Bob Gand didn’t set out to spend his life making music and teaching people to make music. He was vice president of sales at a company that made lighting fixtures.
But he got lucky.
He got his wife a guitar for her birthday. It was the early 1960s. Folk music was in. “Essentially it was a gag gift,” remembered his son, Gary.
“This is perfect,” Myrna Gand said, and hung the guitar over the sofa, as decoration.
“He didn’t realize he was buying art,” his daughter, the chef Gale Gand, said with a laugh.
Bob Gand decided, if his wife wouldn’t play it, he would. The only sticking point was: he didn’t know how to play guitar.
“By the next day my dad had figured out five essential chords, and was down in basement hammering away,” said Gary Gand. “He could read music.”
Bob Gand had a musical background — he had played trumpet in the Army — and quickly taught himself to play guitar.
Soon he decided he was good enough to teach other people to play guitar too, and sent out postcards to everyone he knew, inviting them to take classes with him on Monday night.
Fourteen people showed up at the appointed hour — on Oct. 28, 1963 — and a business was born. Village Music Store and the Village School of Folk Music, eventually located in downtown Deerfield, would endure for over 50 years.
Gand, 88, who taught thousands of people to play an instrument, and made music with his own family folk group, died Dec. 31 at Condell Medical Center in Libertyville.
“He taught every instrument. If you wanted to learn bagpipes, my dad would figure it out and teach you,” said Gale Gand. “He was very confident that everyone had a musical ability, he could teach anybody and he did. Kids, grown-ups, he could teach anyone any instrument you wanted to learn.”
He was born in Peoria, enlisted in the Army, then went to the University of Illinois on the GI Bill. Music was always in the background.
“My dad was always listening Miles Davis and [Thelonious] Monk,” said Gary Gand. “Cool jazz from the ’50s. He was a musician working a straight job.”
By the 1960s, he was attending marches, where carrying along a guitar was practically a political statement, and the air was filled with protest songs by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
“Everybody wanted to do it, but nobody knew how so my dad just kind of took it on,” said Gary Gand.
He taught his daughter Gale and son Gary to play instruments, and they performed as the Gand Family Singers.
“First started with Cub Scout meetings, school assemblies,” said Gale Gand; Gary remembers that first father-son gig.
“We brought our axes to the Cub Scout meeting and played a couple of numbers that went over pretty well,” said Gary. But that was only the beginning.
“My dad somehow got us booked at Disneyland, then in Montreal for the World’s Fair in 1967, a long week in front of the Russian pavilion,” said Gale Gand.
In 1970, he quit his job and taught music full-time. The family toured the continent.
“Some people go skiing; we went to folk festivals,” said Gale Gand, who learned to play mandolin from Kenneth C. Burns, perhaps better known as half of the country duo Homer and Jethro. “It was so expensive, we’d split lessons; I’d do 30 minutes, and my dad would do 30 minutes.”
“That’s all we did,” remembered Gary. “We would get in the family station wagon, drive through Appalachia, drive through Arkansas. I thought everybody was doing it. I came back from the summer and asked my friends, ‘What did you do?’ They played Little League, went fishing. I’d say, ‘Oh, we were playing music. Why weren’t you?’”
At its height, the store and school had three locations and employed up to 20 teachers. Both Gale and Gary started working at the store at a young age; Gale remembers being 6, setting out sharpened pencils on music stands before lessons. Gary addressed promotional postcards.
“What I enjoyed most about being a part of the business was being in a retail environment where I was treated as an adult,” Gary said last year, at the school’s 50th anniversary. “I learned about the equipment and how things worked, while most kids just played around.”
Gary Gand put that knowledge to good use. He also went into the music business, and runs Gand Music and Sound in Northfield.
Bob Gand also worked as a fashion model for print ads in local publications — one of the few completely bald men working as a model. And at age 60, he began running, and competed in six marathons. He was known as a fun employer.
“Oh my goodness, he wasn’t a boss. He was just really a good friend, as long as you did your work,” said Lana Rae, who began as a guitar student and went on to work for Gand for 46 years. ”We called him The Music Man.”
Myrna Gand died in 1993. In addition to his two children, Bob Gand is survived by three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in June 7 at the North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield at 4 p.m.