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JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN

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THE ACADEMY AWARDS ITS FIRST PRIZE

 

 

Play it again, Walter

Wendy Cooper

ALL SMILES NOW: Thanks to Jim Snedeker's concept, he can once again play duets with his mentor, Walter Chesnut. (Ben Barnhart photo)

In 1993 everything changed for trumpeter Walter Chesnut. A disk in his spine suddenly exploded, instantly destroying his ability to play, walk, and conduct. Chesnut, a virtuoso performer and professor in the Department of Music for the past thirty-three years, has returned to a part-time teaching schedule, despite being confined to a motorized wheelchair. But although he can still blow, he cannot hold his beloved instrument and lacks the strength to push down the trumpet’s valves.

 

INGENIOUS ADAPTATIONS: Electronic touch-pads, a circuit board and nitrogen-controlled valves make ChesnutŐs trumpet one-of-a-kind. (Ben Barnhart photo)

     Enter a team of ingenious adapters, first, music technician Dick Hansen, who worked out a system of pedals allowing Chesnut to work the valves with his feet. It was hugely better, but not perfect. Then Jim Snedeker, one of Chesnut’s students in music education, sought out two instrumentation engineers from the Department of Chemistry, Mike Conboy and Asaph Murfin. Two and a half years later, the team had perfected a much more user-friendly system, which Chesnut began using this past summer. An electronic finger pad over the valves connects to pistons that run on a tank of nitrogen. Like the computerized cash registers at McDonald’s that had inspired Snedeker in the first place, the smallest touch provides the impulse for the eventual sound. Said Chesnut in an interview with the Amherst Bulletin: “Tears came down my face when I finally got it to work.”

     Walter Chesnut will retire after the spring semester. Fans are invited to join the Department of Music & Dance at a dinner in his honor at the Student Union Ballroom on May 13. A concert in Bowker Auditorium will follow. Call 413-545-2227 for more information.

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