WORDS BY ALICIA LÜDI SCHUTZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETE THORNTON
Pete Koch is far from shy and retiring.
Give him a snazzy car or a stage in the spotlight and this Tanunda father of two is in his element – he is the Barossa’s very own Greatest Showman.
And it seems the sparkle, glitz and glamour of the entertainment world has rubbed off on the next generation, with daughters, Tahnee and Demi now also sharing the applause with their father in a trio that is fast becoming a show stopper.
“We’ve actually got a piece that we do from the Greatest Showman, A Million Dreams,” says Peter.
Listening to the girls singing in perfect harmony whilst Pete accompanies them on grand piano under the chandeliers in their opulent living room, you can’t help but wonder if the Hollywood blockbuster and its theme song they are performing, reminds Pete of his own life.
“I feel like it could be me, it’s probably my alter ego!” laughs Pete.
“In the movie, there are similarities to how I think about things, definitely.”
Pete is referring to the challenges he faced when, at 21 years of age, he fulfilled his vision of starting Barossa Music Centre, the multi-award winning family business he ran for 28 years.
“That dream of him [Hugh Jackman] running his circus even though other people didn’t believe in it… I hit a lot of opposition all the way in doing what I did with the shop too, it wasn’t always the easiest thing to get off the ground. There were a lot of people trying to put me off.
“I believed so strongly in it. I think that is where my passion comes from. It was incredibly successful for a very long time and I’m really proud of it.”
Pete says “it broke his heart” when he and his wife Cath decided to close Barossa Music Centre and bid farewell to the 300 students in its teaching school.
It was here the now 51 year old was able to create his own “Million Dreams,” first inspired by his forefathers who were all blessed with the music gene.
“My grandfather on my mum’s side, Bruno Fechner was a great musician, he was a church organist and conductor… he did a lot of the choir training around the place and Grandma (Ruby) used to sing as well.
“I guess that’s where my interest in music first started. Seeing him playing the organ, I thought oh, wow! I reckon I could do that.
“So, the folks bought an organ one day when I was ten. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was playing a song and they thought heck, we’d better get him some lessons.”
Pete still plays at Gnadenberg Lutheran Church once a month, continuing a long family tradition.
“I’ve always done that and Cath sings with me each time as well.”
It’s this musical link to his strong faith that allowed Pete to get through the toughest of times, particularly when his father, Dennis died on Christmas Eve following a car crash.
“It was my first year of business and he was delivering an organ to Kapunda… He supported me in my music all the way through and encouraged me, particularly the business side of things.”
Whilst some may have caved in from grief, Pete stepped up to make his father proud.
“It was kind of ‘do or die’. I had to make it work.”
The business was blossoming until exactly five years later when history almost repeated itself. Pete survived an horrific car crash with startling similarities to his father’s.
“It was the same thing basically… It was Christmas Eve as well.
“It was pretty bad, I got a punctured lung and lost half a lung, smashed my leg up pretty bad. I was out of work for six months and in high dependency for four weeks. Cath ran the business.”
Today, with the business and all its stories now a distant memory, Pete can now focus on his own music, instead of facilitating it for everyone else.
“I play for a men’s group once a month. I call it ‘Sing Thing’ but they don’t like that name!” he laughs. “Tom Ryan, John Angas and Ray Goodwin to name a few….about nine guys that get together on the first Monday of every month and sing songs.”
A bloke called “Crafty” is the musical director and Pete accompanies the group on keys.
“It’s basically just a cheese and wine night! But, it keeps my hand in and I get to play all sorts of different styles of music through that group.”
He’s also transferred his salesman skills and passion for cars to the automotive industry, working for Barossa Valley Toyota where he “pulled in a million dollars” for his new boss in his first six months.
“I’m loving it! Selling cars and being with people. I still have a lot of my old customers.”
The MG and 1960 Chrysler New Yorker parked in the garage are his pride and joy but it’s the women in his life who receive his utmost love and admiration.
“We all get along really well, we talk about everything. I think music’s always a good medium to bring people together – it’s always been the glue.” – Pete Koch
“I feel very blessed to have three ladies in the house, it’s good….It comes with its challenges but I hold my own!” he laughs.
“We all get along really well, we talk about everything. I think music’s always a good medium to bring people together – it’s always been the glue.”
Pete met his wife through music. In fact Cath, now a Student Services Officer at Faith Lutheran College, was his student.
“I used to teach her music. The first song I taught her was “Stuck with You” by Huey Lewis and The News!” he laughs. “She’s stuck with me!”
The dynamic duo raised their two daughters surrounded by music and now Tahnee, aged 18 and Demi, aged 15 are singing their own musical stories.
Just like their father, the sisters thrive in the limelight and are upping the stakes as they rival their dad’s flair for fashion.
“Dad loves being the centre of attention – we all do!” says Demi.
The Faith Lutheran College student has just returned from a two week theatre camp with a children’s theatre company for young performers.
“I played Gretchin in “Mean Girls The Musical”, she says. “I did Cats at School, I was Skimbleshanks, pretty high intensity songs but I don’t mind having the spotlight on me, just like these two!”
Along with vocals and dance, Demi learns guitar and clarinet.
“I’ve also started writing original songs, about my family or other random things! I don’t know if I’d like to pursue something like that one day.”
The sisters admit to “a little” sibling rivalry, yet elder sister, Tahnee assures they have never reached the “pulling hair out” point.
Singing, piano and dance are Tahnee’s domain. She’s performed in the Cabaret Festival in Adelaide as part of a six month programme when in Year 12. She isn’t surprised she has a love for music, describing her introduction as much the same as her younger sister’s.
“I started piano lessons when I was four. As a baby, my feet were getting pushed on the piano. Not that it was drilled into me, but there was always a fascination I guess. At the shop I was sitting in the jolly jumper and surrounded by it so I guess I was intrigued.”
The bubbly red head just completed her “gap year” and is now looking forward to her next chapter.
“I did a vintage and I went travelling, just took some time off because I worked pretty hard in Year 12,” Tahnee says.
“I’m going to uni this year, studying occupational therapy. The big picture is music therapy after that – that’s the goal.”
Pete couldn’t be more proud of his “girls” and seeing music continue into the next generation.
Always the perfectionist and doing nothing by halves, he happily describes himself as “quirky and a little eccentric”, whether it’s his eclectic taste in music and cars or his wardrobe of sequinned jackets and pointy toed shoes.
But behind all the bling and pizazz is a big-hearted husband and father whose mission in life is to share his love of music with family, friends and the wider community, whilst living by the motto he has held throughout life.
“Respect the past and be grateful for the past, but always move forwards.”