By CAROL HEGSTROM
There are many occasions when it is traditional to give “gifts”. We choose the most beautiful and sometimes very expensive. We want our gifts to be precious for many years to come. What about “gifts” that are valuable but cannot be purchased?
This article is a tribute to two talented Moapa Valley residents who have provided “The Gift of Music” to the community for many years.
Connie Whitney, a resident of Logandale, has lived her entire life in the Moapa Valley. And since she’s 90 years old now, that’s a long time.
Whitney has been teaching piano lessons in town from a young age. Over the years, its influence and impact have grown. She has taught the piano to generations of families, including her six children, many grandchildren and even great grandchildren. She said she loved watching each of her students excel. Many of them are now accomplished musicians.
Whitney found the joy of making piano music herself from a young age. His grandmother, Ada Waymire, was his first piano teacher.
Whitney says her grandmother brought her a book and her first piano student when she was newly married. It started his love of teaching.
Whitney has also been active in creating music in the community for decades. She recalls that one of the people who encouraged her talent was the former principal of Moapa Valley High School, Grant Bowler. From an early age, he provided Whitney with many opportunities to use her talents. She accompanied people for music in church services, performed for school assemblies and musical theater productions.
Interestingly, she also played the saxophone in the high school dance orchestra.
Whitney was one of the mainstays of Handel’s Messiah’s annual community performance at Christmas time. She has been the accompanist for these performances for longer than most people can remember.
When asked what is his favorite piece for piano, the answer is “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy.
Walter White is a talented musician who has been teaching at Mack Lyon College for 14 years. In his role at school, he teaches three levels of orchestra, two levels of guitar lessons and one choir lesson.
White first heard of Overton, Nevada, while attending a music convention in San Antonio, Texas. The Clark County School District had a booth at the exhibit. Out of curiosity, White inquired about the neighborhood.
White said he was at a crossroads in his life at the time and decided to visit his family in Los Angeles and travel to Nevada to experience this “suburb” of Las Vegas. He said he “drove and drove” and finally saw the exit to Overton. Rural life seduced him and he did not regret his decision.
Mr. White grew up in Houston, Texas, and his love of the violin began in kindergarten. He watched television and admired such celebrities as Curley Fox (a country fiddler) and Liberace, whose brother George was an accomplished violinist.
At the age of 9, he began taking classes with Professor Jack Bradley at Texas Southern University. Bradley was one of the first black members of a large professional orchestra. White continued to study with Bradley until high school.
After graduating from high school, White attended Texas Southern University and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education. He received a master’s degree in music from Boston University.
He taught elementary and high school in Laredo, Texas for 8 years and in Waco, Texas for 15 years. He has a total of 52 years of teaching, including years here at Overton.
Mr. White has performed in several orchestras in various parts of the United States, as well as in professional symphony orchestras. He also played for several years in a Country Western group “The Streets of Laredo”.
White is currently pursuing a doctorate in music at UNLV.
White and Whitney both had similar advice they gave their students on a regular basis? It’s about practicing their instruments for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day! Consistency is key, they both said.
Many thanks to Connie Whitney and Walter White for planting the “seeds” of music for so many years, and also for giving the “gift of music”.
Whitney has a saying on her wall that says “Life is like a piano, what you get out of it depends on how you play it.” She and White are great examples of these simple words.