Trombonist Roger Finch performed in his final concert with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra (YSO) earlier this month after 45 years. He played highlights from Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet and Bernstein’s West Side Story in the Capitol Theatre.
“We kicked its butt,” he said with a laugh.
The concert opened with an extensive standing ovation from the audience and symphony musicians as Finch walked onstage to take his seat. He wasn’t expecting such recognition.
“Trombone players are a dime a dozen,” Finch said. He said it’s not likely his playing is what the audience and symphony were applauding; he thinks he’ll be remembered for his qualities as a teammate.
“I’m a confident musician, but I’ll be remembered because of my personality and the pleasant nature I brought to the symphony,” Finch said.
Those who know him agree.
Music director Lawrence Golan told the Yakima Herald that Finch was a shining star within the YSO.
“Working with Roger has been an absolute joy,” Golan said. “His loyalty and devotion to the orchestra have been incredible.”
In fact, Finch only missed one concert in his 45 years of playing for the YSO - and that was due to a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease, which compromises his immune system. However, he wanted to make it clear that it had nothing to do with his retirement from the orchestra.
“I didn’t retire because of ill health, I’ll be sure to say that,” Finch said. “I played all the concerts.”
And the one he missed? Well, he still attended, as a member of the audience.
Finch grew up in Grandview, where his father was a trombonist who taught music at a local high school. Music teacher Dick Schacter further influenced him throughout grade school.
“He was just an excellent musician,” Finch said. “He held high standards for the band and had a masters from the Eastman School of Music.”
Finch then took his love of music to Miami University, and played in the Hamilton Ohio Symphony for a few years before returning to the Yakima valley.
After Finch’s return, the YSO’s then-director Brooke Creswell suggested to Finch that he join the symphony, which he did in 1971 when it was still an amateur organization. Now, the YSO is a professional entity.
With that growth, the YSO has tackled more challenging music. Finch said he’s appreciated being there for the transition from a small, local symphony to the powerhouse it now is.
“Dramatic doesn’t cover it,” Finch said of the music.
In fact, Finch finds drama in all aspects of music. He recalled a specific time when Northwest Public Radio’s NPR and Classical Music Service served as the emotional soundtrack to his life.
He was assigned to take photographs of a Habitat for Humanity house he had helped to build. As Finch drove to the neighborhood, he listened to NWPR - and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings came on.
“It’s an extremely moving, emotional piece of music that makes me cry just thinking about it,” Finch said. And with the backdrop of a rundown neighborhood before him, he couldn’t hold back his tears.
As he reflected on his long association with YSO, Finch said what he would cherish most is “the opportunity to play great music.” He’s also had the privilege of playing behind some phenomenal performers. One that stands out in his mind is Marni Nixon, who dubbed the singing voices for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Deborah Kerr in The King and I.
Finch will also miss the satisfaction of practicing, perfecting and performing particularly complicated pieces.
“The most significant role has been not playing one piece of music, but the satisfaction of playing great music and playing it effectively,” he said.
With music running deep in his bones, Finch is not completely retiring from what he loves: he is still conducting the Yakima Valley Community Band, and continues to be choir director at his church.