Ralph Bigelow became director of BonesWest by default in 1983. A graduate of Eastman (B.Mus. '51; M.Mus. '53) in trombone and theory, his professional career evolved into university administration. He was formerly Emeritus Dean of Admissions and Records at CSU Fullerton.
He started playing the trombone again in late '79, after marriage, children, further graduate study (Ph.D, USC '71), and divorce. He met George Roberts in the spring of 1980 and learned about the formation of BonesWest. He was a charter member of the choir, and played regularly in the fourth section.
When Roberts announced that his responsibilities were changing and he could no longer be with the choir, Bigelow, Charles LaRue, and Harry Betts met with George to explore keeping the choir together. George graciously transferred the library and the name to the choir, and the idea was that Ralph would lead the group in the warmups, and Harry would lead in the rehearsals of the charts. After a few months, Harry said "Ralph, I'd rather play...I need the chop time." So Bigelow became director by default.
Ralph stopped playing in '91 following surgery and devoted his musical energies solely to the baton, until his passing in 2003. In addition to his involvement with BonesWest, Bigelow was active with the Cal State Fullerton Emeriti Association. He also consulted part-time at Cal State Fullerton.
[Ralph occasionally received an inquiry about starting a choir of a similar nature to BonesWest.
Typical inquiry: I am the band director at ________ High School and a semi-professional trombone player. I have seen your web page on BonesWest and am interested in starting a similar group. I would welcome any information concerning how you run rehearsals, music you perform, philosophy of rehearsing, performing, and warmups you do and anything that you can send my way concerning starting a group.
Basic response: You can read about how BonesWest got started here on the website. Just click on the link from the home page. We were fortunate that George Roberts put his professional efforts into the project, recruited players and arrangers, and negotiated rehearsal space for the group. When he had to leave the group, we had a well-established program, a wide base of players, and a library. Whether any one of us could have done what he did is problematical. But we have continued, meeting every week on Saturday mornings, and celebrated our 20th anniversary in September 2000.
The first set of every rehearsal is to warm up using brief Remington routines, chorales, and selected "legit" literature, stressing intonation and melodic ensemble. We devote the rest of the three-hour rehearsal to playing selections from our custom charts arranged in the Big Band style. Virtually all of these charts have been done by members of the group. From our website's rehearsals page, you can follow the link to our "book" with references to some of our arrangers you could talk with to inquire about getting copies.
Philosophy: Big word, but I guess we have one. First, open rehearsals, no audition. Any player welcome. The majority of players are "weekend warrior" types, with varying backgrounds in music. Players find their own level; those who can't cut it disappear; aspiring professionals also don't stick around much as they get more rigorous playing opportunities elsewhere. We try to do the best we can do, and still have fun. We have about 15 players who have been with us since the beginning.
Performances: We accept invitations for noncommercial community events where we do not compete with professional musicians. (On occasion, a subgroup of BonesWest will take a paid gig, negotiated by the players.) We expect an honorarium and use the proceeds for supplies, audio equipment, paying copyists, and the like. No one gets paid--we are all volunteers. Our website's gigs and events page has a list of the appearances we have made.
Starting a group: I hardly know where to begin as BonesWest "just happened," thanks to George Roberts. You no doubt have a place to meet at your school. Purchase some charts (http//hickeys.com a good place to start). Get on the phone and recruit as many players as you can find, and begin with what you have. You won't need a rhythm section if you start with the four- or five-part ensemble legit pieces. And if you're lucky, you'll have someone interested in arranging things for you. Get started and find your own way.
Good luck....and let me know how you make out.......Ralph
Raph Bigelow was Director of Bones West From 1983-2002