Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘First Christian Church’

Leonard Thomas – Born to Perform

Len Salt Fork Bash 2

When a piano’s not available, a keyboard will do.

When Leonard Thomas enters a room with a piano, you want to pull out the piano bench and have him tickle the ivories as he bursts into song.

While Len was born in Cambridge in 1927 and now lives there, he has traveled extensively using his musical talents not only at the piano or with his vibrant voice, but also in composing and directing. This man overflows with musical talent.

Len Note from Fred Waring

Fred Waring showed his appreciation to Len in this keepsake note.

He credits his success to the wonderful upbringing he received from his parents and siblings. Their support and encouragement make him feel lucky to have such a special family. He learned the importance of hard work from being a paperboy and soda jerk to conductor and performer.

The first time he sang in public happened at the First Christian Church when he was twenty-four months old. He entertained the crowd downstairs by singing “Bow Wow Blues” to the amazement of all. Len still calls this church home.

Len going places

Even as a youngster, Lenny had plans for going places.

When Lenny was only three years old, he went to visit with the family. A niece was just starting to take piano lessons and he asked her to show him what she was learning. She first  played the notes with her right hand, and Lenny played them back by ear. Next she played the left hand. Again Lenny played them back by ear. He asked her how you put them together and she said she had never done that yet. So Lenny said, “Do it like this.” and played them both.

By the time he was four, his parents thought he should have piano lessons, but they couldn’t afford it. Lenny went to see a lady across the street who gave piano lessons and told her he would like to take lessons but didn’t have any money to pay her.

She asked him if he would mow her yard for fifty cents a week. Lenny asked her how much the lessons would be. “Fifty cents a week.” It worked perfectly.

Len Fred, Ann and Len

Fred Waring and Len’s one-room school teacher, Anna Priaulx, visit with Len after a concert.

Lenny attended Rock Hill School, a one-room school near Center.  This provided a great learning atmosphere for him as he learned from all the classes. Everything fascinated him under the guidance of a very special teacher, Anna Priaulx.

By the age of ten, this young boy could play nearly all the classicals from great composers from memory.  He didn’t however forget the songs that were popular during that era.

Len Trio (2)

At Cambridge High School in 1947, Len played for this trio of  Carol, Barbara and Donna, who he said could harmonize as well as the Andrew Sisters.

At Cambridge High School, his musical talent has never been forgotten. His choice of a band instrument became a sousaphone, but he also sang in many groups as well as served as accompanist. No wonder he was voted the boy most likely to succeed as well as the most talented.

Len Muskingum Sr

Len graduated from Muskingum College and after retirement came back to assist with their music program.

Leonard graduated from Muskingum College with a B.S. in Music Education, but he never intended to use it. He wanted a career in performing so headed to Boston University, where he studied with great success.

But when he got home from Boston, his mother told him there was a letter waiting for him. It was his draft call from the Army. Len got lucky again as he was assigned to a base with a band. Now he could use his sousaphone experience from high school to participate in the Army band.

With this band, he headed to Germany, where they spent their time performing, participating in parades and singing at the chapel and in a barbershop quartet. Why he even had his own apartment and gave piano lessons.

Upon his return home, the hand of God guided him to the minister of the Central Presbyterian Church in Zanesville. There he had his first real job as choral director for five choirs among other assignment.

Along came someone from the court system and suggested that Len become a probation officer since he worked so well with young people. Now he had two jobs, so decided to buy his first car – a black ’57 Sunliner convertible.

Len with Steinbach

He still plays the piano he purchased in New York City in 1964, when he lived in a townhouse on the 19th floor.

Three years later, Len again decided to further his education and headed back to Boston to pursue his doctorate. Since all the schools were closed for the summer, he contacted an Army buddy in New York City and moved there for a while to a Central Park Townhouse.

Enjoying city life, Len began looking for a teaching job in the area.  He found one in Brooklyn at McKinley Jr. High School. Here he directed their choirs and led them in performing outstanding concerts. For eleven and a half years, this was his life.

Len Pennsylvanians

An attractive program design highlights Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

Well, except for summers!  Those last six summers he attended Fred Waring’s Workshops, where he learned more about performing. One of the students asked Len to play for their audition. It was Len that landed the job to play with the Pennsylvanians with his keyboard talent.

Len Young Pennsylvanians

Teaching young people is something he has always enjoyed. Here he is conductor for the Young Pennsylvanians.

For many years, Leonard performed with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. During the 40s and early 50s, Waring produced a string of hits, selling millions of records. Breezin’ Along with the Breeze was his signature tune. Waring’s often called The Man Who Taught America to Sing. Len Thomas was one of those he helped along the way.

Len and Fred at last performance

Pennsylvanians perform for the final time with Len and Fred Waring, only twelve days before Waring’ passed away.

When Fred Waring died in 1984, Len was asked to work as editor and arranger for Shawnee Press, which was founded by Fred Waring. Shawnee Press has been instrumental in providing quality musical arrangements to high schools, colleges, and orchestras.

Len Shawnee Press Business card

Len’s business card with Shawnee Press carried Waring’s logo at the top.

After working for Shawnee Press for seventeen years, it was sold and moved to another state. At the same time, Len had an offer to purchase his beautiful home in Pennsylvania. His heart and mind said it was time to return home.

Len Distinguished Service Award at Muskingum

Len received the Distinguished Service Award at Muskingum University.

