Bringing Broadway Experience to Edmond

ENHS Teacher Brian Tidwell
Brian Tidwell has staged musical theater productions on some of the world’s most famous stages. Now he’s in Edmond, where he has a chance to shape young minds as a teacher.

In fall 2005, Brian Tidwell received his first introduction to North High School. He was asked to play the piano for the Edmond High School’s Boy’s Night Out concert event.

The joint effort of Edmond schools that night, as well as the cooperation of the Edmond North High School faculty and administration, made an impact on him. “I noticed and was impressed that the music making was at such a high level for a high school,” he said. “They had a Steinway grand piano, a great auditorium and the administration showed up for the concert.”

Later, in February 2006, he was asked to join the ENHS performing arts team. “Ralph Duncan was the reason I accepted the position. It was because of his high level of musicianship. Not only is Ralph a great musician but an amazingly generous and thoughtful person,” Tidwell said.

Tidwell had met Duncan in the 1970s while in Midwest City as a high school student. Ralph Duncan was one of the first people in his life to give him a chance to perform, he said.

Tidwell has returned to Oklahoma after 25 years of conducting musical theater on Broadway and national tours, as well as several European tours. Among other credits, he conducted and orchestrated the Broadway production of “Peter Pan” starring Cathy Rigby; conducted “Hello, Dolly” with Carol Channing on her farewell tour; and fondly remembers conducting “Mame” with Juliet Prowse.

Most recently, Tidwell was in Las Vegas for seven years where he conducted “Chicago” with Ben Vereen and Chita Rivera. He also played nightly at the show room in the Riviera Hotel.

The North teacher is best known for writing and arranging music. His main job has been to write music for full symphony orchestras. “For this I can live anywhere in the country and I chose to live here,” he said. “My mother is getting older and I wanted to be closer to her. It’s great to be back in Oklahoma!”

Before Las Vegas, Tidwell lived in Los Angeles, where he received the prestigious Drama-Logue award as Best Music Director for “The Wizard of Oz.”

However, it was “Evita” that took him to Broadway. “I was working with the Lyric Theatre in 1980 when the ‘Evita’ tour with Florence Lacey came through Oklahoma City,” he said. “They needed someone to play the synthesizer and I got the job. I played three years for the ‘Evita’ tour.”

Tidwell said he had a great start in the music field while still a teenager in Oklahoma. “I began directing when I was 14 years old. I was too young to drive but the performing arts director at Rose College would come pick me up and take me to the college to direct the orchestra for various performances,” he said. “I also learned a lot and gained wonderful experience from the Lyric and Jewel Box theaters.”

He is willing to give a little advice to today’s young musicians: “Dedicate yourself and be prepared for when a break happens. Be really good and learn everything you can. Then what looks like a coincidence or an easy break is actually the result of hard work and dedication.”

He added, “Music is not about performing in a great hall such as Carnegie Hall. It’s about a life choice that is an intellectual, emotional, artistic never-ending study. You do it to enjoy it. It’s a gift to give others and receive yourself. It gives your life meaning and it’s accessible to everyone — regardless or whether or not they’re trained in music.”
As for his new job teaching at the high school level, he said, “I’m at a place now in life that it’s time to give a little back. I’ve chosen to teach because I had people in my life who gave to me. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without those people.”

He said it’s been great to reconnect with his first piano teacher, Leon Whitesell, and his wife, Lavonna, who live in the area. Tidwell also gives to the community by playing the organ at Wickline United Methodist Church in Midwest City and is frequently seen conducting the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tidwell double-majored in piano and vocal performance at OCU and studied theory and composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.

Ed Story, principal of North High School, said: “Mr. Tidwell has become a real asset to the North vocal music program and to our students. We realized early on that Brian possessed a tremendous level of expertise in this area. What we did not realize at the time was the enthusiasm and student orientation he would bring to our program. Ralph Duncan and Brian Tidwell serve as inspirations to our students as they engage in one of the most gratifying areas of student life.”

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