YAKIMA, Wash. -- If asked what factors contribute to a great orchestral performance, most audience members would likely cite the music itself, along with the quality and preparation of the conductor and musicians.
Some might mention the acoustics of the concert hall, or the size of the audience and the degree to which they are engaged in and attentive to the performance.
Very few would be likely to think of the chairs the musicians are sitting in on stage; but one local couple did, and they have provided for the musicians of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra a gift that will help to improve the quality of symphonic music- making in Yakima for decades to come.
Dick Schactler and Carolyn Campbell met at Washington State College in the late 1940s, where they both completed music degrees and married in 1949. For the next two years, Dick taught music in the Selah School District; in 1951, he was accepted into the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and completed a Master of Music degree.
Dick had played bugle since fifth grade and got his first trumpet a year later. Throughout his youth in Yakima, he played in school concert and pep bands, activities at the Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts, vaudeville shows at the Capitol Theatre, and at solo and ensemble contests, where he consistently earned superior ratings.
Later, as a member of the 401st Army Air Corps band during World War II, he toured the United States playing USO events and other performances for enlisted men and women, as well as weekly radio shows.
Upon returning from New York to Yakima with Carolyn in 1952, he set about creating an equally dynamic professional musical performance community here. He was often called to play lead trumpet for the top touring big bands of the day at the Playland Hippodrome Dance Hall in Selah — part of a popular dance club circuit through the Northwest — backing up the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Both he (as principal trumpet) and Carolyn (on violin) performed in the Yakima Civic Symphony in the 1950s and 1960s under the batons of Ivan Putnam and Bill Herbst, and later in the Yakima Symphony Orchestra under Brooke Creswell, joined at various times by four of their six children — daughter Laura is currently a member of YSO’s violin section.
Dick played in the Yakima Community Band for at least 30 years and conducted the ensemble for 20. Under his leadership, the band’s membership grew significantly in numbers and diversity, with musicians of all ages coming from all over central Washington, from Bickleton to Ellensburg.
In the 1990s, the group toured twice to Europe, with performances in Switzerland, England and Scotland.
Perhaps the Schactlers’ greatest impact on the local music scene came as teachers and advocates for music education. Felip Holbrook was in Carolyn’s orchestra at Franklin Junior High along with their children Dave, Laura and Linda, and in a summer band directed by Dick around the same time.
He remembers that “both Dick and Carolyn exemplified the best in music educators; they were great musicians themselves, they chose great music, and they demanded excellence from their ensembles.”
Dick led music programs in Grandview, Tacoma and at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, where he took the band to the Rose Parade in 1968. He taught private trumpet lessons into his 80s, introducing scores of young musicians to his art. Many of his former students throughout the country are professionally active as performers and teachers.
Carolyn directed the Yakima Youth Orchestra for two years in the 1970s and taught private lessons and summer school in addition to her work in the public schools.
Throughout his performing career, Dick maintained a reputation for the utmost professionalism and commitment, demanding the same of his colleagues while at the same time standing up for their interests in the larger community.
Through the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, he led Local 442 of the American Federation of Musicians (the musicians’ union), where he worked tirelessly to ensure that musicians were valued by the public, and that they were treated with respect and paid fairly for their services by contractors and employers.
In Holbrook’s words, “he was one of the people who made professional musicians’ lives possible here in Yakima.”
Which brings this story back to the chairs. For the past 40 years, YSO musicians have performed from the same set of blue chairs purchased in 1978 when the Capitol Theatre was restored and became the Symphony’s primary performance home.
Over the decades, these chairs have served well — but they were never actually designed for the playing posture of orchestra musicians, and whatever spring they may originally have had is now noticeably lacking. After long hours of rehearsal, the chairs were becoming a physical distraction for many musicians by concert time, and the orchestra’s management was hearing sad tales of post-concert chiropractic sessions and physical therapy.
Since the Feb. 3 “South of the Border” concert, courtesy of a well-placed gift by Dick and Carolyn Schactler, YSO musicians have been sitting in brand new black chairs, in a variety of configurations expressly designed for the varied playing postures of orchestra musicians — tilted slightly forward for cellists, taller or shorter and with more or less padding as per the needs of each player.
The introduction of these new chairs has been compared to the lifting of a dense fog, allowing musicians to focus fully on their artistry without the ongoing intrusion of physical discomfort.
When Dick retired from directing the Yakima Community Band in August 2007, the Yakima City Council honored him for his service to our musical community with a declaration of “Dick Schactler Day.”
Five years later, the Larson Gallery Guild recognized both Dick and Carolyn with an award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, acknowledging Dick’s contributions in music and Carolyn’s award-winning accomplishments in apparel design.
At the beginning of last week’s concert, “When In Rome,” the Yakima Symphony Orchestra recognized the Schactlers on stage for their lifelong commitment to the Yakima musical community and thanked them for a gracious gift that has once again made professional musicians’ lives more possible in Yakima.
To paraphrase a former student, they have used their talents vigorously, professionally and for the greater benefit of their community and Yakima is a much richer place for their being in our midst.
David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.