When he returned, Muskingum College requested that he direct their concert choir. Frequently, he gave piano lessons, where he explained to students that playing the piano isn’t just done with the fingers, but with the wrists, arms and elbows. Your entire body feels the music.

Len at Salt Fork Festival Chorus

He still loves to perform and assists with many community musical events, such as the Salt Fork Festival Chorus.

The community feels lucky to have him return to the Cambridge area. Now he plays in the Muskingum Jazz Group, for numerous groups including the Cambridge Singers, and provides background music for many banquets, parties, funerals and weddings.  Let’s face it, Len loves to perform.

Preservation Dixieland All Stars

Preservation Dixieland All Stars will be performing at the Salt Fork Festival BASH. Members include: Jerry Weaver, Len Thomas, Don Kason, and Dave Jacobs.

Today at the age of 86, he has no problem remembering all those songs from years gone by. No matter what song is requested, Len’s fingers respond perfect. “The Lord’s been good to me,” smiled Len, as he’s fulfilled all his dreams.

His twilight years have been both enjoyable and fulfilling. Now it the time when he can give back to the community where he grew up. “When you spend time helping others, you find the happiness you seek.”

 

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Rich Simcox: A Life of Musical Adventures

Rich Choir Director

Rich SImcox considers music his vocation and avocation.

I fell into a lot of lucky spots.” That’s how Rich Simcox describes his musical career. “ It’s not always what you know, but who you know that matters most.” But his great musical talent certainly enabled those connections.

Rich Pickin' 001 (2)

The “pickers and grinners” met  in the summer on Uncle Joe’s porch. They entertained the entire neighborhood.

Rich grew up surrounded by music. His mother’s family were “pickers and grinners”, while his father’s family reached out to classical and Dixieland. Rich wanted to emulate his dad.

Dick Simcox, Rich’s dad, directed school music programs in Bucyrus during Rich’s youth. In fourth grade, Rich started playing the trumpet, which remains his favorite instrument.

His dad knew teaching music to be a vocation of long hours and short vacations. He told his two sons and daughter, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you don’t go into music.” They all chose music.

Dick Simcox 001 (2)

His dad, Dick Simcox, gave him musical inspiration.

The Simcox family history shows their deep Cambridge roots. Rich was born there, his dad grew up there. Grandpa Simcox performed vaudeville at the Strand and Liberty theaters. Great-grandpa Simcox had a harness shop by the courthouse. It seemed only natural for Rich to drift back this direction.

He admits to being a gypsy at heart so he has been on many musical adventures. That all started when he became a member of the Air Force Band, one of his favorite musical journeys. Most of the time they worked out of Scott Air Force Base in Missouri. The 45 piece band played for parades, school concerts, community events, and military funerals.

Muskingum College Jazz Group

When attending Muskingum College, he played in many campus bands.

In the 70s, his dad moved to Tri-Valley High School and in his spare time formed “The Dick Simcox Big Band”. Rich at the time was attending Muskingum College so became part of his dad’s band. When his dad passed in 1979, Rich decided he would keep the band performing as long as possible. One thing he wanted to do was always keep his dad’s name as the name of the band.

While his biggest inspiration remained with his dad, he also listened carefully to Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen. Rich said he always hoped to emulate the tunefulness and tone quality of Bobby Hackett, coronet player.

Rich Simcox Jazz Band 001 (2)

The Dick Simcox Big Band provided music around the Tri-State area.

Locally, Rich taught music at several high schools as well as Muskingum College. Many remember him coming to their homes for private lessons. He has led many musical groups in the area over the years, including: Barbershop Chorus, Sweet Adelines, and Land ‘O Lakes Chorus.

His involvement with music in the area extends to many organizations and listing them all would take an entire page. To name a few, he has played trumpet or french horn in Cambridge City Band, Coshocton Lake Park Band, Southeastern Ohio Symphony Orchestra and Zanesville City Band. He’s directed musicals at Living Word and Cambridge Performing Arts Center.

Rich Dick Simcox Band 001

Here the band plays at the Cambridge Concert Association at the Scottish Rite Auditorium. That’s Rick sitting in the wheel chair.

While directing has been one of his strong points, participating as an actor gave him great pleasure at CPAC. He played lead roles in popular musicals such as “The Music Man”, “Carousel” and “The Flower Drum Song”. His talent in so many varied musical arenas led him to say, “Music is my vocation and avocation.”

This outstanding musician played trumpet on cruise ships and has kept the “Dick Simcox Big Band” alive with performances throughout the area. Rich reflects, “I’ve done more than I ever thought I would.”

Rich in Church Choir

Singing in the church choir has given Rich pleasure for nearly forty years.

Directing the choir at First Christian Church in Cambridge since 1978 still gives him great pleasure. The church music lifts his soul as they make a joyful noise to the Lord. In his spare time, he also enjoys camping and fishing.

Rich Church Choir

He frequently directs the choir with some challenging music.

It’s a tragedy to Rich that schools are doing away with music programs. There’s a big correlation between participation in musical activities and excellence in other areas of study. He feels that the reason this area has so many talented musicians today comes from great music teachers, such as Howdy Max, John Matheny, Max Trier, Diane Box, and Todd Bates.

Rich perhaps gave the best description of his role in music. He’s a musical engineer, who organizes whatever needs done or put together. But admitted he couldn’t do it without networking with all his connections.

According to those who know him well, Rich’s specialty is motivation. “He can get more out of most people than they think they can produce.” Music has been a lifelong adventure for Rich.

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