The last time I was in a woman’s dormitory was in college and that’s been some 30 years ago. The girls at Milligan College surely thought we were strange too all dressed up and nowhere to go. After walking up a dark campus sidewalk we were still looking for Seeger Chapel and despite earlier instructions, we were still lost.

“It’s the steeple with all the lights on it, at the top of the hill.” A student answered without the slightest interruption.

Sure enough, as we backed up rather embarrassed, there it was, a bright amber steeple at the top of a tree-lined berm, the detail and ornate carvings stood out against the cold dark November sky. We had just come from dinner for three at Cafe Pacific in Johnson City. Tom ordered Sea Bass (we pronounced it like the instrument) and I shared a glass of wine with “tooty-bug.” After dinner we had planned to hear Grammy award winner Edgar Meyer at Seeger Chapel and somehow we got muddled along the way.

JC Symphony

Several years ago, Steve Thompson and I went to hear George Winston at Seeger Chapel, but other than that, the path to the auditorium was a bit cryptic, especially in the dark, but it didn’t take long to wind the dim sidewalks to the side-entrance of this great auditorium. We could hear the symphony too as a student opened a door backstage. We entered a hallway in front of the auditorium, requested our seats and were encouraged to sit anywhere as intermission was near.

We walked respectfully down the left of a large church cathedral and the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra was performing the last refrains of Straus. I must admit it’s been a long time since I’ve attended a symphonic concert. My ignorance keeps away I suppose, but I can’t begin to share the new awakening as I sat in those long pews watching Tom Stites conduct this 50-piece orchestra. Although I was at some distance to the stage, it was thrilling to hear music surface and disappear in this ensemble and especially intriguing to recognize several acquaintances.

Marilynn Roberts is one of our clients and she had invited me to listen to some of this year’s performance at the Johnson City Symphony. We talked to her at intermission and thanked her for the tickets as I introduced my guests.

Our seats were way back in the lower level and we couldn’t help but ascend to the balcony above stage right. Tom mentioned he wanted to watch his hands and was real excited about watching Edgar Meyers perform. Tom is a life-long bassist and was respectful dressing up in the evening with a dark gray suit and black tie. Lisa (Tootie-bug) had a mink shawl and was elegant as always in black.

As the orchestra reappeared on to the stage, Lisa turned and asked if the guy with the white shirt and bow tie was Meyer. At first, I couldn’t imagine this musician with rolled sleeves, suspenders, bow tie and disheveled brown hair to be “one of the best bass players in the world.” Surprisingly though, it wasn’t long before the conductor introduced Meyer who immediately brought his upright bass, bow and sank his head into Concerto in B minor by Giovanni Bottesini (I love Italian).

Edgar Meyer is an alumni of the original Bela Fleck Band and since then has performed with everyone from Garth Brooks, The Indigo Girls, Hank Williams and most recently won a Grammy Award with Mark O’Conner and Yo-Yo-Ma for the best Classical Crossover project “Appalachia Waltz.”

It was refreshing to sit on the edge of my seat during this musical performance that highlights this composer and performer. I’m also resigned to the new belief that Classical Music is best in person.

Besides, the music, our perch in the balcony gave us a great vista to watch the violinists and I couldn’t help but pay special attention to Rebecca Paluzzi on flute and Jud Berry on Oboe.

Earlier I told Lisa about how the oboe was my favorite instrument in the orchestra. By itself, it’s a snake charmer, but inside the orchestra, it’s a beacon that always catches my attention. That’s why I was surprised to see Jud – playing oboe.

Jud Berry is the former director of the Kingsport Library and now works for the Bristol Public Library. I’ve known him for several years and first met him working with Dave Sieg at ZFX. Jud is a fellow geek and always embracing new technologies and is obviously a member of the geek/musician club. Maybe we have something in common after all and his playing – sublime!

