Weekly Local Biography

  Sid Richardson

We are sitting at his Yamaha Clavanova piano wired into his computer’s sound system, and I can hear the three-part harmony that he is playing for the Andrews Sisters. Well, not the ‘real’ Andrews Sisters, but the three delightful singers who will be performing their songs. He has created a CD of all three parts, then broken it down and recorded each singer’s part separately. He’s the consummate teacher and has created an extraordinary teaching tool. The singers can play their part, or the score in its entirety, at their leisure, cutting down on practice time significantly. Sid Richardson can play anything. He will modestly deny it, but I’ve heard too much of his music to believe otherwise.

Sid grew up in a tiny town in New Hampshire. Like many families who were struggling simply to survive during the Great Depression in the U.S., his family was poor. But they knew everybody in their little town of 1,000 people, and everybody knew them. They were lucky to have a telephone at home, albeit hand-cranked with six other families sharing their party line. Sid’s father worked for the government-sponsored Works Progress Administration and died when the boy was only seven. Sid knew that the monthly financial support to the family would end on his eighteenth birthday, so as soon as he was old enough, he went to work in a department store. By the time his birthday rolled around and the financial support ended, Sid was paying all the bills and supporting his mother.

But Sid had a talent that would sustain him throughout his life, and he and his mother saw to it that his talent was nourished. He studied piano with a woman in Lowell, Massachusetts, who had studied in Boston. And he flourished.

Sid attended college on a scholarship, graduated and was drafted right into the United States Army. A foot problem kept him out of combat boots and away from the conflict in Korea, so the Army reclassified him and he became the Company Clerk. As he tells it, he had two primary responsibilities: to write recommendations for or against promotions for the Colonel, and to alert the Sergeants as to the Colonel’s presence when they were playing poker. Life at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, was considerably safer than life in Korea, but was not without its challenges.

The war ended, Sid’s Army days were over and an interesting thing happened. A local church needed a pianist to substitute for a while and offered Sid the job. Thinking it would be for a few months, he accepted. He moved his mom down south to live with him. He had taught piano to children since he was in his early 20s, and now found himself in a fairly large town that had almost no piano teachers. He immediately inherited 35 students from a teacher who was leaving town, and his career began with a boom.

So Sid’s career became music – at the church, teaching, accompanying singers at community concerts, traveling on summer tours. There were three services on Sunday, and the church grew to over 2,000 members. There were television broadcasts and Billy Graham crusades throughout the world. There was a wedding every Saturday, and almost uncountable violin, cello and piano trios. He played in the synagogue as well as the church, for community events and privately. Except in the summer, he taught piano seven days a week. His students ranged in age from five to 78, and he loved teaching.

In the summer he and his mother would travel back to New England to visit family and friends, driving the old coastal highways and staying along the way in motor hotels. Motels, as they were called, usually had large signs out front advertising “Vacancy” or “No Vacancy” so that weary motorists could spot them from the road. The most modern motels also offered a telephone in every room, but rarely a television. Sid’s mother died in 1963, but he continued to make the trip to New England as long as family lived there.

He loved to teach, he loved to accompany singers, and he loved to travel. A musician friend asked him to arrange some music, and an addition to his career was born. Sid published books of music – sacred, patriotic, Christmas – for Columbia and Warner Brothers studios.

He lived in Georgia for fifty years, but never really felt at home there. He knew the community and they respected his talents. He made good friends and had more than enough to do at work and socially. The boy from New England gained a Georgia accent, but found something lacking in his life.

He retired after 38 years with the church, and limited his playing to substituting in various churches. He retained a limited number of students. He began to travel, visiting exotic places around the world. One tour came to Thailand. He made friends in Chiang Mai, and considered living here. Then he visited Pattaya, and decided to rent a condo there for a few months. Thailand was becoming the home he never found in Georgia. He went back to Georgia to finish a year of teaching that he felt he owed his students, allowing them to find other teachers. He needed time to make a decision. The cost of living was steadily rising in the United States, and retirement incomes didn’t go far. Sid wanted to enjoy his well-earned freedom. He finally decided to move to Chiang Mai, and he thought that the move would mean the end of his music.

That was not to be. No sooner did he settle into his condo than a few neighbors discovered his talents. The next thing he knew he was the new accompanist for the Chiang Mai Choral Society, playing and teaching all over again. Now he’s involved in the next Nakornping Production, Hats Off!, on November 11. If you want to hear fabulous music and meet a delightful gentleman, look for Sid Richardson. And enjoy his music.