First Chair in Orchestra Named for Noted Local Composer/Educator

POTSDAM - The Orchestra of Northern New York proudly announces a donation has been received to name the principal bass chair in the Orchestra as the Robert B. Washburn Chair.

Brooks Washburn, Potsdam, and his sister, Roberta Washburn Scharf, Albany, gave the gift in memory of their parents, Robert B. and Beverly D. Washburn, who were generous supporters of the arts and music in the Potsdam area for many years.

Our father often played double bass in several orchestras, and I remember for many years my parents also housed the principal bass player for ONNY when in Potsdam for concerts," Brooks Washburn said. "Bassists aren't featured much, but you would miss them if they weren't there," he added.

Beverly was a founding member of the Women's Air Force band, as a tuba player, while she was stationed in San Antonio, TX from 1949 to 1953. There she met and married Robert B. Washburn, also in the U.S. Air Force in San Antonio.  She was a fifth and sixth grade Social Studies teacher at Potsdam Central School from 1966 until her retirement in 1986. She was also a member of the board of directors of the Potsdam Museum and treasurer for many years of the St. Lawrence County chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Robert was the chief arranger for the Air Force Band of the West and the Air Force Sinfonietta when he met Beverly, and also played in the San Antonio Symphony.  Following military service, he joined the faculty of the Crane School of Music. There, he was Dean, Professor Emeritus, and Senior Fellow in Music.

Washburn was a world-renowned composer with more than 150 compositions to his name. His works have been performed at EXPO '67, at the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center, to name a few. In 1980, he composed music for the opening ceremonies of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics.

Washburn received numerous awards, grants, and commissions during his career, including a Fulbright Senior Fellowship, and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to his activities as a teacher and composer, he was a specialist in music from Africa and Asia.

Travel was his and Beverly's passion; they visited over 76 countries on six continents for both pleasure and research.  But they always came home to the North Country.

The Orchestra of Northern New York is honored by the Washburn gift. It is the only year-round, professional symphony orchestra between Ottawa and Burlington, and Plattsburgh to Syracuse. ONNY performs six concerts a year in Potsdam and four in Watertown. Now in its 28th season, ONNY operates on a $200,000 budget. Its 70+ musicians perform under the leadership of music director and ONNY founder, Kenneth Andrews.

"For over 50 years, Robert and Beverly Washburn were important contributors  to the Orchestra, the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and all aspects of the arts and life in Northern New York," said Mr. Andrews. "We are humbled and proud to accept this generous donation from the Washburn family."

For more information about ONNY or to learn about opportunities to support the orchestra, contact Executive Director Kathy Del Guidice at 315-267-3251 or visit