Edgar Meyer was phenomenal. Although his instrument is typically the foundation for most music, tonight the bass was center stage embraced by a craftsman with no limits on melody and style. Meyer dove into his bass with bow and finesse that traversed both heaven and hell. There were moments of raw, gutsy, sub-tonic grinds and the next chorus would be a delicate high melody, drifting on the wild of the wind.

That’s a bit over-the-top I’m certain, but Meyer’s performance was a sensation and we couldn’t help but look at each other with surprising submission to one of the greatest players of this instrument.

Anne GougeThroughout the concert, I kept watching the movements of an elderly woman playing viola. She would turn her music in unison with all the other players and seemed perfect with the music as the tempo moved forward. Drawn by her enthusiasm I was delighted to meet her on stage after the performance.

Anne Gouge has been playing the violin since she was 9 years old and moved to Johnson City from New York. She’s in her seventies now and her slow movements and unique isolation after the concert gave me an opportunity to appreciate her dedication she has to continue to perform with this organization and it was a special delight to hear her tell her stories about her years playing music.

I also spoke to Rebecca Paluzzi and surprised her with a story about the summer of 1979 when her then-husband Earl Paluzzi threw an eraser at my head in the Sullivan Central band room. It was summer band camp and I got bored way too and often…Paluzzi didn’t have time for it that day. Earl died a few years back and it was a delight to see Rebecca who never ages and continues to give her music to both students and patrons just like she did when I first met her.

Tom Bettini and Edgar MeyerTom and I moved closer and closer to Edgar Meyer. The audience was growing thin as they worked their way to the exits, but several people were waiting for autographs. Tom had brought David Lynn Burton’s funeral flyer and I lent him my fountain pen as Edgar turned to great Tom and humbly signed an autograph on her friend David’s last invitation.

Before we left the auditorium, I spotted an older gentlemen packing up a tattered suitcase on the floor in front of the stage. As he spoke to a few people, his broken voice was immediately familiar to me as Ron Wickman with WETS-FM. I knew Ron recorded plenty of symphony performances, but it wasn’t until I put the voice and all the visible gadgets together that I introduced myself.

Ron Wickman has been recording regional symphony performances for more than 40 years now and his audio archives is one of the largest classical music collections in this part of the state. He still airs those performances every Wednesday night at 9pm and talking to him, you have no trouble recognizing where his passion lies and it’s deeply rooted in this region and classical music and his recordings will out-last us all.

One of the strangest items in Ron’s magical bag of audio tools tonight was a homemade, robot-like device he called “Ichabod.”

Ron WickmanIchabad is the name given to a strange device that is supported on a large tripod and thrust into the air some twenty feet above the auditorium. The tripod holds of a solid, polished mahogany sphere and on its surface are mounted two directional microphone diaphragms. The electronic receptors that detect sound were mounted on the sides of the sphere and wires ran down some six feet to the microphone stand which were fastened to the side with white electrical tape around where the microphone diaphragm is usually attached to the mike. Evidently, the suspended mount in the sky along with the resonance of the mahogany conjures a greater range of fidelity and it looked like it would work. I’ll have to listen to that performance sometime soon.

We talked to Ron for a bit longer and where the last ones to leave Seeger Chapel. We decided on a nightcap at Cafe One 11 too. I decided on a splash of Jameson Irish Whiskey and Tom opted for a martini and Lisa wrapped up our night with a cup of coffee. We had a good time watching Charlie make sushi, but the strangest moment was when all of the help from the restaurant began to work together to bring tables together and lay out a display of silverware and place settings like a celebrity was on the way.

When local used car personality Steve Grindstaff walked in the door, he had on a black mink coat with his gold Elvis sunglasses. He had Ashley, Little Stevie and several others in his entourage and it was interesting to watch this Southern Gothic spectacle in Johnson City. I did tell Tom though…”my biggest tip for playing piano – Steve Grindstaff, MeadowView April 2007.”

A good night.