Lawrence wind quintets call it quits

Manager, horn player in ubiquitous ensembles is worn out

Members of the Lawrence Woodwind Quintet have been blowing their horns and wind instruments since about 1969.

Their sister group, CottonWood Winds, has been around for some 15 years.

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Journal-World File Photo

At opening day of Kansas University's Spencer Museum of Art in 1978, the Lawrence Woodwind Quintet entertained partygoers. Performing, from left, are Stuart Levine, French horn; Linda Weber, flute; Barbara Jones, oboe; and William Oldfather, bassoon. Standing in the background at far right is Charles Oldfather.

But the ensembles' long tradition of playing chamber music at the Spencer Museum of Art, weddings, Chamber of Commerce functions, awards ceremonies and other Lawrence events came to an end last week.

The CottonWood Winds held their final rehearsal and played their last gig: the Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony at Kansas University. The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet isn't scheduling any more engagements either, but will regroup for a rain-check performance at a local elementary school in the fall.

Neither financial problems nor personality conflicts led to the demise of the seemingly ubiquitous groups (the quintets performed 40 gigs last spring alone).

Rather, age and sheer exhaustion have taken their toll on the groups' manager and horn player, Stuart Levine.

"French horn players retire ... usually when they're about 50. I've been lucky. My health has been really fabulous for an old coot. But the concentration has gotten really hard for me to play chamber music," he said. "At the end of a chamber music concert ... I can barely stand, I'm so exhausted.

"We realized after our rehearsal for Saturday's gig, this is our last rehearsal ever."

The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet consists of Sharon Learned, flute; Levine, french horn; David Ruhlen, bassoon; Paul Jordan, clarinet; and Barbara Jones, oboe. Levine and Learned also play in the CottonWood Winds. The other three members are Tim Burfeind, oboe; Sarah Dewein, bassoon; and Alan Holland, clarinet.

The Lawrence Woodwind Quintet grew out of a chamber music site reading club -- the same club that generated the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra, Levine said. In fact, he added, the members of the woodwind quintet were the wind section at the first concert of the Lawrence Chamber Players, as they were known from the early '70s until 1998.

Levine first assembled the CottonWood Winds as a substitute group for the woodwind quintet, which was "getting so many requests to play that we couldn't do it," Levine said.

"As soon as the five of them started playing, we all realized this is an outfit with a character of its own. We began performing almost immediately."

Burfeind, a KU grad, has been the group's oboist since 1996. He said he would miss playing with the tight-knit ensemble.

"Of course I was disappointed, but Stuart has been doing this for 30-plus years. Stuart's kind of the heart and soul of the groups. He organizes all the gigs and makes sure we have music and rehearsal space," Burfeind said. "He's been doing it for so long, and I think now he's ready to try other things."

The community owes Levine a big thanks, Burfeind said.

"I think probably not too many people know about the Lawrence woodwind quintets, but I think that they will be missed in Lawrence. We do a lot of charity gigs, private gigs, public gigs, unpaid gigs.

"Stuart is really a charitable person. He did this to make people able to hear music."

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