White steps into the spotlight in symphony concert | PostIndependent.com
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White steps into the spotlight in symphony concert

Marice Doll
Special to the Post Independent

Karin White treats her piccolo like a “loaded pistol.”

She says that because the piccolo is designed “to shoot fast and make itself heard.”

Audiences will hear White in a retirement tribute when Symphony in the Valley presents its annual Mother’s Day Spring Concerts. White will perform the Pennywhistle Gig for Solo Piccolo and Orchestra by Henry Mancini from the movie, “Molly Maguires.”

“Piccolo players need strong but flexible lips, good breath control, endurance, and the ability to switch from flute to piccolo without a problem,” said White.

White has been switching for a long time, but not always without a problem. She was born into a Scandinavian family with a musical legacy: Her mother was a concert pianist, her father played the banjo with the Boston University Banjo Club, and her grandmother played the trombone while riding a horse in parades.

“Music was considered something that comes naturally,” she says. So when she was presented with a flute in the ninth grade, she just started to play it by ear. It wasn’t until she entered the Air Force in 1958 and joined the U.S. Women’s Air Force Band that she learned the importance of reading notes.

“I really don’t know how I passed the audition, but I do know I wasn’t going to remain in the band long if I didn’t learn,” she reminisces. Fortunately for White, her roommate had a master’s degree in music and gave her lessons.

“I practiced until I nearly passed out.”

The practice paid off. From Norton Air Force Base in San Bernadino, her first tour lasted seven weeks, beginning with three days of parades and dancing at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It was quickly followed with the Cheyenne Frontier Days, Seattle Sea Fair, Illinois State Fair for the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, Pam Am Games in Chicago, Inaugural Parade for John F. Kennedy, and the Roy Rogers Show in Tallahassee, Fla. White completed 19 tours. Most lasted several weeks.

Then the tragedy of her young life happened: The Women’s Air force Band was deactivated Oct. 1, 1961.

“My career was over,” White lamented. “I cried for two days. We were wiped off the books. The Air Force never acknowledged we existed. Even the Air Force Museum in San Antonio, Texas, didn’t note the existence of the women’s band. We weren’t even in the archives.”

Ten years later, the Air Force finally recognized the original women’s band, and included their uniforms in the Air Force Band Museum at Bolling Base.

White eventually moved on. In San Bernadino, Calif., she met her husband, Richard. They married and raised four children: Mike, Debbie, Chereyl and Holly. His job setting up service departments for Montgomery Ward forced the family to move 13 times in 17 years. In 1979, they moved to Glenwood Springs.

During this time, White religiously practice her flute one hour every day. Then her husband read in a magazine about a National Senior Symphony in Groton, Conn., and suggested White join.

“They were all retired professional musicians; and they were good,” she says with pride. White played with them for five years.

She then had a serendipitous meeting with a violinist, Chick Overington, who assured her he had experience in forming orchestras. Did she want to help him start one in Glenwood Springs?

“Help” included finding Overington a job, a place to live, and musicians in the valley to form the symphony. White even named it Symphony in the Valley. “His first week here, he got sick and ended up in the hospital with an operation,” she says, still laughing at the great beginnings.

By 1993, the symphony was formed, complete with two conductors, Jon Madsen and Wendy Larson. “I set it up, and Chick made it work,” she said.

The symphony has performed from Aspen to Battlement Mesa, with many memorable concerts: the dedication to World War II, a musical history commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Academy Award-winning Pops concert, Hits of the 20th Century, and, 100 Years of Broadway, to mention a few.

After 22 years, White is retiring from her job as a checker at City Market. She and her husband are getting into their motorhome in hopes of putting a few miles behind them. White will take along her flute for her daily practice. After all, she’s now flutist emeritus for the symphony.


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