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Seated behind a silver Casio keyboard, she keeps a watchful eye on the rodeo competition from a white covered platform just outside one corner of the arena.
As soon as there is a break in the action, a few upbeat notes of organ music fill the air.
This has been Carol Thiele’s role at the annual Clearwater Rodeo for 35 years. Thiele said she took over the job in 1984 after only living in Clearwater for one year.
“The chamber just asked me if I’d do it, and I thought that would be a good way to help out,” she said.
Thiele said someone probably noticed her playing organ at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Clearwater or playing accompaniment for music students at Clearwater Public School. She believes a lady from Wolbach was hired to play the previous years, except in 1983 when Celine Filsinger of Clearwater stepped in. Thiele said she contacted the Wolbach woman for advice before she started.
“I called her and asked her to tell me what she did because I’d never been to a rodeo before,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t have rodeos where I came from.”
Thiele grew up in Coleridge, learning to play piano there when she was in first grade. She started playing organ for her church there when she entered high school after a woman from the church showed her how to run the pedals.
At the rodeo, Thiele said she plays an electronic keyboard.
“It’s a piano setting, but it’s got some electronic in it, so it has an organ sound,” she said.
Thiele said she watches the arena to play music when the time is right, watching “the guy with the flag and the gate.”
She plays a variety of country songs after the mutton bustin’ finishes up, leading into the rodeo competition. After that, Thiele said she just plays “little diddies.”
“It’s just chording,” she said. “It’s really not hard.”
It’s especially easy for someone who used to play piano by ear as a child.
“That’s all I did and my music teacher broke me of that because to teach somebody piano that plays by ear, is very difficult,” Thiele said. “So she kind of broke me of that.”
Longtime rodeo chairman Gene Snodgrass said he really appreciates Thiele’s contribution to the atmosphere at the rodeo.
“It’s pretty neat and the people seem to really like it,” Snodgrass said. “The announcer this year said this was the first rodeo he’d been at where an organ was played.”
The 52nd annual Clearwater Rodeo finished up on Sunday night, and Thiele said it gets better each year.
“They just keep enhancing everything — the whole arena — everything just keeps getting bigger and better,” she said.
Thiele said her family often gets together for rodeo weekend which adds to the fun.
She and her husband, Joe, have three children — Steven and Holly Thiele, Reid and Barrett; Jenna and Jeremy Kaup of Stuart and Kate Thiele of Aurora.
Thiele said she doesn’t know how long she’ll keep playing music for the rodeo, but she’s not planning to stop anytime soon.
“I just really enjoy it,” she said.