EIGHTY-two year old Wolfie Lehmkuhl has endured more dramatic events in his lifetime than many younger people in Perth could imagine.
He survived three World War II bombings in Berlin where the final one crushed his six-year-old chest, and his father, a German sea captain in England when war broke out, was rounded up and transported to Canada, where a German U-boat torpedoed the ship.
“He was the only survivor out of 2000 and swam in the Atlantic Ocean for eight hours before picked up by an Australian war ship that brought him to Melbourne,” Lehmkuhl said.
“We got a note that he’d drowned at sea and then when the war finished we got another note that he was alive and to get in contact with him in Australia.
“It took quite a few years because I wanted to finish my schooling and also with immigration we had to go through a lot of tests. It took us until 1951 until we came out to Australia when I was 16. I was three when Dad left, so couldn’t remember him when I was a kid.”
Lehmkuhl’s first Australian home was Sydney, where he studied women’s hairdressing before moving to Perth with his partner, the national sales manager for Singer sewing machines, in 1990.
The openly gay couple (Lehmkuhl came out to his parents in the 1950s) began attending WASO concerts soon after their move to WA and in 1993 a retired Lehmkuhl decided he would like to volunteer for the orchestra.
“I learnt music in Germany when the war was finished,” he said.
“I still can’t play a thing and I can’t sing but remember the first piece of music we had to learn was The Moldau by Bedrich Smetana.
“It’s about a little trickle of a stream up in the mountains of Prague that becomes the river. I actually went on an opera and concert tour in 2007; it started in Berlin and finished in Prague where we were taken to that little trickle in the mountains. That piece of music is still very significant to my love of music.”
Lehmkuhl volunteers his time for office duties at WASO one morning a week and concert goers will regularly find him in the Perth Concert Hall Patron’s Lounge to exchange views about music.
“Everyone has a different taste and sometimes we clash but it gives me comfort and I get a lot out of it,” he said.
“My partner passed away from lung cancer in 2002 and it gets me out of the house; I don’t like sitting at home twiddling my thumbs, so I’ll continue to volunteer for as long as I can walk.”
This month is WASO’s Community Support Month which highlights WASO’s belief in the life-changing power of musical experiences and contributions are welcomed.
“If you like classical music, I think it’s very important to help,” Lehmkuhl said.
“WASO has improved over the years, especially since Asher Fisch began conducting; now the orchestra has improved out of sight.”