by Joseph H. Radder
Walter Reitz came to Buffalo in 1948 to be a music instructor at Amherst Central High School. Soon, the Adult Education staff tapped him to start a men's glee club under their aegis. And it thrived from that day on.
When Walter retired from teaching in 1977 he was elected to the Amherst Central School Board. This meant a way had to be found to avoid a conflict of interest. If he was a school board member and worked for the adult education department, he would, in effect, be his own boss. That wouldn't do, of course, and so the glee club was offered the option to separate from adult education and become an independent entity. "I told them, go independent," Reitz said. "And I'll show you how to put on an annual show that will pay your expenses."
As a result, the Red Blazers, as they had come to be known, expanded their annual concerts to add a bit of show business flair, some comedy, some dance acts and occasionally, an instrumental number. This was really the beginning of the Red Blazer Varieties, over twenty-five years ago.
The show has been an annual event, which was eventually expanded to three nights to accommodate the thousands of people who wanted to see it. This year's show will go on at the Amherst Central High School Theater on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday March 18, 19 and 20. Reitz promises "a wonderfully entertaining musical revue, featuring singing, dancing, a touch of vaudeville, Greg Docenko and his violin , Nels Creaman comic juggler and, of course, the Red Blazers (the Amherst Male Glee Club)". By the time you read this, it may be a sell-out, but a few good seats may still be available Phone orders are accepted at 839-1106.
Seldom has Amherst seen a show as perennially popular as the Red Blazer Varieties. Bus loads of people come to see it from as far away as Erie, Pa.
Walter Reitz's reputation as a choral conductor is well-known. Not only has he led the Amherst Male Glee Club for over fifty years, but he conducted church choirs and was director of the Shrine Chanters for over forty years.
Walter Reitz was born in Olean in 1921. He attended elementary school in Olean, and then, after his mother and father separated, he moved with his mother to Buffalo, where he attended School 19 and Lafayette High School. During his teen years he had a paper route, did delivery work for a drug store, and worked as a "grease monkey" in a garage. Reitz attended the State University college at Fredonia where he graduated with a music degree.
"I worked 46 hours a week for over two years during college" he remembers. After graduating from Fredonia, he did graduate studies at the University of Buffalo where he earned a masters degree in school administration.
Reitz taught for one year in Chautauqua County, and then came to Amherst Central, where he eventually held the title of Coordinator of Music for the six Amherst schools.
"I was 16 when I graduated from Lafayette," he remembers. "I got a job by telling them I was older, but when they found out my real age, they let me go. So I joined the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and spent a year out in the state of Washington."
During college he joined the U.S. Army Enlisted Reserve Corps. As a result, he served in the Army as a flight radio operator, including a stint in the South Pacific during World War II.
In 1945, after receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, he returned to the States and married "a nice librarian named Evelyn Goyne I had met in Wilmington, Delaware." Actually, the wedding was in Philadelphia.
Walter Reitz and Evelyn Goyne had three sons, Robert, who is with GE in Philadelphia, David, who is associate general counsel for National Fuel Gas and Raymond, who is a chief technology officer for the school system in Chapel Hill, North Carolina..
The Reitzes have seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
We asked Walter Reitz for his take on the American music scene. Speaking of pop music, he said. "I just cannot believe what I hear and what goes in the name of music today. The word music used to have a connotation of harmony and melody and beauty. And all of a sudden, what used to be called ugly is now beautiful." Even the Broadway shows, Reitz agreed, don't have the quality of music we enjoyed in the days of Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe and their ilk. "As a result," he said, "the better singers today are singing the old songs. They've re-discovered our music of the thirties and forties."
Much of Walter Reitz's life today revolves around the Red Blazer Varieties. No sooner will the last note be sounded in this year's show than he will start working on the 2005 production. What used to be his dining-room has become the Red Blazer office. Indeed, the show's professional choreography, costumes, set design, lighting, sound and production is all coordinated by Walter Reitz from this nerve center. Yet, he finds time for his family and leisure time activities like bowling and golf.
His philosophy of life is made up of ten words, all with only two letters each: "If it is to be, it is up to me."
Way back when the Amherst Male Glee Club began, it was obviously meant to be that the nights be filled with music, thanks to Walter E. Reitz.
Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.1stbooks.com
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