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Norman Leyden swings in Woodstock concert

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Norman Leyden conducts members of the Oregon Chamber Players during his arrangement, Gershwin Medley. Although it’s a small organization holding concerts in the Woodstock neighborhood, the Oregon Chamber Players (OCP) consistently attracts top talent – both in their rosters of musicians, and in the guest artists.

As reported in THE BEE article at the time, for example, well-known actor (“M*A*S*H”) and musician David Ogden Stiers previously came to Woodstock to guest-conduct one of its annual Children’s concerts.

But, as a departure from the classical symphonic music the group normally presents, the Saturday evening concert on October 19 – held in Woodstock’s All Saints Episcopal Church social hall – was “Swingin’ with Norman!” – a special evening honoring Norman Leyden.

The hall was decked out to resemble a USO venue, with patriotic bunting and banners. Many of the musicians and guests dressed in 1940s attire.

OCP General Manager and musician Victoria Racz recalled how, years ago, she’d played in an orchestra guest-conducted by Norman Leyden. “Our friendship grew over the years, and he attended several OCP concerts.

“Norman, Timoteus [OCP’s late founder] and I often talked about collaboration.

“It looks to be such a fun and wonderful concert,” Racz told THE BEE, “it’s a shame Timoteus wasn’t here enjoy it.”

Before the show, Leyden recalled being a graduate of Yale and Columbia Universities; serving in World War II, with Maj. Glenn Miller’s legendary Air Force Band; and afterward arranging songs for prominent artists of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, and Tony Bennett.

Leyden was given the lifetime title of Laureate Associate Conductor by the Oregon Symphony following his retirement in 2004 after 34 seasons as Music Director of the orchestra’s Pops series, and 29 years as its associate conductor.

The Woodstock concert featured eighteen selections – four of them arranged by Leyden, and two more composed by the storied composer and conductor.

Although he was scheduled to play and conduct only during the second half of the concert, Leyden picked up his clarinet and softly played along with the musicians as he sat at a side table.

But, when he heard the opening notes of “Gershwin Medley”, a selection that he’d arranged many years before, he got up from his seat and headed toward the bandstand.

In the time it took him to walk the few steps to the bandstand, the elderly gentleman’s skin tone brightened, his posture straightened, and his eyes twinkled, as he conducted and played a passage on the clarinet he brought with him.

The bright music and lively tempo brought audience members out of their seats to dance to the lively tangos and polkas performed by the talented musicians.

Later in the concert, Leyden led two sing-along sessions, harking back to the days when he arranged music for Mitch Miller and his singers.

The next concert of the Oregon Chamber Players is scheduled for February 8, 2014, at the same venue. For more information, visit online: www.oregonchamberplayers.org/ocp.html