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"Partners in Sound" ... For Sure!

April 25, 2012 - Phyllis Sigal
The "Partners in Sound" concert last week at the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School was the definition of the word "community."

The Wheeling Symphony Orchestra sat side-by-side with 11 Wheeling Park High School graduates; two other Park graduates had featured performances. To top it off, the Wheeling Park Choir joined with the symphony to sing two pieces.

How great for everybody — for the alumni, for the school, for the orchestra and for the community — to be a part of the evening. These kids spent countless hours on stages and in classrooms at the high school. All of those who performed Tuesday have gone on to hone those skills — skills that were taught at the high school — and to become professionals.

And the best part is that they were all so excited to be returning to their roots. It was a thrill for them to show off their talents and to perform with the Wheeling Symphony. Probably the biggest thrill was being invited back to be part of the celebration of the new facility. Most were a bit envious of the up-and-coming musicians, singers and actors who get to enjoy this facility throughout their high school years.

The concert was the brainchild of Ben Podolski, strings coordinator in Ohio County Schools. He actually started the strings program years ago, back when he was associate concertmaster of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. And to see his students playing with the symphony just felt right — his work has come full circle.

The two featured performers were Nate Strasser (class of 2005), pianist extraordinaire, who played Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and Leland Alexander Wheeler (class of 2006), son extraordinaire, who narrated Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."

Nate, quite an accomplished musician, started playing piano when he was just 4 years old. He has received training in composition, cello, organ and songwriting. He's been winning awards for years. He performed in Scotland at the age of 8 and in Austria at the age of 10. He now lives in Nashville, Tenn., performing with some of the city's top musicians, working as a studio musician and serving as music director of Shelbyville First Presbyterian Church. His big news of late is that his Christmas song, "My Baby Boy," was signed by Universal Music Publishing.

Leland (class of 2006) "rushed off to New York City" after he graduated from Park to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After the completion of his program there, he "began the arduous struggle of auditioning," according to his bio in the concert program. Leland's first "big role" was in 1999 on the stage of the Phyllis A. Beneke Theater at the high school; he played the role of little Winthrop in Park's spring musical presentation of "Music Man." Since his graduation from AADA, he has appeared in commercials, films, an NFL ad campaign, film shorts and had a co-starring role in CBS's "Blue Bloods."

Those who played as part of the orchestra included: Keith Michael and Peter Zatezalo, first violins; Amanda (Fisher) Neville, Justin Jones and Aryella (Delgado) Shields, second violin; Michelle Pissos and Charlie Wilmoth, viola; Jamie Carney and Dianne (Strasser) Platte, cello; Joshua Garrett and Seth Bell, percussion.

These fine alumni have very musical bios:

• Seth Bell (1996) earned a bachelor's degree in instrumental music education from Capitol University and is now the technology director/assistant band director at Park.

• Jamie Carney (2004) received bachelor's and master's degrees in music performance from Youngstown State and now serves as a strings teacher in Marshall County and is a freelance cellist.

• Josh Garrett (2007) is studying music education at West Liberty and is a freelance composer and performer.

• Justin Jones (2006) earned a bachelor's degree in music ed from Youngstown State and is the director of the Marshall County strings program.

• Keith Michael (2011) is pursuing a bachelor's degree in music performance at WVU.

• Amanda Neville (2003) received a bachelor's degree in music ed from Duquesne University, is pursuing her master's in music ed, also at Duquesne, and is a strings specialist at Moon Area School District in Pennsylvania.

• Michelle Pissos (1998), with bachelor's and master's degrees in music under her belt, is pursuing a doctorate in music at WVU. She is an adjunct music faculty member at West Liberty.

• Dianne Platte (2001) received a bachelor's degree in cello performance and a master's in music ed from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance cellist and private teacher.

• Aryelle Shields (2007) received a bachelor's in music from WVU and is a private violin instructor.

• Charlie Wilmoth ( 1998) has a bachelor's in music (College of William & Mary), a master's in music composition (Wesleyan University) and a doctorate in music composition from the University of California. He is on the faculty of Otterbein College and recently was commissioned by Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute to write a concert piece, which was premiered last month in New York as part of Carnegie Hall's "American Mavericks" concert series.

• Peter Zatezalo (2005) is a traveling physical therapist, but you will see him playing his violin at many events around the valley — often with Podolski.

Jamie, Justin and Michelle all serve as mentors to the Wheeling Symphony Youth Orchestra, while Jamie and Michelle both are regular members of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.

So from Wheeling Park's stages and classrooms to colleges all around and back again to the high school, these alumni have accomplished much to make us proud.

It truly was an evening of "Partners in Sound."

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