Couple's musical life set in concrete

When talking to Tony and Carol Thiel about their life together one is struck by how much they have been affected by music, art and concrete.

Music and art are a fairly regular combination, but during his working life one of Tony's great passions was working as a civil engineer, primarily with concrete.

His job saw him working on major projects around the world, including the construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

As many Marlburians know, another passion - probably his greatest - is music, something he shares with talented singer and artist, Coral.

Together they have performed in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and South America as amateur, professional and now teaching musicians.

The couple met in 1959 when Tony, who had moved to New Zealand from Holland three years earlier, was asked to perform at a new night club in Coral's home town of Christchurch.

That year the couple moved to Auckland where Tony was involved with the construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The couple were performing regularly as a duo and decided to become full time musicians.

"In those days it was possible to make a living as a musician," Tony said.

"There wasn't TV so people would go out for entertainment - dinner and dancing were the popular things to do."

They were so in demand that they would play six nights a week, before deciding to move to Europe to continue as professional musicians, playing in Germany, Belgium and Holland.

"We would play on monthly contracts," Coral said.

"We are really a bit like gypsies; we like to move around."

Tony, however, got back into his profession as an engineer, working as a quality controller for Ready-Mix Concrete in Holland and Germany, later becoming the technological and marketing co-ordinator for Ready-Mix Europe.

It was during this time that Coral took up art, having much free time as a housewife.

"It was difficult to learn the language so I did so by total immersion in the culture and the language. In Holland it was a bit easier because English was more widely spoken but Germans didn't like English at all," Coral, who loved her time in Europe, despite the initial language barrier, said.

She learned to sing in different languages, adding songs sung in Italian, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Hebrew and Japanese.

"I can't speak all those languages but I did learn what I was singing so I didn't laugh when I was supposed to look sad in a song."

In 1985, she and Tony decided to head back to Auckland where Tony worked as a consultant and Coral started up a home- based business selling her paintings and pottery, which she ran successfully for some 10 years.

Of course they began performing on the weekends again.

"Music was not something we could stop - it is in our blood," Tony said.

A move came again in 1997 when he won the contract to develop a concrete mix that would contain 20,000 tons of highly toxic waste in New South Wales, Australia.

This took two years, with Tony starting his own consultancy firm in Sydney.

By 2002 and well into retirement age, the couple decided to sell their share of the business and move away from the bigger city.

"We had two options - between Adelaide and Blenheim.

"We had been to Blenheim on holiday and when we visited it again we just fell in love with the place," Tony said.

"We are instant solution people. Some people will never decide on something because they keep wondering if there is something better - well there is always something better but you won't get anywhere if you don't go for it."

After two years they hired the Boathouse Theatre for a series of six shows with Marlborough jazz musicians Heather Jameson, Peter Bargh and Robin Randal.

They have been influential on the Marlborough jazz scene ever since, playing regular shows featuring talented Marlborough Girls' College students.

"We just love getting to work with these young musicians, seeing them grow and then staying in touch with them after they leave school. It has been wonderful," Coral said.

Their latest show will be at the Marlborough Vinters Hotel this Saturday. It will feature three MGC students performing the music of Rodgers and Hart.

Tickets are available from Top Town Cinemas at $60 with dinner starting at 6pm and the show at 8pm.

The Marlborough Express