December 1, 2015

Cancer survivor and musician gives back

For community musician Steve Whitman, the opportunity to play tuba at the Wilmot Cancer Institute with the RPO's brass quintet on Monday, December 14 is so much more than an exciting gig.  It’s a chance to give thanks to the medical team who have treated him for the last five years.
Steve Whitman shows his arrangement of "Santa Baby"

“I’m so grateful to Wilmot for what they have done for me,” said Whitman, a retired teacher who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. “People don’t realize what a wonderful asset we have in this community—I don’t know if there is anywhere in the world where I would get better treatment.”

Whitman played euphonium (a brass instrument that resembles a small tuba) as a young man at Fairport High School and later in community bands. He turned to tuba five years ago for the New Horizons Band, a community orchestra comprised of mostly senior musicians at all levels of ability. His connection to the RPO came when he started to take lessons from Principal Tuba Craig Sutherland. This will be Whitman’s fourth year playing with the brass quintet at Wilmot. The group will debut Whitman’s original arrangement of Santa Baby for two solo tubas with brass accompaniment.

"We look forward to playing with Steve because his love of playing the tuba as an amateur musician is a great reminder to us of why we do what we do," said Sutherland. "It was Steve's idea to start doing arrangements for the quintet, specifically for the Wilmot concert. They are fun, because they are a bit tongue in cheek; I suppose anything with two tubas is going to be somewhat amusing in one way or another!"

The RPO brass quintet at Wilmot
To write his own arrangements, Whitman starts by finding sheet music of the song for piano, and then uses a special app called iWriteMusic to transpose for tuba. Then he adds his own flair, like an arrangement for Rubber Ducky that involved the group squeaking rubber ducks for "percussion."

“This concert is a nice way of providing the patients at Wilmot with some casual entertainment during the holiday season” said Dr. John Bennett, professor emeritus at URMC and RPO board member who sponsors the annual concert with his wife, Carol. “I have received very positive feedback over the years both from patients and staff over how exciting it was to be present.”

The RPO brass quintet includes Sutherland, Mark Kellogg (principal trombone), Doug Prosser (principal trumpet), Wes Nance (trumpet), and Dave Angus (horn). Approximately 100 people attend the free concert in the Wilmot Atrium each year, including staff, patients, and their families.

"It's a real thrill to play with some of the best musicians in the world," said Whitman, who also played in a side-by-side concert with the orchestra two years ago. "The RPO has given me so many 'bucket-list' opportunities."

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