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September 12, 2003 - Image 47

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Community

Mazel Toy!

tivities

Music Opens Doors

Come

Talented pianist Ethel Toby still entertains at 91.

SHARON LUCKERMAN

Staff Writer

1

f you follow the melodious
piano tones of Beethoven, Lizst
and Schumann comin b , down
the corridor of Ethel Toby's
senior residence, you could take a seat
— if you're quiet — with the other
neighbors in her living room.
"I open my door or take a seat in
Ethel's living
room when I
hear her prac-
ticing," says
regular fan and
neighbor Edith
Hoffman.
The diminu-
tive Toby, 91,
wasted no time
when she
arrived at her
new apartment
earlier this year
to practice at
least several
hours a day.
She lives at the Ethel Toby
American
House Senior Living Residence in
West Bloomfield.
"Sometimes I practice, sometimes
they tell me to play a piece, and I go
on and on," says Toby, who still plays
piano pieces as long as 11 pages by
memory. "My whole life is my music
and I enjoy playing for people. I had
so many neighbors come to my door
and ask about my music that I leave
my door open so they can come in."
Toby started playing at age 9. Her
granddaughter, Laurel Felsenfeld of
Farmington Hills, says Toby practiced
on an old upright in a bedroom that
had no heat. "She had to cover herself
in layers of blankets and stop often to
warm her hands in water," Felsenfeld
says.
Though her parents owned a small
grocery store at Monterey and Petosky
in Detroit and had three daughters to
support, Toby's father hired a master
piano teacher when she was 14. She
performed her first concert at age 19
in the Maccabees Building in Detroit
and won awards at several competi-
tions, her granddaughter says.
But when Toby's father could no

longer afford the payments for her
grand piano, and it was taken away,
Toby recalls the story of a special gift.
"I was 19, and Fred Butzel, a
Detroit philanthropist, heard me
play," Toby says. When he heard she
no longer had a piano, Butzel sent her
a baby grand piano. "Then he paid
for my piano lessons," she says.
Her marriage to Sam Toby lasted
almost 50 years, until his death in
1984. With the
birth of their
three sons,
Charles,
Bernard and
Melvin, the
Tobys set up a
vital Jewish
household and
were founding
members of
Congregation
B'nai Israel in
Pontiac, says
Felsenfeld.
Toby also
began giving
piano lessons
and eventually
taught 50-60
students a week.
Today, she is still a member of
Hadassah, Congregation Shaarey
Zedek B'nai Israel Center Sisterhood,
Adat Shalom Synagogue Seniors'
Group and Temple Israel Treasures.
She attends Shabbat services at
Shaarey Zedek B'nai Israel Center.
The nonagenarian pianist also con-
tinues to learn. When she heard
David Syme play Lizst's Hungarian
Rhapsody No. 12 at Temple Israel
several years ago, she called him to
come to her home and give her a les-
son. She was impressed with his tech-
nique.
"Ethel is a warm, lovely person who
is devoted to her family," says David
Syme. 'And at many of my local con-
certs, when they are over, I often see
Ethel Toby in the audience, acknowl-
edging me."
Last year, Toby's family, including
her nine grandchildren and 12 great-
grandchildren, honored her on her
90th birthday.
"It was a wonderful celebration of
her life," Felsenfeld says. Lii

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