The Fort Wayne Philharmonic will begin its 2013 season without two quintessential musicians in the strings section.
Concertmaster and first-chair violin Hiromi Ito and viola player of 50 years Naida MacDermid retired May 12 at the end of the 2012 season.
“Hiromi brought his exemplary professionalism and strong understanding of the orchestra repertoire, and Naida brought her passion, her tremendous goodwill and her infectious humor,” said Fort Wayne Philharmonic Music Director Andrew Constantine. “They'll both be missed very much for different reasons.”
MacDermid's position in the viola section will be filled by Amanda Grimm of Chicago, who received her bachelor's degree in music at Oberlin Conservatory and her master's of music at Carnegie Mellon University.
Auditions are under way to name a new concertmaster, who will fill Ito's role as the right-hand man or woman of the conductor who works with the musicians to help them achieve the right ambiance for each piece. Associate Concertmaster David Ling and guest concertmasters will substitute until a new concertmaster is appointed.
“It takes someone who can inspire the string players around them and help the musicians make best use of their own skills,” Constantine said, adding that Ito, who began his violin career at age 3 in Fukuoka, Japan, fit the role well.
Before coming to Fort Wayne, Ito was a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Baltimore Symphony. He also performed and toured with the Chicago Symphony and made solo appearances in Japan, Germany and the U.S.
When he graduated from college as a physics major, he won a grant from the Japanese government to study music in Europe. Upon returning to Japan, he was appointed co-concertmaster of the Kyushu Symphony in his hometown.
He came to the U.S. and earned a master's degree in music at Indiana University and Northern Illinois University. Along with being concertmaster of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic since 1993, he has been concertmaster of the Des Moines Metro Opera since 2000.
Ito and his wife, Nao have a son, Seima, and a daughter, Marina.
Like Ito, MacDermid has years of experience and music training. She was born in Massachusetts, and she attended 17 schools by the time she graduated high school because her father was a Lutheran U.S. Air Force chaplain for 25 years.
When the family lived in Manchester, N.H., they listened to the Boston Symphony on the radio every Sunday after church. After the music stopped, MacDermid would pick out the tunes they played on her family piano.
She started playing the violin when she was 10 years old. But she grew discouraged her senior year of high school, so she quit playing and went to Florida State University as a piano major. She earned her bachelor's degree and began teaching piano in 1955 at Warrington Junior High School in Pensacola, Fla., until the band teacher asked her if she played a string instrument. When she told him about the violin, he told her to join the Greater Pensacola Symphony.
“I did, and the rest is history,” MacDermid said.
After two years of teaching, she came to Indiana to attend Ball State University Teachers College, where she met Mack Walker in September 1958. The couple married three months later.
Walker was a band director in Huntington County for 25 years. The couple moved to Huntington County in 1961, and they joined the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in 1962, Walker as a bassoonist and MacDermid as a violist.
Over the next several years, the couple adopted three children: Susan, born in 1964; Carol, born in 1966; and John, born in 1968. But the Philharmonic's salary of $2.50 per performance or rehearsal made life difficult for a family with two full-time musicians, so MacDermid and Walker worked multiple jobs.
“The Philharmonic has come a long way,” MacDermid said.
Throughout her half-century career, her energy has peaked and waned. But her love of music is steadfast.
“There were times when I thought, 'I can't do this,'” MacDermid said. “But then I think about what I would be missing in my life, and I couldn't not do it.”
Walker was in the Philharmonic for 17 years before he died in 1985 at the age of 55. She remarried engineer Blair MacDermid five years later. He died in 2000.
As grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of two, Naida MacDermid will be 80 in November. She knew it was time to retire when her fingers weren't able to keep up with the rest of the orchestra.
“It's very physically taxing,” MacDermid said.
Since her retirement, MacDermid has devoted more of her time to volunteer work with the Visiting Nurse & Hospice Home, the Central Lions Club and Fort Wayne Philharmonic Friends Board.
She will continue playing with the Philharmonic this summer in the Steel Dynamics Foundation Patriotic Pops tour June 26-July 1 and Beethoven's 9th Symphony tour July 13-14. Her last performance with the Philharmonic will be July 14 in Van Wert, Ohio. But she will never be far from her musical roots.
“I don't know life without music,” MacDermid said. “My life would be very empty without it. I will definitely be in the audience.”