World renowned composer celebrates his 90th birthday

Peter Fuchs has been on this planet for nine decades, yet still produces music that brings smiles to audiences of all ages. 

A survivor of the Holocaust, a celebrated Broadway musician and now a composer and conductor for two orchestras in South Florida, the man clearly enjoys his busy schedule.

“I get up every morning because of my music and my piano playing has improved because of it,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs’ musical career spans his entire life. His most memorable moment was conducting the bicentennial show in Miami Beach in 1976. 

“I wrote a two-and-a-half-hour score for an orchestra of 600 people … the stage was the size of two football fields. It was massive and so spectacular,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs’ introduction into the world of American music did not start with training as a child. However, he said he was always able to pick up an instrument and create music from it. Starting with a banjo and then an acoustic accordion, he formed a band with kids around the town in Holland where he grew up.

Playing and creating music became a form of therapy for Fuchs in the 1930s. He was separated from his parents for almost three years in order to hide from the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

He attended a Catholic school in Holland while his parents hid in an attic for three years in Brussels.

When the family was reunited after the war ended, he was able to play them a homecoming song to celebrate their reunion. 

The family moved to the United States when Fuchs was 17 years old to escape the trauma of living in Europe.  

Though he wished to pursue a career in music, his parents pushed him to get into commercial art instead.  

(Courtesy of Peter Fuchs)

“I was deficient as a musician before I was a commercial artist. But my luck came with being drafted in the U.S. Army and then receiving the G.I. Bill,” said Fuchs.

For two years, Fuchs was drafted into the army infantry and was posted in Europe. He wrote musicals for the Special Service branch.

After an honorable discharge, he used his G.I. Bill to study music at the Munich Conservatory in Germany and completed his degree at the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan.

Fuchs met his wife Veronica McCormack while he worked as a musical director and she as a singer in Cleveland. The two became better acquainted on Broadway in New York. 

“She had a clear, beautiful musical voice. To this day I don’t know whether I married her for her personality or for her voice,” Fuchs said. 

After getting married on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, the couple became busy with shows all over the United States.

“It started that he got a Broadway show to conduct and then we did a lot of off-Broadway shows and in the summer we went out to do shows all over California. We were busy and always traveling around until the babies came,” said McCormack. 

The couple had four children together, including Christine Fuchs-Gosselin and James Fuchs, who said that entertainers were always going in and out of their home while growing up. 

“At some point, I realized that other people’s parents worked nine-to-fives, and mine didn’t. They worked odd hours but I grew up around a lot of music and it was a very colorful life,” Fuchs-Gosselin said. 

James Fuchs followed in his parents’ footsteps to become a professional pianist, guitarist and composer.

“I loved growing up in a sort of creative chaos kind of free-thinking, supportive, artistic-type household. We all took music lessons and as I grew older I gravitated toward the guitar, piano and songwriting. I’ve absorbed music my whole life and it still impacts me today,” said James Fuchs. 

Despite having the skills and talent to work on Broadway and conduct orchestras, Peter Fuchs felt insecure about his musical abilities for a long time.

“It takes a great deal of mental focus to have 40 to 50 people playing as a unit at 100 percent,” Fuchs said. “Before concerts, I’m always worried. But once I’m up there I’m fine.”

Fuchs currently conducts for the Sugar Pops Symphonic Orchestra in Coconut Creek and the Hallandale Symphonic Orchestra.

“The symphony is a cultural body of centuries worth of achievements,” Fuchs said. “There’s a lot of energy and beauty on a stage with live bodies up there and blood going through their veins.”  

Anna Radinsky is a senior at FIU majoring in journalism and sociology. Besides covering news around Sunny Isles Beach, she also runs the entertainment section of PantherNOW, FIU's student newspaper. She writes profiles on interesting people and covers news related to social and environmental issues, as well as culture and art.