fun. When we go recruit kids in band, and find the instrument that fits a child and see their eyes light up when they make their first sound from it, I think I can do this forever.”