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Smith: They'll swoon to the music and think of Mr. Schroeder

  • Chris Smith

Our stories on Sonoma State’s splendid Schroeder Hall note correctly that it is not named for a real person.

The naming of the Green Music Center honors benefactors Don and Maureen Green, and its centerpiece, Weill Hall, drew its name from mega-supporters Joan and Sandy Weill. But visitors who ask who “Schroeder” is or was are delighted to learn the name of the center’s new $9.5 million recital hall is a tribute to donor Jeannie Schulz and her late husband, Charles, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip and a kid pianist obsessed with Beethoven.

Still, there are music lovers hereabout, people who cherish the piano above all the instruments, who will close their eyes during performances in the recital hall and think of Mr. Schroeder.

Just short of 80 when he died in Santa Rosa in late July, Don Schroeder had been away from the piano for half a century when he resumed taking lessons, from Michelle McNally, at the age of 65.

The former San Francisco bartender at Perry’s and Cafe Riggio, tennis-school owner and world-class hiker rediscovered the joy that flows from a piano keyboard. In retirement, his music became the focus and purpose of his life.

McNally remembers him playing a beautiful Chopin Prelude for her and her other students and their parents, and not long afterward a 17-page Beethoven Sonata movement — entirely from memory.

Soon, Schroeder began to teach children to play. The after-school program was called “Move Over Mozart.”

McNally said, “Don loved teaching piano and said it was the happiest career of his life. He wished he had discovered his new career earlier.

“I know that even though he was very ill, he was teaching a few lessons right up until a few weeks before his death.”

So, no. This piano man was not the Schroeder of Schroeder Hall. But it won’t do any harm for his former students to smile when they read that name on the wall and feel themselves transported within a gorgeous new space dedicated first and foremost to the magic of music.


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