For more than 60 years, Wilsonville resident Frank Walsh wanted to play the cymbals. And this month, the 94-year-old former teacher's wish came true.
The Vital Life Foundation — a charitable arm of the Consonus Healthcare and the Marquis Companies where Walsh lives — has a New Chapters program that allows seniors to accomplish their dreams and participate in activities that make them happier, healthier and more engaged in the community. Walsh's wish was to play an instrument in a band and on Oct. 19, Walsh played the cymbals with Wilsonville High School's pep band during the Wildcats football game against Wilson High School.
"It was great. I felt like I really was beginning to learn to play them," Walsh said. "I've always wanted to play an instrument (and) in my mind that's about the simplest one. It's not complicated. It isn't like a clarinet or a trombone."
But it wasn't until he saw Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 film "The Man Who Knew Too Much" that he was inspired to play the cymbals.
In the finale of the movie, a percussionist in the London Symphony Orchestra hits the cymbals, which block out the explosion from the assassin's revolver in an attempt to murder the president of a fictional Middle Eastern country.
The powerful musical climax stuck with Walsh all these years.
Walsh served in World War II from 1943 to 1946 in the Army's 9th Armored Division.
"I enjoyed my experience in the Army. I ate it up," Walsh said. "I thought it was so cool to be shooting guns and, of course, I changed my attitude and thinking when I got into combat. Then I was wondering each day whether I'd be there at the end of the day. We were all so grateful every day we got to live."
Later in life, Walsh became a classroom teacher. He taught social studies and science for 30 years throughout Oregon and then taught another 10 years as a substitute, mainly teaching older children with special needs.
So when Walsh began talking to Ann Adrian, executive director of the Vital Life Foundation, about his goal to play in a band, he came full circle and settled on a high school band.
"It's a bucket list item for him," said WHS Band Director Chad Davies. "He really wanted to perform on the cymbals so we offered to help."
But there was one challenge to his ambition to play an instrument: Walsh couldn't read music.
Two weeks before the football game, Walsh met members of the WHS band and worked with Davies and students twice to get acclimated to the cymbals and learn two pep band songs. But during the game, Walsh mainly followed the other percussionist.
"The students were really excited to help teach someone else music and help him experience what they get to experience everyday," Davies said.
"They took me in and were very warm and supportive," Walsh added. "This whole thing morphed into something bigger than what I had imagined all these years."
Walsh played the cymbals with the band before the game, during every touchdown and when the ball wasn't in play. After Wilsonville defeated Wilson, Walsh was presented with a football signed by the players.
"It meant a lot because they accepted me immediately," Walsh said. "There was a rapport built up between us. They came over, shook my hand and thanked me for my service — just friendly."
Walsh would like to continue playing the cymbals and hopes to eventually have a high school student tutor
"It's quite a science. It isn't just hitting," said Walsh, adding that he learned the left hand remains stationary while the right hand hits the other cymbal to make different notes. "All kinds of things. I've been watching YouTube (and) you can learn anything on YouTube. (I learned) if you want it to stop vibrating you press it against your stomach."
Walsh said he valued his experience playing in the WHS band and appreciates everyone who made it possible.
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