What are you ...? with Ron Wheeler, Tulsa Youth Symphony
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2012
11/29/12 at 5:21 AM
Tulsa's oldest orchestra is also its youngest.
The Tulsa Youth Symphony, made of up middle school and high school musicians from throughout the Tulsa region, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013.
Ron Wheeler has been at the head of the Tulsa Youth Symphony for much of its existence, serving as the orchestra's principal conductor since 1972.
Wheeler has performed as a violinist with the Tulsa Philharmonic and the Tulsa Symphony, and he was a member of the music faculty at Oral Roberts University, where he still teaches on a part-time basis.
But these days, much of his efforts are focused on the Tulsa Youth Symphony.
"I started with the orchestra right after I got out of the Army," Wheeler said. "I say that I couldn't find a real job, so I started doing this instead."
The Tulsa Youth Symphony began as an adjunct of the Tulsa Philharmonic, but it has been an independent group since 2003. That's when Wheeler's job expanded to include most of the administrative duties of running an orchestra, in addition to the musical ones.
Those players are divided into two groups - the Concert Orchestra and the more advanced Symphony Orchestra.
"Fortunately, I've had a lot of help from Richard Wagner and Pete Peterson," Wheeler said. "Pete handles the Concert Orchestra himself, and Rick and I share the Symphony Orchestra."
More than 150 young musicians make up the Tulsa Youth Symphony.
"We're fortunate that our area high schools have good instrumental music programs," Wheeler said. "And we have a good number of home-schooled students, most of whom study privately. So the pool of talent we have to draw from is quite large."
That talent will be on display when the Tulsa Youth Symphony performs its Holiday Concert, 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Union High School PAC, 6636 S. Mingo Road. Tickets are $10 at the door.
... planning for the 50th anniversary?
We'll be putting an emphasis on our alumni. We're in the process of locating alums going back to 1963 and will plan to invite three alums who are especially successful in the music business to be soloists for each of our concerts and to give master classes.
... most proud about the TYSO?
That we were able to continue operating after the demise of the Tulsa Philharmonic and its Junior division that provided most of our funding. That was due in large part to an endowment from Albert and Hete Barthelmes, and by the funds from the sale of Santa House turned over to us by the Junior Division. We were also greatly assisted by the donation of office space, first by the Barthelmes Foundation then by parents of alumni, and by the donation of rehearsal facilities by the Oral Roberts University Music Department.
... currently reading?
I always have two or three books going about different subjects. "Touched by Fire" by Louise Barnett, a biography of George Armstrong Custer; "The Lost Grizzlies" by Rick Bass, about the search for grizzly bears who may still survive in Colorado's San Juan mountains; "Conducting Business" by Leonard Slatkin, about all the activities involved with being a conductor. Very interesting.
... listening to, musically, that might surprise people?
Mel Torme, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Maynard Ferguson
... planning to do for the holidays?
Spending time with people I don't have time to really enjoy and relax with during the "season" - both musicians and non-musicians.
... remembering as the best prank the orchestra ever played?
I was invited to an end-of-the-season party at a parent's home. When I was picked up, I was blindfolded, driven around town, then walked into the home's back yard and tossed into the swimming pool. But they did ask my permission and let me empty my pockets before throwing me in.
... hoping for the continued future of the Tulsa Youth Symphony?
I'd like to expand opportunities for students to participate in chamber music ensembles, establish a younger string orchestra and increase our audience.
... likely to make for dinner?
I make simple things at home - baked salmon, pasta, steamed veggies. But if time and expense were no object, then I'd make reservations at Mahogany Prime Steakhouse.
Original Print Headline: What are you ... ?
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Ron Wheeler teaches a class at ORU. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World