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Article - He had the music in him

He had the music in him

He taught them how to sing and, in the process, how to soar in life.

Posted: Wed, Dec 12, 2012

Eph Ehly was born in the middle of the Depression.

He grew up in the middle of 13 brothers and sisters, in the middle of Nebraska, on a farm near Sutton.

Their house had no electricity, no indoor toilet.

He toiled, like everyone in his family. But he wasn't made for the farm. He planted corn so crooked that you couldn't find a row. He wrecked the family pickup. He always seemed kind of sickly.

And skinny.

"You're so skinny, your eyes are single file," his dad used to joke. "Between them and your belly button, you look like a clarinet."

Farm boys in those days didn't always go to high school. But his dad made him go. Probably knew he wasn't made for the farm. His dad loved music. He wasn't educated in it. But he made sure music filled their house, even during the dark days when Eph's mom lay dying of breast cancer.

Their house had a piano, a guitar.

Eph's dad, Ted Ehly, was a second-generation German. He mostly sang just German hymns. But he loved to listen to Eph and the other kids sing the popular songs of the day. Summer nights, the family sat on the porch, which faced east. They'd watch the moon rise. They'd sing.

Eph expected to join the military after high school. College seemed out of the question. But then another important man came into his life. Another music man. His name was Bill Lynn. He was a handsome man. He had thick, curly hair. Boundless energy. He came from the college in Kearney to guest conduct the Sutton band.

Eph was the student conductor. His job that day was to prepare the instruments for the concert. Bill Lynn asked him to sing for him and he did. Bill Lynn asked him to play for him and he did. He played the tuba.

They had some extra time before the concert. Bill Lynn told him he'd love to see the farm. Eph's dad drove the music professor around it. The older men sat in front. Eph sat in the back, hardly paying attention.

All of a sudden, he heard Bill Lynn say, "Mr. Ehly, I'd love for your son to come to our school." Eph's heart rose into his throat.

"Mr. Ehly, I'll tell you what: You let him come to school and I will be personally responsible for him."

Eph expected his dad to say no. But he didn't. Two weeks later, Eph was enrolled in college in Kearney. (He was so naïve that he didn't even know how to register. Bill Lynn told him to fill out everything he could and where it says "major," to write "music.")

Dr. Eph Ehly lives in the Kansas City area now. He's professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Conservatory of Music. He's considered one of the most revered choral conductors in the nation. He guest-conducts at Carnegie Hall several times a year.

He's won many teaching honors over the years because he's touched the lives of many students over the years. He's taught them how to sing and, in the process, how to soar in life.

He was able to do that because of great teachers in his own life, he says, like his dad and Bill Lynn.

"And if it hadn't been Bill Lynn coming out and recruiting me," he says, "nothing would have ever happened."

Supporting the best and brightest faculty members – professors who make a difference to their students – is a priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you'd like to help, please give online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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