Lieurance Woodwind Quintet celebrates 60 years

8:28:16 AM CDT - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

Flutist Frances Shelly has performed in the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet for more than half of its 60-year existence. That makes Shelly the longest running current member with 34 years of playing flute with fellow WSU faculty in the oldest woodwind quintet in America.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover, especially with the bassoon and oboe,” said Shelly, a School of Music professor who also performs for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. “Every time we get new members, the group totally changes, the dynamic, the personalities.”

So when she celebrates the faculty quintet’s 60th anniversary year with a three-performance birthday party in June at Chamber Music at the Barn, Shelly will enjoy existing quintet members Nicholas Smith, horn; Nicolasa Kuster, bassoon; Suzanne Tirk, clarinet; and Andrea Banke, oboe. But she’ll be savoring memories of past members and experiences, too.

Since the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet is a faculty ensemble, she said, faculty have no choice about participating, so they have to get along.

“It’s good exercise; it’s like being married,” she said. “It’s a commitment; it can be hard but also fulfilling.”

One past member Shelly remembers fondly is Nancy Lutes, who at age 31 (in 1994) was teaching bassoon and performing in the Lieurance quintet and Wichita Symphony while fighting the breast cancer that would take her life in 2002, but not before she had gone on to a full professorship at Bowling Green State University and many more professional accolades.

Shelly, in Michigan rehearsing for a concert with organist Steve Egler, called on professor emeritus Jim Jones, clarinet, to jog more names from her memory. Jones, who retired from WSU in 2004, began with the Faculty Quintet in 1969. In 1970, its members decided to name the quintet for former fine arts dean Thurlow Lieurance, a Kansas composer and historian of American Indian music.

“We had heard the Richards Quintet in Lansing (Mich.), and thought we’d add some class with a name,” Jones said, with a laugh. In a 2004 Inside WSU interview, Jones had credited his wife, Gay, a quintet flutist, with suggesting that “Lieurance” be included in the name. “Thurlow Lieurance had been the first dean of the college. And Lieurance is an interesting name,” he said.

Between Jones and Shelly, other past member names came rolling forth, including Dorothy Terwilliger, Richard Beene (now at University of Michigan), Dennis Michel (now in Chicago Symphony), Michael Dicker (Illlinois State University), Peggy Knight, Linda Strommen (went to Louisiana State University, now at Indiana University), Jim Kerr, Jim Robertson, Willa Henigman (in Dallas Symphony) and Emily White Paas (a recording artist in London).

No matter its makeup, the quintet has been on some memorable tours, Shelly said. One European tour was thanks to former fine arts dean Gordon Terwilliger who asked Sam and Rie Bloomfield for help. “They donated $25,000,” she said. “At the time that was all we needed but that was over 20 years ago.”

The tour was strenuous -- 13 performances in 17 days -- but a tour guide drove and plotted meals and lodging so they had only to perform through Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The ensemble also has performed at the Library of Congress and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Merkin and Carnegie Recital Halls of New York. The quintet toured Panama (where Kuster grew up, said Shelly) in 2001, which began an artistic exchange of teaching and performing that continues to this day.

Considering moments of personal success, however, Shelly points to performance itself, in particular the quintet’s January Faculty Artist recital on campus: “We played the (John) Harbison ‘Quintet.’ Every time we play it I think, ‘Oh my God, this piece is so hard.’ I just felt like we really conquered it.”

She has also loved the recording process for CDs: “I feel good about those; you work hard and try to make things perfect.”

The quintet is eager to start their next recording, of Harbison’s “Quintet,” and plan to have a 60th anniversary CD available in 2008. They’d like to do a big tour of all of the members’ alma maters, Shelly said, of Oberlin College and Conservatory (Kuster), University of Michigan (Shelly), Eastman School of Music (Banke, Smith) and Lawrence University (Tirk). Their October 2007 recital on campus will celebrate the anniversary, too.

“I've been in the quintet for three years,” said Tirk, assistant professor of clarinet. “It has been an amazing experience for me. I really look forward to the four hours of rehearsal we have a week. In the midst of teaching, recruiting, paperwork, etc., our rehearsals give us the time and space to work on achieving the highest levels of artistry, both as individuals and as an ensemble.

“Probably the best part of playing with the LWQ,” Tirk continued, “is that I am constantly inspired and challenged by the amazing artistry of my colleagues.”

The Lieurance Woodwind Quintet will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 20-Friday, June 22, at Chamber Music at the Barn at Prairie Pines, 4405 N. Tyler Road, in Maize. Individual concert tickets are $22. For more information about concerts and 6:30 p.m. dinner reservations (at additional cost), call (316) 264-4662 or e-mail cmatb@aol.com.

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