Archive for Monday, March 19, 2007

Second wind

Local quintet performing again after four-year hiatus

March 19, 2007


The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet plays "Contours of a Machine" on the CD "The Music of Todd Brindley Hershberger"


Don't count out the Lawrence Woodwind Quintet until a stake's been driven through the group's heart, says one of the quintet's musicians.

The quintet, which formed back in the late 1960s but quit scheduling performances in 2003, is at it again, playing recently at an Audio-Reader event and occasionally accepting other gigs. In reality, though, Stuart Levine, the group's manager and French horn player, says the group never went away.

They've just been performing in one another's living rooms the entire time.

Levine, a slight, older man sporting short-cropped gray hair and wrinkles on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes, can talk about the quintet for what seems like hours. Every question prompts a memory that leads to a story. As he leans in close and whispers, the tale practically comes to life.

As he recalls one of the stories of a performance, he closes the eyes beneath his thick, black glasses and starts to gesture repeatedly, almost like he's reliving the event.

The group once performed at a wedding, but had to sneak out the side door to make another event. As the musicians left through the side door, they soon discovered their only way out was beneath a snow-covered hedge.

Such is the passion Levine and his friends have for the music.

The group performed its debut concert at the public library and subsequently for the dedication of a number of buildings on the KU campus. Notably, no one asked the group to play at the dedication of Wescoe Hall.

"We were the first group to play at the Kemper Art Museum in Kansas City. We were to only group to perform there for the first five years," he says. "Any building we dedicated has been a success."

The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet has been active in the community ever since its inception. For a while, it delivered concerts in area elementary schools, hoping to save music education and inspire youths to pursue music at least as a hobby.

To a one, members of the quintet remember the school shows as some of their favorites. But it was those that almost proved to be the end of the group.

"After playing a children's performance, you are totally worn out. I'd have to sit a while just before driving home," Levine said.

Sharon Learned, who along with Dave Ruhlen and Dean Jordan, Paul's son, are the newer members of the quintet, agreed with Levine's sentiments.

"We overheard one kid say, 'Wow, we heard real music today," Learned said. "Wonderful. It's wonderful and yet so hard to put into words."

In 2003, however, some of the more experienced members of the group, like Levine, Paul Jordan, who still plays and Barbara Jones, who is no longer a member of the quintet, decided that concerts were just too much for the group to handle. So, in the summer of 2003, Lawrence Woodwind Quintet became a group of musicians who performed chiefly for themselves.

They sat around in one another's living rooms and played a variety of music. But for Ruhlen, who plays the bassoon, it just wasn't enough.

"It's really rewarding there to work with people putting something together and perfecting it," he said. "Having a performance schedule gives you a goal to work for."

And it was with that in mind that the quintet decided to start tackling smaller gigs again.

"We're beginning to say yes, as long as it's not a formal concert," Levine says of the new performances.

The passion for music is what has the group doing concerts again, and it's what keeps most of the musicians as active members of the quintet.

For Jordan, the love affair with music has gone on all his life.

"I always thought that music was the one hobby I'd never give up," he says. "The quality of the music and the ability to play it. We can appreciate it and enjoy playing it."

The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet has showcased at events picketed by Fred Phelps and at honor society inductions. The quintet has alumni performing across the country, and maybe around the world, Levine says. And though some pieces have come and gone, most of the members seem convinced there's no end in sight.

"I wouldn't want to do it after it's apparent I can't do it any more," Jordan said. "But I think the others will keep doing it. They can get a replacement for me like they have everyone else who's come and gone."

Jordan, however, has no plans to retire soon.


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