Emersonian Ben Withers with his clarinet and cat



This week’s post comes from Ben Withers, doctor, youth ministry champion, and competitive Scrabble player.


I’m an inveterate dabbler in all sorts of activities and learnings, and I’ve been asked to share a bit about my latest foray which has resulted in my joining our wonderful Emerson Intergenerational Orchestra earlier this year. I greatly enjoy music, but have no talent for singing.


I have taken piano lessons from time to time, but my progress didn’t satisfy me there. I’m afraid my ear is more sophisticated than my ability. I think anyone can learn to play “Easy Piano” music, and I progressed probably to low intermediate level before I gave it up last about 16 years ago or so.

I’ve been aware of the Emerson Intergenerational Orchestra for many years and enjoyed hearing them play. The idea of being a part of a group making music also appealed to me greatly. I began thinking about what instrument I might try to learn. I have always loved the sound of the clarinet, so I decided to try that–not knowing it is nicknamed the “Devilstick”, or that it was a rather picky instrument., which can reward poor embouchure (mouth position and tightness) with piercing squeaks and honking sounds–as my wife and the cats can testify.

I know Carol Burrus, the DRE at First Church, a fabulous singer herself, and I knew that her father is a talented clarinetist and asked for a recommendation for a teacher. Carol’s son Evan, a recent graduate of Eastman School of Music, took lessons from a wonderfully talented woodwind player Martin Langford, who agreed to take me on. I have been taking lessons close to weekly ever since and recommend him very highly. After about 18 months, he said I was about average level for a clarinetist in a high school band.

Therefore, I took a deep breath and joined EIO in February of this year. Most of the players are more experienced and more talented than I am–but the players, and Bill Tackett, the conductor, could not have been more welcoming. Bill has quite an impressive background in his training as a conductor, and amazes me with how he can recognize what is happening with every instrument. I have found that if I work at it I can play most of the clarinet parts without embarrassing myself. If something is too difficult, I can either work with Bill to simplify it, or drop out. Other players do the same from time to time, and fortunately it generally isn’t apparent.

I really didn’t have any idea what a sublime pleasure it would be to be part of a group making such wonderful music. I am grateful that Emerson has such a group, and I encourage anyone who used to play, or decides to become an adult learner to do so.

Thinking about Emerson Intergenerational Orchestra or Choir? Join our potluck Wednesday, August 31, at 6:30 PM in Westwood Hall, or contact our music director Adrian Rodriguez!