TIMOTHY RUFF—The Man Behind the Smile
By Herbert W. Piekow
Recently a Guadalajara friend went to a concert at Teatro Degollado where his friend gave a voice recital sponsored by the Secretary of Culture of Jalisco. My friend, Juan Carlos, asked me if I knew the American accompanist with a big smile because the soprano told him that Timothy was the best accompanist she had ever sang with. Tim does have a large and earnest smile; I think of it as a stage smile, only his is not just for an audience; it is because he is genuinely happy accompanying talented people in public.
Most of us here at Lakeside already know about Timothy G. Ruff Welch, or Tim, as he is most commonly called; although there is nothing common about this talented musician and excellent choral director. But since he is such a busy man it can be difficult to know him personally so I invited Tim to coffee. He gave me three time slots for the month of October.
Tim grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, the eldest of three children. Besides the milk cows, his family commercially grew peas, corn and cabbages. Like all farm boys he competed state wide in 4H projects, where he won numerous Blue Ribbons.
“Almost everyone in my family played a musical instrument,” said Tim. Mostly they played popular and ethnic music. His parents let him begin piano lessons at the age of four; his first teacher was an aunt. His parents recognized his passion for music and made a bargain; if he practiced his music, he would be excused from farm chores.
He shared that as he grew up, his family never listened to classical music, and that his first exposure was when he was twelve and his grandmother took him to visit the Northern European countries, his ancestral roots. While in Helsinki, they went to the Temppeliaukio Church to hear an organ concert. “Never before had I heard such glorious music. It changed my life,” Tim said. Eventually he earned a Masters in Coaching and Accompanying in Cincinnati, at only one of three schools to offer such a degree at that time. His degree allowed him to accompany choirs and singers/instrumentalists and to go on world tours with his groups. “I got to live my two passions, music and travel,” he said.
For twenty years he worked hard in Chicago but like so many he reached a point where he needed to relax and do something for himself. Tim took out his map and blindly selected Guadalajara, a place he had never visited.
Over coffee we talked about his hectic schedule. During the year he will conduct or accompany fifteen to twenty concerts, which means hours of rehearsals, both for the individual soloist and for the entire ensemble or choir. He is the musician for Saint Andrews Anglican Church in Riberas, as well; he gives about twenty private voice and piano lessons per week. Whenever one of his students or talented friends needs an accompanist, he spends hours rehearsing with them, so that they are both perfect. It takes hours of working together to be synchronized, even when the music gives the tempo and the scale gives the pitch, there is so much more involved.
He feels so fortunate to be able to live his passion. I think his schedule would wear anyone else down, or drive them to drink. We talked about what he dreams of, and Tim divulged that he would love to have a quality boys’ choir. “There is talent here, but it takes time, commitment and funds to successfully put this together.”