For Dwight Beckham Sr. of Marion, his musical career of playing the trumpet has come full circle.
Starting as the youngest member of the Wichita Symphony at age 17, he now is the eldest of the Wichita Wind Ensemble Professional Band, which is associated with the symphony.
The accomplished artist has played the trumpet for 62 years and taught music for 40 years in public schools and colleges.
It all began when he was a child in Oklahoma.
“My father was a teacher and an administrator in a school that also had a drum and bugle corp.,” Beckham said.
It fascinated the youngster so much that Beckham’s father gave him a bugle at the tender age of 4.
“I was told that when I could play the bugle without puffing my cheeks then I could have a trumpet,” he recalled.
And finally, when he was 10 years old, he played the horn to the satisfaction of his father, or at least no puffed-out cheeks, and was given his first trumpet.
At that time, all of the grade levels were in one building. There weren’t any beginner band classes. So when Beckham joined the band in fourth grade, he was playing with students of all ages, including high school.
“I wasn’t sure what I was doing, so I just started pushing down on the valves (of the trumpet) the same as the student next to me,” Beckham said with a laugh. “He probably didn’t know any more than I did.”
Learning to play instruments for Beckham and his bandmates was during band class and, of course, a lot of practicing at home.
“Both of my parents were musicians and I was fortunate enough to be able to take private lessons,” Beckham said.
In the mid-1930s, there was no television, video games, or extra-curricular activities. It wasn’t uncommon for Beckham and other musicians to practice two hours every day.
“Practicing daily and receiving good direction from those around me contributed to my success,” Beckham said.
And what a successful career he has had.
Beckham earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Wichita State University. He taught band classes for 11 years in Valley Center, 19 years in Newton, and was an adjunct faculty member for 10 years at Bethel College of North Newton.
He is in his 40th season with the Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra, was inducted into both the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame and Kansas Music Educators’ Association Hall of Fame, written numerous publications and commissions for concert band, orchestra, and chamber groups, and is a recipient of a Kansas Arts Commission Fellowship in Music Composition.
He played trumpet with the Wichita Symphony for 25 years, retiring in 1976. During that time, he played with the greats — Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and even comedian Jack Benny.
His resume also includes performance with other notable musicians and opera singers who were guest performers with the symphony and The Mormon Tabernacle Singers.
After a five-year break, he started playing again and became active in performance.
A free-lance musician, Beckham is in demand for performances of Messiah, holiday services at Wichita churches, and other special occasions including the series of concerts for the Wichita Wind Ensemble.
About the ensemble
The ensemble is associated with the Wichita Symphony with some of the members also playing in the orchestra.
It also is related to the Wichita Wind Ensemble of select junior and senior high school students from the area, thus the long name which includes “Professional Band.”
There are 50-55 members in the band, Beckham said, with this year’s membership being 50. Most members are from the Wichita and surrounding metro area.
To be selected for the group, musicians must be at least 25 years of age or hold a bachelor’s degree at the time of auditions, and, of course, must be chosen after a blind audition. A blind audition means the judges have no prior information about the performers before they hear the audition performance.
Auditions are held every three years.
Prior to a planned concert, members receive the music selections to practice at home prior to formal rehearsals. The musicians are required to know the musical selections before the first rehearsal.
The first concert of this series is Saturday evening. The band rehearsed Monday, Wednesday, and will Friday, the day before the performance.
There are four concerts planned in a season. The concert Saturday is based on George Gershwin songs.
A second concert is planned March 28, and will include “fantasy” music with selections that include “March of the Toys,” by Victor Herbert, “Lord of the Rings,” by Johann de Meij, and “El Quijote,” by Ferrer Ferran. Television newsman Roger Cornish will be the guest narrator.
So, from bugler to master trumpet player, as Beckham comes closer to being an octogenarian, he treasures these days as a performer and continues to impress audiences with his musical abilities.
About the concert
The Wichita Wind Ensemble concert is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Riney Fine Arts Center on the campus of Friends University, Wichita.
Tickets may be purchased at the door.