The Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, a student-run theater group that performs comic operas twice a year, boasts an impressively large cast, crew, and orchestra. While many of the musicians are students at the College, the orchestra constantly plays host to students in the graduate schools, students from other universities, alumni, and residents of Cambridge and Boston.
“There’s always different people playing in these shows, but they’re all always quite enthusiastic people,” said Stephen Umans, a Cambridge resident participating in this year’s fall show, “Ruddigore.”
Umans first picked up a clarinet in 1957. After playing in an orchestra during his time at MIT, he formed a trio of two clarinets and a bassoon in 1966 called “No Dogs Allowed.” The trio continues to be a popular staple at local wedding receptions. Umans retired from his MIT research and teaching position in 2004. He is married with two children, who have both also picked up an affinity for music through the violin and piano.
Andrew Conway, another local playing in “Ruddigore,” first picked up a trombone in the fourth grade.
“I chose trombone for two reasons,” he said. “One, because nobody else chose it. Two, because I wasn’t very coordinated and I thought it would be the only instrument I’d be able to handle.”
He played throughout high school in St. Louis, in a nationally successful jazz band. When he started college at Trinity College, there was an almost non-existent music scene on campus, which led him to fall out of the routine of playing. This continued for about 20 years. Then, he began taking part in community orchestras after picking his trombone back up to play in his high school jazz band’s 25th reunion. Conway’s children have also been drawn into music. His two daughters are avid musical theatre participants, and Conway occasionally performs in the pit for their shows.
Conway, who spent most of his career as a traveling IT consultant for different companies, had little time for family, much less for practicing the trombone. However, when the demands of two young daughters led him to a shift in his career, Conway gained more time for both family and music. He has been playing in the Gilbert and Sullivan Players every year since.
The upcoming performance will be Umans’s third time playing the “Ruddigore” show for Harvard’s Gilbert and Sullivan. He joined in the late ’90s and has played every year since except for a point in time in which the orchestra briefly stopped allowing non-Harvard affiliates to participate.
“There’s a lot of different people who play for the orchestra,” he said. “A lot of them are much younger than I am, but there’s just a lot of really nice young folks.”
One of the most impressive young people Umans met through the orchestra was Filbert H. Hong ’04. Hong played in the orchestra beginning as an undergraduate and continued throughout his doctorate in biochemistry and was a successful concertmaster.
“After graduation, he went down to D.C.,” said Umans. “He’s now the Director of Artistic Operations at the National Philharmonic.”
Conway is similarly impressed with the young people he has met through the orchestra, particularly the music directors for each show.
“I’m astounded that people this young are able to do 100 different things at once in the pit, and at the same do two million things at once outside of it while being a Harvard student,” Conway said.