"I can't imagine life without music," says Stephanie Straight, the principal of the predominantly female percussion section of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. When her older sister Julie started band at school, their dad bought her a beautiful metallic blue snare drum. "It matched the banana seat on my Schwinn 'Lil Chic.' I knew then... this is for me!"
Julie taught Stephanie everything she was learning in her band class. "The very next year, when I was 10, I started lessons and my whole life improved. At 15 I became a percussion teacher and have kept on learning and growing through music."
Stephanie graduated in music from Western Washington University and has played in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra for 30 years, acting as principal for most of those years. When not at her day jobs at Boundary Bay and the Mount Baker Theatre, she teaches in her a private percussion studio and plays with various groups around town.
One of her students, Anya Taylor, started out playing flute, but kept pressing her parents to let her take up drums. Finally, when she was 14, she began to study percussion. Stephanie says, "She has a natural gift and learns parts quickly." This season, Anya has been playing with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and also performing in the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra Musicians in the Schools outreach project for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students for her senior project at Sehome High School.
Jennifer Longstaff, another member of the section says, "An oboe and piano player in my high school band, I was often drafted into the drum section because I could read notes and play melodic instruments such as xylophone and bells. Joining the bunch of drummers in the back of the band ended up being a lot of fun." Jennifer is a computer programmer and consultant, and when she is not working, rehearsing, or playing, she is managing the orchestra's website at WhatcomSymphony.com. "I guess you could say that for the past six years I have put a lot of myself into this orchestra," she says.
Kay Reilly moved to Bellingham six years ago to teach band at Squalicum High School. Her colleague orchestra teacher Chip Bergeron told her about the Whatcom symphony and encouraged her to audition. "I met with Stephanie Straight and joined just when world-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie was scheduled to perform with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra -- what luck!" Kay earned her bachelor's in music in percussion performance and music education from Northwestern University, and her master's in music in percussion performance from Ohio State University. She taught in Hong Kong before moving back to the U.S, and since moving to Bellingham she has enjoyed performing with local ensembles including the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Noel Harp and Mhuri Marimba Ensemble.
Tanya McAtee, another WWU music graduate, joined the orchestra in 2004. "After attending my first Whatcom Symphony Orchestra concert with a friend, I knew I wanted to play with these talented and inspired musicians." Tanya loves exploring the range of sounds on a wide variety of instruments. "The possibilities are virtually limitless. I've played beautiful music on old brake drums from a truck!" She is finishing her elementary education certificate this year and works at Wind Poppy Farm in Ferndale. When not making music or teaching, Tanya can be found on her motorcycle, exploring the beautiful back roads of Washington.
Scott Davis, the "token male" in the percussion section, runs his own CPA practice by day and makes music by night with the local indy rock band Pawnbroker. "Playing with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra is a lot of fun, but one of my favorite programs is the Musicians in the Schools, where we bring a truck load of percussion instruments around to elementary schools and put on a 45-minute presentation for the kids," says Scott. "We try to get across to the kids how much fun it is to play music, particularly drums."
Smoke and Mirrors Percussion Ensemble, from the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, performs two concerts in Bellingham in February to benefit the Play It Forward Chamber Music Residency. Now in its second year, the residency is co-sponsored by the Bellingham Festival of Music and the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. Performers work with middle and high school music students in Whatcom County as part of Musicians in the Schools, an enrichment program for students third grade through high school.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at Western Washington University and at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at Bellingham High School. Local high school percussionists will open the performance at Bellingham High School.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one of a year-long series profiling the musicians of the award-winning Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. Author Mary Passmore has played cello with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra for 33 years and currently serves on the board of directors and as chair of the Outreach to the Schools committee. A retired elementary classroom teacher, she plays chamber music with friends, seeks adventure through travel with her husband Martin, and visits her children and grandchild in Los Angeles as often as possible.
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.