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’49 Culver grads return for 75th Reunion, perform with Concert Band -- again

Bowen Xiao, Editor in Chief, The Vedette

Lifelong friends Peter McKinney '49 (left) and John Kitts-Turner '49 recently played with the Culver Academies Concert Band. (Photo by Sloan Losch)

 

John Kitts-Turner and Peter McKinney have been playing music together since before you were born -- before your parents were born -- maybe even before your grandparents were born. 

They are Culver Military Academy graduates from the Class of 1949. They played the Beethoven Duet Concertante for Clarinet and Bassoon with the Culver Concert Band during their recent 75th Reunion. 

“That was a lot of fun,” McKinney said. “It was amazing coming back.” 

Their fathers both worked at CMA. They met in the fourth grade at Culver Elementary School, and at CMA were members of Band. At Culver, both musicians emerged as leaders. McKinney graduated as Band captain, and Kitts-Turner as drum major.  

Upon graduation, Kitts-Turner pursued his passion for bassoon, studying with Leonard Sharrow, the recognized best bassoonist in America, eventually becoming a bassoon professor at the University of Florida. McKinney also was interested in a career in music, but his father convinced him to pursue chemistry and he became a chemistry professor at Harvard University. But he never gave up practicing the clarinet. After retiring 20 years ago, rather than researching chemistry, McKinney dived deep into music. 

This was not their first performance during a Reunion Weekend. At their 50th Reunion in 1999, Kitts-Turner arranged a Mozart Bassoon Concerto and played with McKinney. In 2019, they decided to play it again, as they performed the Stamitz Duo Concertante for Bassoon & Clarinet. 

“I loved it, and Peter loved it. So we decided to come back after five years to perform another arrangement,” Kitts-Turner said. 

In fact, the Beethoven piece was already selected 25 years ago, when Kitts-Turner and McKinney picked this duet concerto specifically. So how do you get a band to play a duet? Kitts-Turner arranged it. 

“We love playing together because it is good chamber music. For this year’s performance, I first thought of repeating the Stamitz Duet. But then I realized to play something different. I took the duet and put in 18 new lines for the Band,” Kitts-Turner said. 

He said all he had to do was fill in the spaces, “which sounds easy, but it wasn’t.” 

Upon finishing arranging the piece, Kitts-Turner showed it to his wife and asked if she liked it. 

“Yeah! It sounds a lot different in the real chamber, as opposed to listening to it on the computer,” Vicki Kitts-Turner said.

 

John Kitts-Turner '49 plays bassoon with lifelong friend Peter McKinney '49 on clarinet. (Photo by Sloan Losch)

 

McKinney said the piece has a lot of notes, “but it’s not a difficult piece.” He was especially grateful for the work of Kitts-Turner. 

“He wrote the accompaniment and everything. I just blow through the horn,” McKinney said.   

Kitts-Turner said he usually plays the bassoon three or four times a week, but to get ready for this performance he was practicing an hour a day. For his 93rd birthday, a band called the “Killer Bees” that he enjoys came by his house and he played “Michelle” by the Beatles with them. 

Although the piece McKinney and Kitts-Turner played at Reunion was not technically challenging, the two soloists did not have much chance to rehearse with each other or the band. Their only rehearsal occurred for 40 minutes on the day before the concert. 

“We played together the first time yesterday. We were surprised that it came out in the way it did. To make sure that all the 16th notes were played together was probably the challenge,” McKinney said. 

Compared to the previous two performances, McKinney liked this piece better. 

“To be able to do this at 93 is a real kick!” McKinney said. 

He was impressed by the band’s principal clarinet player, Sejin Byun ’27. 

“He has a pleasant sound. So it was a pleasure,” McKinney said. 

 

Peter McKinney '49 plays the clarinet with the Culvers Academy Concert Band. (Photo by Sloan Losch)

 

David Weirich, senior instructor and Concert Band director, also was amazed by the Reunion concert, being extremely proud of the students’ performance. 

“Playing a band accompaniment for a solo is not the most exciting thing to rehearse. The band has been doing that for the past two weeks. They pulled it off! I was very proud of them,” Weirich said. “Yesterday when the gentlemen arrived and rehearsed, everything made sense.” 

Weirich said this performance inspired him as much as it inspired the students. 

“I want to play this when I’m 93!” Weirich said. 

If a senior from this year’s Concert Band comes back for their 75th Reunion, they will be back in the year 2099.  

After the performance, Kitts-Turner was talking with Emily Ryman SS’70, whose grandfather, Col. Edward Payson 1922 SS 1921, was the longtime chairman of CMA’s music department and taught McKinney and Kitts-Turner. 

“He taught me intonation and phrasing. Talk to my wife. She was a student of mine (in college) and she had never heard of phrasing,” Kitts-Turner said. 

Ryman said she remembers her grandfather talking about Kitts-Turner and McKinney. 

“When I saw their name in the program, I knew I had to come,” Ryman said.  

In 2019, both Kitts-Turner and McKinney thought that performance was potentially their last shot. Five years later, they changed their minds. 

“We will be here again in five years!” said Kitts-Turner confidently. 

“Why not?” McKinney said. 

 

Peter McKinney '49 (left) and John Kitts-Turner '49 recently played with the Culver Academies Concert Band.  (Photo by Tom Coyne)

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