By Connie Morrison —
Michael Teets was destined to have a music-filled life, said his cousin Jody Leonard. As an 8-year-old, he drank in organist Diane Bish’s “The Joy of Music” on PBS at Leonard’s house, a show in which Bish plays and demonstrates features of pipe organs around the world. At just 4 or 5 years old, he would hear music and try to pick out the tunes on the piano.
His natural talent was nourished with lessons and family support, and by about age 12, Teets landed a paying organist’s job at a Catholic Church near his home, playing weekly services, weddings, and funerals, Leonard said.
Teets, 44, of Onancock, died unexpectedly this week. Family and friends recall the many ways he shared his musical gifts across the Eastern Shore.
“He was a musical director for many musicals” since moving to the Shore about 20 years ago, said roommate Dawn Weston. He directed summer camps, sang, acted, and played piano at musical galas and other events. The North Street Playhouse in Onancock was a regular beneficiary of his work.
“Michael was an incredibly talented person, certainly as a musician, but also as a teacher and mentor to so many children and adults with whom he worked at the Playhouse,” said NSP founder and artistic director Terry Bliss. “Countless memories from individuals of Michael reaching out, offering support, ‘being there’ for them. He will be sorely missed by everyone at North Street, on and off stage.”
Additionally, Teets played for church services, weddings, and other gigs either solo or with other area musicians. He also taught private music lessons.
“When he wasn’t teaching, playing the piano, onstage, or in a band,” said Weston, you might find him bartending at Chattie’s Lounge on Chincoteague Island or Maurice in Onancock.
Teets had recently completed a master’s degree from the University of Virginia. He worked as a reading specialist at Nandua Middle School and supplemented his modest income, as many Shore teachers do, with part-time work. He taught at several schools during his tenure with Accomack County Public Schools.
Over the years, several churches availed themselves of Teets’ talents and he fulfilled his commitments faithfully and with joy.
“His greatest thing was he wanted people to know he would be reliable and he would be there for them … especially if nobody else could come through,” Leonard said.
People have asked Leonard if Teets knew how well loved he was. “He knew people loved him and were endeared to him for that and that’s what motivated him. … That’s what fed his soul when he struggled.”
“He was just such a unique individual,” said Weston. “I’ve never known him to turn anyone away. … He had such a love of life and people.”
Whether behind the piano or behind the bar, Teets always managed to coax a smile.
Sean Thomas, owner of Maurice, said the restaurant staff has a running joke about Teets being a bit of a klutz. Teets took it all in stride.
“That was Michael. Always laughing, funny, a little scattered, but always there to lend a hand and help; always reliable.”
Thomas, Teets, Ginny McMath, and James Patric joined forces to stage NSP’s last live, in-person production — “Camelnot,” a “Camelot” spoof — before the coronavirus brought live theater to a standstill.
Thomas said Maurice restaurant has crafted a signature drink with sales intended for a memorial musical scholarship fund.
Memorial services are being planned for the Eastern Shore and for Pennsylvania, where Teets was born and raised. Details had not been finalized at press time.