Piano man

Tom Delehant, accompanist for SLHS choir for 25 years, prepares for Dec. 18 concert

Tom Delehant will be accompanying the Saranac Lake High School choir at their Dec. 18 Winter Concert from the piano, as he has for more than 25 years now. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — As the Saranac Lake High School choir launches into singing the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at their Winter Concert on Dec. 18, Tom Delehant will be right off to the side of the action, sitting at the piano, accompanying them as he has for more than 25 years.

Delehant, 75, is well past retirement age. Most people in the district leave in their early 60s, he said. But he keeps coming back year after year as a piano accompanist because he said working with the talented singers keeps him young.

It’s unusual for someone his age to get to hang out with high school kids on a daily basis, he said.

“I tell the students — the older I get the more true it is — they are good for my head,” Delahant said. “The energy when they come into the auditorium is amazing. … They don’t even know that. I tell them that but they’re not old enough to know what I’m talking about.”

“When I step onto the campus I am the oldest person by far,” Delahant said.

Tom Delehant will be accompanying the Saranac Lake High School choir at their Dec. 18 Winter Concert from the piano, as he has for more than 25 years now. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

He’s as old as some of their grandparents, but he said the students don’t see him as old. They all know him as “Tom.” Generally, educators and adults at the school are known only by their last names. But Helen Demong let him break that rule when she hired him in 1998.

He gets to work with a good portion of the student body. Choral Director Drew Benware estimated around one-third of the high school population is in the choir or band.

Delahant said he’s always impressed with the students’ abilities.

“The kids are doing things sometimes that most high school choirs couldn’t get away with,” Delehant said. “You don’t tell them that what they’re doing is a little beyond them.”

It is evident from the way he gushes about their talent that he really enjoys working with them. And they seem to enjoy working with him, too.

When he missed his bus in Albany at the end of winter break last year and missed a day, the students all cheered when he came back in the next day.

Some of the students he has accompanied over the years are all grown up, including SLHS Band Director Keith Kogut.

He never planned to be an accompanist, but it worked out that way.

“It’s a small town. People need a piano player. They know me,” Delehant said. “They might wish they had somebody else but that person’s in New York and costs thousands of dollars.”

Being an accompanist is about supporting the singers.

“Number one, you don’t need to be number one,” Delehant said.

His goal is to put all his energy into the collective as an important part of the group effort.

“I’m very happy not to be the center of attention,” Delehant said. “But close to what’s happening. … I like being just on the edge of what’s going on.”

He said he has to practice “as hard as anybody else.” And he gets the jitters, the same as anybody else, too.

“Everybody gets nervous,” he said. “So do I. Oh man.”

The High School Winter Concert on Dec. 18 starts at 7 p.m. in the high school’s auditorium. The SLCSD jazz band, concert band and vocal ensembles will also be performing.


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