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Book review: Behind the Copper Fence


Behind the Copper Fence: A Lifetime on Timpani - By Thomas N. Akins
  • Behind the Copper Fence: A Lifetime on Timpani
    By Thomas N. Akins

This delightful memoir tells of a boy with a singular desire to play drums and how that dream grew into a stellar professional career. Along the way we learn what it takes to gain the training and experience to make it into a full-time orchestra and earn respect from colleagues and the public. Akins, who played with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1991, and then became a senior manager with the orchestra until 2007, is a born storyteller with the timing of a comedian who knows how to summon a laugh to lighten or heighten a moment. Akins.

Spun out chronologically, we become part of Akins's story from the day he tells his mother drums are his instrument and she suggests he go for anything else but. How he wins her over is the start of an amazing story of a young boy overcoming to become someone at the top of the game. We follow him through high school, college and the audition that didn't happen. We have to wonder what his career and life would have been like had his mother not had the final say about Julliard. It was the one time young Tom could not sway her resolve that he was too young to live in New York City on his own.

Instead, Akins studied in Cincinnati and upon graduation accepted a position with the ISO. Akins shares the backstories, "the politics," behind each of his triumphs, near misses and misses. We learn a good deal about timpani playing and the workings of an orchestra, particularly the ISO. Akins's description of his first appearance at Carnegie Hall is the finest I've read about playing that hallowed venue. Filled with photographs and a sprinkling of surprises, it's a worthy book to read and share.

Akins will speak and sign at the Jan. 7 meeting of the ISO First Monday Club meeting in the Wood Room at the Hilbert Circle Theatre starting at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited at no charge. Enter from the theatre door adjacent to the parking garage at Pennsylvania Street. Books are available at most local bookstores, along with The ISO Symphony Store.


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