Carl Leo Dietrich

Carl Leo Dietrich (Baltimore Sun / June 6, 2012)

Carl Leo Dietrich, who had been chairman of the music department at what is now McDaniel College and later was a founder of the Columbia Orchestra, died May 24 of a fall at his Naples, Fla., home.

The former Columbia resident was 85.

"His influence of joyful exuberance is still very much a part of the spirit of music-making here in the department today," said Dr. Margaret Boudreaux, who succeeded Mr. Dietrich as department chair in 1991.

"He was my immediate predecessor as chair, and the person that hired me," said Dr. Boudreaux. "His energy and enthusiasm for music and life was legendary."

Mr. Dietrich was born into a musical family in Trenton, N.J., in 1926. His father was a violinist with the Trenton Symphony Orchestra, and also was a singer, flutist and guitarist.

"My earliest memory is of the five of us kids sitting on the floor of the living room while Dad played a violin concerto and Mom accompanied him on piano," said Mr. Dietrich in a 1990 interview with The Hill magazine, a publication of McDaniel College. "That's not a bad beginning."

Mr. Dietrich was 7 years old when he requested a violin for Christmas.

"Dad gave me one and, by the end of the day, I could play all the Christmas carols on one string," he said.

He studied the violin and when an older brother was drafted into the Army in World War II, he left behind his trombone, which Mr. Dietrich learned to play. It became the main instrument he played throughout his life, along with the viola.

He once quipped that it was easier to list what instruments he couldn't play than those he could play, and there were only two. "I don't play oboe or bassoon," he said.

He joined the Trenton Symphony Orchestra, and after graduating in 1944 from Trenton Catholic High School, served for two years in the Army, seeing combat in both France and Germany.

After the end of the war, Mr. Dietrich landed the position of first trombone with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and then came to Baltimore, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

"My teacher at Peabody always said to be prepared to teach so you have something to fall back on if you don't make it as a performer," he explained in the interview.

In 1952, he joined the faculty of McDonogh School, then an all-male military school, where he headed the music department.

"I took over as conductor of the Preakness Band. Through that job I met a couple hundred musicians, who became my contacts," he said.

Mr. Dietrich either played or sang with many groups, some of which included the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Bach Society, Baltimore Comic Opera, Colts Marching Band as well as the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Some of the celebrities he accompanied in those years included Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Jack Benny and Sammy Davis Jr.

The reason he was so highly sought after as a member of the Baltimore music scene was his ability to speed read music and fill in at the last minute for a player who fell ill.

His professional work also was playing in pit bands of Block burlesque houses such as the Gayety on East Baltimore Street. He recalled playing for ecdysiasts as being perhaps the oddest of his gigs.

He was required to roll his eyes lecherously from side to side while belting out appropriate music to accompany the action on stage.