Shuffle: Akron Symphonic Winds Ensemble Connects to Communities Through Music

Jul 25, 2019

A 40-member ensemble is bringing live music to communities throughout Northeast Ohio. In its third year, Akron Symphonic Winds is hitting its stride and expanding its outreach efforts. 

A group of professional musicians 
Longtime musician and educator Linda Simon-Meitus founded the ensemble three years ago. Raised in New York, she spent 10 years performing with the Hong Kong Philharmonic and worked as band and orchestra director of the Hong Kong International School. After she gave birth to her twin boys, she and her husband moved back to his hometown of Cuyahoga Falls. She now teaches at Hathaway Brown

Simon-Meitus said she got the idea for the community band after talking with Gary Davis of the Akron Federation of Musicians. She received grant money to start hiring members.

"The majority are union members, from Cleveland Institute of Music undergrads all the way through our retired member of the Cleveland Orchestra. I pick them not only because they're great players, but because they are great people who are passionate about sharing their love of music with others," she said. 

Akron Symphonic Winds conductor Tom Holliday leads the group at its recent rehearsal.
Credit Amanda Rabinowitz

From students to teachers to retired players
Simon-Meitus tapped longtime educator Tom Holliday as conductor. He's the concert band director at Kent State University at Stark

Members include retired singer Joanne Couch who is the group's narrator.

"We have fun facts about the pieces. Some people are drawn in with the music, and some people want to hear the description. Everybody responds differently," Couch said.

Her husband, Al Couch, is a retired trumpet player with the Cleveland Orchestra.

"I played in the orchestra for 30 years. There's a need for groups like this, and I'm going to keep playing for as long as I can," he said.

Percussionist Clarence Barber appreciates the musicianship.

"I don't get to make music with this caliber of musician all the time. Community bands are very fine groups. But not everybody in it a professional. But in this group, everybody is a professional, and everybody brings their A game," he said. 

The 40-member Akron Symphonic Winds performs free concerts throughout the year in Northeast Ohio.
Credit Akron Symphonic Winds

A musical surprise
One of the younger members is alto saxophone player Jim Lang, who is the band director at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls. 

"We live in a time when so much of our musical experience is individual. I have my Spotify account that I curate myself," Lang said. "We go out and play downtown some place, and we get audience members who aren't expecting to hear a concert. They get to hear high-quality repertoire that they weren't expecting. It's like a little musical surprise that we get to spring on people."

Through a recent Akron Community Foundation grant, Simon-Meitus said the group will be mentoring students in the Akron Public Schools this fall.   

Akron Symphonic Winds performs at 1:30 p.m. July 27 at the Akron Art Expo at Hardesty Park and at 6:30 p.m. July 28 in Parma Heights. You can find other performance dates here