Strike a note for former music teachers

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A jam session at SCHS will commemorate Ernie Threlkeld, Susie Saunders and Mel Owen – with their students performing.

By Lisa King

Musicians performing at a concert this Saturday at Shelby County High School will be playing more than their instruments but with their heartstrings.

That’s because the Ernie Threlkeld/Susie Saunders/Mel Owen Memorial Jam is a tribute to those beloved music teachers, all deceased now, the last of whom (Threlkeld) passed away in October.

That’s when about a dozen or more of their students picked up their instruments again and began to practice for this event, said Kathy Edwards Eskridge, a nurse at Our Lady of Peace in Louisville.

“I haven’t touched a trombone in 30 years,” she said, laughing. “But I am really excited; we have been practicing since October, so maybe I won’t sound too bad.”

In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Threlkeld was the band director and Saunders taught violin and strings at Shelbyville and Shelby County high schools. Owen, who owned a music company in Louisville, Mel Owen Music, was well-known to students for providing his input when he came to the school to service and sell instruments.

Byron Cutshaw, another former student, who now lives in Spencer County, said when Threlkeld died, he decided to form a band composed of former students of Threlkeld’s and Saunders’.

“When Ernie passed away last fall, we were very distraught to lose him because he impacted so many people,” Cutshaw said.

When asked what event the memorial concert is supposed to commemorate, Cutshaw said, simply, “It’s just to celebrate their lives. They were more than just our musical mentors; they were such a big part of our upbringing and a big part of our lives.”

Cutshaw chuckled when asked what the band is called.

“We don’t have a name yet,” he said.

Cutshaw said he expects from 13 to 17 members of the band to perform Saturday night, mostly brass players, including sax, trombones and trumpets, along with bass, percussion and piano.

“We’ll be playing big band music from the forties and fifties, some Glenn Miller, maybe some Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington,” he said.

In between songs, he said, there will be speakers to share memories of their former mentors, including members of the three families.

“A very famous trumpet player who used to come out to Shelby County and help teach us in our jazz band, Vincent D. Martino, also is sending a message to be read,” Cutshaw said. “We had intended to have those people there, but the schedule couldn’t be worked out.

“A couple of other people have helped put this together. Tom Hines, he is our lead sax player, he’s not from here, but his leadership and skills have helped us tremendously.”

Leslie Stewart, a former flute player and saxophonist, who is now a customer service representative for the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop in Louisville, will be master of ceremonies.

“It looks like I’ve been drafted as emcee,” she said, laughing.

Stewart said she accepted that role for Saturday because even though she would not be playing an instrument, she wanted to be a part of the event.

“I went from being a professional musician to a radio host to having a music public relations firm, and now I’m working in jazz,” she said. “And I would not have done any of this if it hadn’t been for Ernie. I’d like to think I’ve made him proud.”

The concert will begin at 6 p.m. and will also include ensemble groups from Collins and Shelby County High School. Admission will be free, but donations will be accepted, with proceeds to be to the music programs at Collins and SCHS.

Memorial Jam



WHAT:A musical event by former students of Ernie Threlkeld, Susie Saunders and Mel Owen

WHEN:6 p.m., Saturday

WHERE:Mike Casey Gymnasium, Shelby County High School

COST:Admission free, but donations welcome

ALSO PEFORMING:Student ensembles from SCHS and Collins High School