Skip Leeper: Piano man
When Skip Leeper was a postmaster at the Burnham Post Office, he had music in his ears and a song in his heart.
After retiring from the United States Postal Service, Leeper picked up a new career — playing music.
Leeper’s father was a professional musician who played guitar on the road. That occupation ended after he met Leeper’s mother, however.
Because his father was a seasoned guitarist, he wished for Leeper to take an interest in music, so encouraged him to learn piano.
“He wanted me to take an interest in music,” Leeper said.
Leeper appeased his father and took lessons, but was never truly interested in music until after high school and his time in the service.
He began his career at the post office after high school, then was called sto erve in the army.
After the service, Leeper planned to go to college.
“Remember, this is 1953,” he said. “My father was a product of the Big Crash of ’29. (He) lost his job and we saw some slim years. It was important to my dad to have a job with benefits.”
Leeper’s place at the post office was waiting for him after he returned from the service. He told his father that if he went to college, he would become a teacher.
In 1953, Leeper said, teachers’ salaries were low and the career had no benefits.
“My dad said, ‘You have a good job with good benefits. Why would you go to college?'” Leeper said. “So I just stayed (at the post office).”
Eventually, Leeper climbed the ladder and became postmaster.
“It was a good, steady job,”
Leeper’s musical career also began after he returned home from the service.
“A friend had a local band of four or five guys, and needed a substitute (keyboardist) for one Saturday night. I wasn’t interested, but helped him out and then never quit,” he said.
That was 1954.
Their band played the time’s popular music, which was eventually traded in for rock and roll.
“The music I grew up with dated into history,” Leeper said. “Music changed, and as a result, the phone quit ringing. People weren’t interested in hearing what we had to play.”
Leeper’s band dissolved in the early 1980s, and he retired from the post office in 1984.
“Working at the post office afforded me the opportunity to play with orchestras,” he said. “My favorite part was serving people and being everyone’s favorite whipping boy. When the phone rings, you don’t want to answer it because it’s usually a complaint. I enjoyed being part of the community.”
After that, Leeper was in contact with his distant cousin, Carol Bower, who is a singer with a “very nice, beautiful voice,” according to Leeper.
Together they decided to perform music for people in nursing homes, populated with a generation of people familiar with their repertoire of music.
The duo has been playing in nursing homes for 25 years.
Leeper packs up and sets up his keyboard and equipment for each nursing home event.
Currently, they regularly play six times a month at various homes in the Juniata Valley, plus do special events.
The sessions are about one to one and a half hours long, and sometimes even activities directors join in.
“Each nursing home has a room for activities. There are a lot of people in wheelchairs, so the staff has to get people from their rooms,” Leeper said. “It’s a fun thing.”
Leeper and Bower have made a booklet of 70 songs in large print so the nursing home residents can sing along to their music. Each song is numbered, so residents can choose any song they’d like to hear.
They also perform songs that are not in the booklet.
“I’ve just enjoyed playing all my life,” Leeper said. “It keeps me active and out of trouble. It gives me something to do.”