When asked what advice he’d give current Broncos, Bill Ritchie (B.M. ‘75) didn’t miss a beat.
“Take full advantage of all the excellent opportunities at the University, including physical ed facilities, extra-curricular activities and the professors/instructors in your field of study,” he said.
A symphony orchestra bassist and music educator, Bill feels fortunate to have had some “very fine teachers” at WMU’s School of Music, now the Irving S. Gilmore School of Music.
“Professors Herbert Butler, Joan Boucher, Bob Ricci, Bobby Davidson, Trent Kynaston, Larry
Hutchinson and Ron Teare made an impact on me during my undergraduate years,” he said. “They also remained mentors and friends long after I graduated.”
Bill is a legacy Bronco. In fact, his sister, both of his parents, all four of his grandparents, a great-uncle and two great-aunts are all WMU alumni. Bill studied music education at WMU because he had aspirations of being a public school orchestra teacher and performer on the double bass. He received a small stipend for performing in the Bronco Marching Band and a scholarship for playing the double bass.
“Along with the Marching Band, I also was a member of the University Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Lab Band and the very first Jazz Orchestra,” he said. “Performing in the University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Herbert Butler has proven invaluable to my career.”
It’s no surprise that performing with the Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Lab Band, as well as the Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir, rank at the top of Bill’s favorite memories at WMU. “Bobby Davidson led the excellent Jazz Lab Band and Trent Kynaston formed the very first Jazz Orchestra. I was so glad to be the inaugural bass player in that ensemble,” he said. (The WMU Jazz Orchestra went on to win first place in the Elmhurst University Jazz Festival in 1975.)
“During the summer of 1973, Herbert Butler led the University Chamber Orchestra in performances of all six Brandenburg Concertos by J.S. Bach,” Bill said. He also has fond memories of performances at Miller Auditorium of the
London Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gordon Lightfoot and the rock band Chase.
“Hearing the popular rock/jazz horn band Chicago at Read Fieldhouse on Oct. 4, 1972, was one of my favorite concerts, too,” he added.
Since his days at Western, Bill credits the School of Music for making some amazing strides. “The ‘new’ Dalton Center is an excellent facility,” he said, “and a big step forward from our former home at Maybee Hall.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Bill earned a Master of Music at the University of Michigan in 1977. From there, he became the Director of Orchestras for the St. Joseph Public Schools in his hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan until 1981. “I performed with most of the professional orchestras in Michigan from 1972 to 1983,” he said, “and then joined the Florida Orchestra in Tampa Bay before taking my current position as Assistant Principal Bass with the Omaha Symphony.”
Bill has performed with the Atlanta, Indianapolis and Kansas City Symphony Orchestras, and also performed frequently with the Detroit Symphony between 1996 and 2008. “I would say one of the highlights of my career was being a substitute bassist with the Detroit Symphony, and joining the DSO on European tours in 1998 and 2001,” he said.
On June 3, 2023, Bill will finish his 40th and final season as the Assistant Principal Bass with the Omaha Symphony. Each summer, he performs at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and is often asked to coach young bassists from the Omaha Area Youth Orchestras. Bill maintains a strong private music studio and thoroughly enjoys teaching young players and passing along his love of music.
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