October 22, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
47°F

Man, 94, returning to symphony as spectator

Edwin Bonebrake, 94, poses with one of his three trumpets Thursday at the Western Reserve Masonic Community on Nettleton Road in Medina Township. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

On Saturday night, music will take Edwin Bonebrake back to when he was a young trumpet player and a new member of the Akron Symphony Orchestra.

Bonebrake joined the orchestra in 1938 when he was 19 and played trumpet with the ensemble for about 25 years.

Edwin Bonebrake, center of second row, poses with his trumpet in high school. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The orchestra will perform in Medina at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday— and Bonebrake, now 94, will be in the audience.

“I really enjoyed it,” Bonebrake said of his days with the orchestra.

He performed at Loew’s Theatre in Akron with the Akron Symphony and as a member of a pit orchestra for a number of popular acts that came through Akron.

“I met the Three Stooges in person,” he said. “I played in the pit for every show at the theater.”

Bonebrake, who now lives at the Western Reserve Masonic Community on Nettleton Road in Medina Township, was offered tickets to Saturday’s performance by Elizabeth Grant, who works at the retirement community.

Grant said she bought tickets for the holiday concert by the Akron Symphony and Chorus at the Medina Performing Arts Center and made arrangements to accommodate Bonebrake, who uses a wheelchair.

“Eddie has been telling me how much he wants to see the symphony,” she said. “He was the first person I thought of when I got tickets.”

Grant worked with the orchestra and the Medina Performing Arts Center to find a way to accommodate Bonebrake and his wheelchair. She also gave her ticket to Bonebrake’s son, Gary, who is in town visiting his father for the holidays.

“I just knew I had to find a way to get them at that concert,” she said.

Bonebrake said he picked up the trumpet when he was 5 years old and played it ever since. He said he fondly remembers playing with the Akron Symphony under Louis Lane, who conducted the orchestra from 1959 to 1983.

He said he tried out during the annual auditions and was worried about making the cut. The person who auditioned before him sounded very talented.

“I went in the room and I said to Louis, ‘I heard that guy play. There’s no sense in me playing now,’ ” Bonebrake recalled. “He said, ‘Ed, you sit and play,’ and after that he made me first trumpet.”

Bonebrake did take time away from Akron when he served in the U.S. Army Corps Band during World War II. He was stationed in Labrador, the northeastern-most portion of Canada, and the northern section of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The area was a strategic spot during World War II and a Canadian air base at Goose Bay included troops from all the Allied forces.
Bonebrake remembered it was bitterly cold.

“It was negative 44,” he said. “It was just too cold, and snow everywhere.”

He said his job with the band was to play for the troops while they were stationed there. Once, a New York Times photographer captured a picture of Bonebrake and other members of the band in their snowshoes standing in many feet of snow near the air base.

“I had a lot of fun in the Army, helping other people,” he said.

When he returned home, Bonebrake worked as a teacher in a number of Akron schools, serving as band director at Buchtel High School and as band director at Innes Middle School. After that, he taught at 18 different elementary schools on a rotation basis before he retired in the 1970s.

He said he most enjoyed playing for and teaching the youngest students.

“I could walk in with a horn in my hand and play it, and everybody wanted to learn to play,” he said. “It was the most fun.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.