Trombone concert a fitting tribute late professor
HUNTINGTON -- Don Williams flew in from California in 1983 to interview at Marshall University.
On his way back from the interview, Marshall professor John Mead, who was also a pilot, chartered a private plane - used to carry caskets -- and gave Williams an unforgettable trip to the Lexington airport to make his way back west and thus began a more than 30-year-friendship.
Williams was offered and accepted the position at Marshall. The two would remain friends until Mead passed away Feb. 8 at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., following a brief illness. Mead is survived by his wife, Dr. Joan Tyler Mead, retired dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Marshall.
The colorful retired Marshall low brass instructor and first-class trombonist who died in February, gets a fitting tribute -- a 30-trombone concert called "Red Socks and Low Brass: A Tribute to John Mead," that takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 6, in Smith Recital Hall.
Free and open to the public, the concert also features a special 10-minute-video tribute to Mead, put together by Emmy Award-winning Huntington-based documentary filmmakers Deb Novak and John Witek.
Williams attended the February memorial concert for Mead, who was one of his dearest friends. He said the event, put on with the help of MU Trombone professor Mike Stroeher, the Marshall University Trombone Ensemble and other area trombonists, is a joyous occasion for friends to celebrate the life of the multi-talented musician and teacher.
Known for his wild red socks and tuxedo, Mead was first chair in five symphonies and had accompanied everyone from Glen Campbell and Bob Hope to ice show orchestras and the Ringling Brothers Circus Band.
"We are calling it a tribute and so it is a real hats off to John and to the folks who have had contact with him and who have known him, so that we all get a chance to say atta boy," Williams said. "I got to go up for his memorial in Monroe, New Hampshire, and there has been that. That is not what we are trying to do, but give people a chance to tell John stories."
There will be a gathering after the concert in the atrium at Smith Hall with light refreshments and where friends, such as Terry Roush, who played with him in the WV Symphony Orchestra, will share some John Mead stories.
Williams said that as a testament to Mead's impact that it has been somewhat easy to pull in trombonists who over the years fell under the tutelage of Mead.
Some of those players, such as Joe Patton, a former student, and Jeremy Smith (who will be joined by his father Ron at the concert) are playing with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra Saturday night then staying over Sunday for the campus concert.
According to his obituary, Mead was a demanding and inspiring professor whose loyal and close-knit students could be spotted wearing their red socks at concerts.
One of those students was nationally-known filmmaker Deb Novak, who went back to Marshall for an additional degree in music composition.
"He is one of those teachers that you remember all of your life," Novak said. "He has students everywhere and they are just so loyal to him because of what he gave them."
Novak said her first freshman theory class, she walked in and was delighted that to be in Mead's section. She had known Mead and his wife for years and Novak's mother, a theater professor, had performed shows with them for years.
"I got in Mead's section and he gave me the foundation that I use to this day," Novak said. "I went on to graduate with a degree in musical composition but it all stemmed from that first class where he encouraged me to go on."
When Novak found out they were putting together a tribute to "Mr. Trombone," who used to share Christmases with her family, she found some great footage of his farewell concert in 2000 in Huntington, as well as some footage from a WPBY show that Williams did in the 1990s highlighting various instruments and their masters.
Williams said Mead was indeed a masterful player, a fact shown by his first chair position in five symphonies in his career.
"That is a really good indication of the caliber of playing," Williams said. "When you stop to think about it, it is amazing to think about someone with that kind of talent staying in Huntington as long as he did. But he was first and foremost a teacher, and that is what Marshall gave him a chance to do."
Williams said that Marshall also plans to establish a Mead Scholarship for Music in his memory.
For more information on helping out with that or for more about the concert, email current low brass professor Dr. Michael Stroeher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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