Having spent roughly three decades as a band director for Paul Blazer High School across the Ohio River in Kentucky, it seems a safe bet Terry Thompson knows a little bit about directing music.
These days, Thompson is entering his sixth year as the fourth director of the Portsmouth Wind Symphony, which itself is entering its 27th year of performances. During a recent rehearsal on the second floor of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts on the campus of Shawnee State University, Thompson began running the roughly 35 musicians gathered on folding chairs through their paces, readying them for the beginning of their next season.
First up on the musical agenda as a reporter enters the rehearsal room, is the classic “King of the Road,” made famous primarily by Roger Miller. Thompson jokes knowing the lyrics to the song is kind of an age test for the group which mixes high school students with players in their 70s.
As rehearsal continues through “Granada” followed by “American We,” Thompson continuously offers advice and encouragement to the musicians.
“Really strike it, make it jump” Thompson encourages during “American We.”
“The quarter notes have to soar above the rest of the group,” Thompson notes at another point. At yet another moment in the rehearsal, Thompson congratulates the group for making some appropriate notes “really pop. “
“There’s not a slur in a million miles,” Thompson said.
As you might expect, love of music is the characteristic primarily binding together the wide range of players in the symphony.
Taking his place in the back of the rehearsal hall near a large concert base drum, Bob Shinkle of McDermott said he joined the group roughly 20 years ago. Shinkle plays other percussion instruments in addition to the bass. He added he played instruments in his high school days, but his daughter talked him into checking out the wind symphony. Obviously, as he stuck around for two decades, one could probably say she was on to something.
“I’ve just always loved music,” Shinkle said.
He still volunteers for Northwest High School and marched along with the high school’s band, passing out water and just being of whatever help he could during his 30th River Days parade on Saturday.
Though he was sitting in about the middle of the orchestra, thanks to his colorful sweatshirt reading “Sax God,” Portsmouth High School Band Director Tony McKrimmon was hard to miss.
A native of Columbus, McKrimmon said he attended band camp at Wheelersburg and became acquainted with various musicians to the south of Columbus. When he graduated college, a friend encouraged him to apply for the open band director’s position at Portsmouth High. Obviously, so far, things have worked out as he is entering his third year with the school.
In explaining why he sits in with the wind symphony, McKrimmon said he just likes to play as often as possible. He also plays for the Praise Team at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, which essentially is comprised of members of well-known local pop band Doc Roc and the Remedies.
In addition to the songs named above, the wind symphony also tackled an original composition, penned by trumpet player Gus Shoemaker, a PHS senior and presumably one of McKrimmon’s foremost students.
At 17, Gus said he’s been playing music since the sixth grade and started writing several years ago. “Rhapsody for Band” is his first composition for a large musical group. He apparently wrote it using a computer but said it’s fantastic to hear it played by actual musicians, noting live players add nuances the computer just can’t reproduce.
““It’s just great,” he said of hearing his piece played live.
Thompson notes the Wind Symphony began as a full-blown orchestra including string instruments. Over the years, musicians came and went and eventually the symphony’s board of directors made the decision to change the nature of the group to include only wind instruments. Thompson said the number of musicians at rehearsals and performances can vary greatly, with 45 being a good turnout. He noted he’s always on the lookout for new members and especially mentioned a desire for clarinet and tuba players.
“People come in here and I think they just have fun,” Thompson added. “It’s been fun for me too.”
While PHS trumpet player Gus is one of the younger members of the wind symphony, flautist Michelle Webb does not seem embarrassed at all at being pointed out by Thompson as the symphony’s longest continuous member. She’s been playing with the symphony since they formed just over a quarter-century ago, before Gus was even born. Webb said she played in high school and college, heard about the Portsmouth symphony and even though she lives in Lucasville, just decided she wanted to give it a try. She and friend Mary Fike, another flautist, talked about the friendship and camaraderie of the group being a plus in addition to being able to play music.
“We all have a lot in common, we all love music,” Fike said.
Thompson said the Portsmouth Wind Symphony plays four shows a season, including their annual Fourth of July appearance at Tracy Park. The next season begins with a performance, 7 p.m., Oct. 17 at the Riffe Center. That performance is to include the world premiere of “Rhapsody for Band.” The group will then do a Christmas show come December and a spring concert in April, with both of those also at the Riffe Center.
For more information, visit the group’s website at portsmouthwidsynphony.com. They also have a Facebook page.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.