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Unforgettable Moments

Mark Thomas | September 2010

    Mark Thomas’ career has been long and varied, and along the way he has met many notable, fascinating people. No one tells a story better that Mark Thomas does, and he shares his top 30 experiences with you here.

Memorable People
I walked down a Washington, D.C., street, chatting with Igor Stravinsky following a recording session of his works.

Aaron Copland, during the rehearsal of a new work for orchestra, asked me how fast he should conduct the difficult flute variation. My response, “Whatever your desire,” brought a smile to his face and a quiet groan from my colleagues.

I played an Easter Sunrise Service at Walter Reed Army Hospital while sitting eight feet from the Rev. Billy Graham in his prime.

I chatted with President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House after a state dinner performance. He told me how much he enjoyed the music and then went on to explain how difficult it was for him to shop for his wife, Mamie. He noted that streets had to be closed and the store opened for him and the Secret Service. This blew my mind, having grown up poor during the Great Depression — here was the President of the United States telling me his troubles.

I was thrilled to be invited to play duets with Verne Q. Powell when we first met in Boston, Massachusetts, in his small office/shop.

Judy Garland kissed me ­– on stage. When asked what it was like, I remember saying, “All I saw was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.”

I performed for President John F. Kennedy a few months before his tragic assassination.

I met William Kincaid for the first time at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where he was performing with the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet.

I loaned 1950s pop singing star Eddie Fisher money to pay his cab fare following a performance. He did not carry money with him, because his specially designed trousers had no pockets. And yes, he paid me back.

During a break from playing for a banquet at the Statler Hotel in Washington, D.C., I chatted with a gentleman in the lounge area of the men’s room. I was a sergeant playing with The United States Army Orchestra. It had been a long day, and I groused about having to play that evening. The gentleman wasn’t terribly happy to be there, either. As he got up to leave, he introduced himself – it was the Secretary of Defense! Oops!

I performed for the King and Queen of Nepal.

I greatly cherish my life long friendship with Jean Pierre Rampal.

At a children’s concert in Washing-ton, D.C., with then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children in the audience, TV children’s star Captain Kangaroo asked me if I could make my flute “sound like a bird” before we performed Peter and the Wolf.

Via the flute, I met my wonderful wife, Judith – we’ve been married for 46 years.

Memorable Performances
I played the premiere of Paul Hindemith’s Symphony in B Flat with the composer conducting. The symphony was written for The United States Army Band. My flutist colleagues were Sgt’s. Taylor, Cromwell, and Winkler.

General Jonathan Wainwright commanded the American forces at Bataan in the Philippines at the start of World War II. He survived the Bataan Death March and five years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. His heroic stand during the battle of Bataan gave the American forces at Pearl Harbor time enough to recover after the December 7, 1941 attack. He became my personal hero throughout the war. Years later, in the 1950s, I was assigned as the only flutist to play in an augmented Army Band detail for a special funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. When I asked, “Who is being buried?” I was told that it was General Jonathan Wainwright. This was the only funeral I ever played there. What an honor!

As I was moving to the front of the stage in Carnegie Hall to play the piccolo obbligato of The Stars and Stripes Forever, the E-flat pad fell out of my piccolo and rolled away. Somehow I survived…barely!

During an orchestra performance in Washington, D.C., I experienced a mild problem with the right hand section of my flute. As the second movement began, which was tacit for the flutes, I felt my flute slowly sliding across my lap into the lap of my second flutist, Carl Tucker. To my horror, he removed the entire right hand section in an attempt to fix the problem. Unable to say anything due to the ongoing performance, I tried to maintain my composure. The downbeat of the third movement began with the principal flute – me. As the second movement was ending, I felt my flute slide slowly across my lap. My flute reached my lip as the downbeat was given. I still shake thinking about that moment.

We were on a Midwestern tour with the Army Band sitting tightly together on a too small stage in Terre Haute, Indiana, with no room for the piccolos to play the Stars and Stripes Forever at stage front. I noticed a stairwell offstage that led to the auditorium level in front of the stage. At the appointed time, I had the flute section with piccolos follow me down the stairs, only to find the door at floor level locked. Needless to say, we played the famed part trapped in a stair well!

I performed the world premiere of the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra by Emma Lou Diemer as guest soloist with The Omaha Symphony Orchestra. The composer dedicated the work to me.

Memorable Places

On tour, I saw Crater Lake in Oregon. Wow, what beauty!

In Milan, Italy, during a performance, I was given an armed guard. They did not want me to be kidnapped or assassinated by the Red Brigade, which was terrorizing the area at the time.

Other Interesting Events

I had the honor of being selected as the American soloist for the first joint convention of the American Bandmasters Association and Japanese Band Directors Association, which was held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The National Flute Association became a reality during a west coast tour in 1972. I booked the first convention for Anaheim, California, in August, 1973. The rest is history!

Following a summer concert, we were leaving the famed Watergate concert barge shell that sits in the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial, when two elderly ladies stopped us and said, “The symphony concert was just wonderful, but what do you all do for a living?”

When I was a member of the United States Army Band (the oldest service in the military) we always led the inaugural parade and marched in front of the President’s motorcade, so when we passed in front of the White House reviewing stand, the commander-in chief wasn’t there yet. Consequently, we were the only group that didn’t get to actually see the president!

I was honored to have been personally called at 11:00 p.m. by a noted symphony orchestra conductor and offered the principal flute position of a first-rate orchestra without having to play an audition.

I feel privileged to have helped so many students, from beginners to professionals, learn about the wonders and beauty of the flute.

I had the honor of playing a recital for the famed New York Flute Club.

Thanks to a lifelong association with the flute, first as a student, then as a performer, recording artist, and educator, I have met many interesting people and visited many parts of the world.