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HHS band to premiere tribute to a musical friendship

'Riverwind,' a tribute by composer Carl Strommen to his friend Vincent Stavish, opens with a French horn solo. It will be performed by the Hendersonville High School band, shown in a dress rehearsal in March. 'Riverwind,' a tribute by composer Carl Strommen to his friend Vincent Stavish, opens with a French horn solo. It will be performed by the Hendersonville High School band, shown in a dress rehearsal in March.

Carl Strommen played piano and trombone. Vincent "Vinnie" Stavish played saxophone and clarinet. They were good musicians as teenagers and their paths crossed on symphonic band stages. They became lifelong friends. When they married, the couples became friends, too.


"They knew each other from All-State band and different organizations like that," said Vince's widow, Jan Stavish. "They remained friends and when everybody started their careers, we stayed friends."
The lifelong friendship of Vinnie and Carl is memorialized in Strommen's new composition, which will have its world premiere on Thursday night. How the Hendersonville High School Symphonic Band came to be chosen to play the premiere is a story of a lifelong bond, two paths charted by music and a retirement community with a lyrical name: Riverwind.
When the Stavishes retired to Etowah, the couples kept in touch and visited. Vincent Stavish died in 2008 at age 71.
One of Strommen's publishers had a music editor based in Florida, Larry Clark, who also knew Fran Shelton, director of the HHS band program.
"He called her and mentioned I had done a piece for Vince, who upon retiring was very active in the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra and the Spartanburg Symphony and had substituted in Asheville," Strommen said in an interview from his Long Island home. "They thought we could have a concert and invite the family and the sons. That's how it all happened."
The piece is named for the Etowah community the Stavishes retired to in 1993.
"It's a good title, it's a nice title," Strommen said.
A composer and teacher, Strommen has spent his career writing band and choral pieces for high school bands. He has taught at the college and graduate level, and is still an adjunct professor at Long Island University. He and his friend and their wives shared stories and memories in a friendship that lasted almost 60 years.
"One of the things I wanted to do was write a piece memorializing such a wonderful teacher and a good guy," Strommen said.
After high school, Stavish joined the Army, which gave him a job as a clarinet and saxophone player for a Big Band called Rolling Along.
"All they did was tour the world and entertain the troops worldwide," Strommen said, still sounding envious of his friend's Army hitch decades later. Stavish later switched to bassoon, and played on Broadway and in many bands and ensembles while keeping his day job as a highly regarded high school band director. "One of his favorite instruments was the French horn so I made the sure the opening solo would be the French horn," Strommen said.
FranSheltonFran SheltonThe HHS Symphonic Band has been rehearsing "Riverwind" for several weeks, Shelton said. Before playing a concert of rock tunes — what Shelton calls "trash music" — the HHS band will premiere the memorial piece. She thinks it's meaningful that the piece is about a friendship of two musicians who bonded when they were the age of her band students.
"It's very pretty," she said. "The kids like it a lot. They know the story behind it and it's very beautiful and they get to do something musically with it."
Jan Stavish said the news about the world premiere honoring her husband had come up so suddenly she had not been able to get all three of her grown sons to come. Her sons Greg, from Charlotte, and Jeff, from Tampa, will be here Thursday night. Another son, Scott, a nurse in San Diego, was unable to make the trip.
"It's kind of strange the way it all worked out," she said. "Carl kept it a secret. This has been remarkable, so we didn't have a lot of time. I'm very anxious to hear it. It's not even published yet."
Strommen said he could not categorize "Riverwind."
"It's a little bit of everything," he said. "Some poignant moments, some energetic moments, parts of it I know Vince would enjoy playing."
Because he and his wife have a severely disabled daughter, the composer will not be able to make the trip to Hendersonville.
"I'm sure I'll get feedback from Janice and the boys," he said.


Premiere of 'Riverwind'

By composer Carl Strommen, dedicated to Vincent Stavish, a lifelong band director who retired to Etowah's Riverwind community in 1993.
HHS Symphonic Band
7 p.m. Thursday
HHS Auditorium
The concert opens with the Hendersonville Middle School bands, followed by the HHS bands.