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WASO performs Memorial Day tribute concert

Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe Worthington High School alumnus Matthew Tims will be a featured performer on the xylophone during Thursday evening's orchestra concert at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

WORTHINGTON -- All tuned up and ready to play -- that's the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra (WASO), with its 50-some string, wind and percussion musicians set to entertain in a patriotic-themed concert Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the historic Memorial Auditorium.

"This is a Memorial Day tribute concert," said WASO director Dr. Christopher Stanichar. "It's in honor of our country's veterans, so we will be playing a few marches -- including a couple by the march king John Philip Sousa -- and 'American Salute' by Morton Gould.

"All the pieces we'll perform were written on American soil."

The hummable "Colonel Bogey March" is on the program and will invite some audience participation, as is "A Salute to the Armed Forces" medley honoring the different branches of the military.

"And we are doing Antonin Dvorak's 'American Suite,' which the orchestra loves playing," said Stanichar, whose "day job" is director of orchestral programs at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. "Dvorak was a Czech composer, but he spent a lot of time in Spillville, Iowa, between 1892-95, and that is where he composed 'American Suite.'

"If you stretch your ears a little bit, you can hear some of the sounds he derived from African American and Native American influences here; he loved the diversity of America and felt strongly that it was the best source for American music."

Another distinction of Thursday's concert is homegrown talent Matt Tims, who will perform a xylophone concerto titled "The Golden Age of the Xylophone."

"It's a medley of popular ragtime numbers from the 1910s and 20s," Tims explained.

A 2008 alumnus of Worthington High School, Tims graduated last Saturday from Augustana with honors and a degree in music education.

"Matt is a true, well-rounded musician," Stanichar said. "He's played in the Augustana orchestra and band, and he is a very humble young man, but when you hear him play, he explodes with music.

"At Augustana, he really honed his percussion skills."

That's not to say Tims is only a gifted percussionist; he also sings and plays guitar, bass guitar, string bass and piano.

"I do some music composition, primarily writing percussion music for area marching bands, including for Worthington's drumline and lately for Sioux Falls Washington High School's drumline," Tims said.

While at Augustana, Tims specialized in percussion and was a member of the Augustana Percussion Ensemble and an advanced mallet ensemble, the latter of which group he said focused on playing ragtime selections for a year.

"Ragtime is music that brings out the best sounds of the xylophone, that turns it into more of a melodic instrument rather than just having it play a supporting role," Tims said.

Last year, Tims won the Concerto-Aria Competition at Augustana; he played a movement from a marimba concerto with the Augustana Band.

"I've also played two concertos with the Augustana Percussion Ensemble--one a marimba concerto, the other a vibraphone concerto," said Tims, whom local audiences may remember as Nicely Nicely Johnson in a WHS production of "Guys and Dolls," or for any one of his other multiple music endeavors at WHS.

"But this will be my first professional solo engagement, as it is my first time soloing with an ensemble since graduating from college," Tims said. "It all started with the WHS music department, and I studied guitar for over 10 years with Jerry Giefer of Windom.

"I give lots of credit for my musical knowledge, success and enjoyment to Jerry."

Stanichar is confident the Worthington area audience will delight in Tims' xylophone performance.

"It's light, fun and accessible, and I'm certain Matt will receive an instant standing ovation that he will very much deserve," Stanichar said.

Melanie Loy, one of the four organizers of WASO and Tims' WHS orchestra instructor, is delighted WASO has had a successful second year, due to the two Minnesota Legacy Amendment grants the group received to start the project. WASO involves 50 musicians from Worthington and beyond, with some instrumentalists traveling from communities up to 90 minutes away to take part in a premier musical experience.

"We've so enjoyed this collaboration of students, adults and other community members," Loy said. "Dr. Stanichar has such a great rapport with people of all ages, and we have great fun as we make music together.

"Our goal now is to find alternate sources for funding so we can keep this program going, although we are very thankful for the start-up dollars we received."

Last fall, WASO benefited from a grant of $1,260 from the Worthington Area Foundation, which enabled the orchestra to purchase a concert bass drum -- its first piece of musical equipment -- building on the music stands and chairs the group acquired in its initial year.

"I really enjoy the work ethic of the Worthington people," Stanichar said of the WASO musicians. "I also really enjoy their humility. They are all so very enthusiastic, and it is so much fun to be here."

Tickets for the Worthington Area Orchestra concert, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Auditorium, 714 13th St., Worthington, are available for purchase from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and also from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Memorial Auditorium box office.