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Virginia Shirley Wright ’52

May 24, 2017, in Shell Beach, California.

A Portland native, Virginia graduated from Franklin High School before starting at Reed as a music major. She was a private student of prominent clarinetist A. Owen Sanders, and played principal clarinet with the Portland (now Oregon) Symphony Orchestra from 1950 to 1953. While playing in the radio station orchestra at KOIN in Portland—broadcast from the Heathman Hotel—she met Mr. Wright. A clarinetist and profession jazz saxophonist, Marshall Wright played alongside Virginia in the orchestra. They married, had two children, and in 1960 moved to California’s central coast, settling in Shell Beach. Virginia joined the San Luis Obispo Symphony orchestra in 1971 and continued until she retired in 2011. Her solo performances included the Première rhapsodie by Claude Debussy, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

Virginia joined the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo music faculty part time in 1968, teaching woodwind instrument ensemble classes. She gave private lessons on clarinet, flute, and saxophone in her home, and her students were consistently chosen to perform in the annual State Honor Band and Honor Orchestra, as well as in the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony. Many went on to pursue successful careers as professional musicians and educators. A member of the San Luis Obispo Festival Orchestra since its inception, Virginia was a founding member of Trio Vivo and the Pacific Woodwind Quintet, chamber ensembles that performed frequently throughout the country. As an indication of her versatility, Virginia played saxophone with the Cuesta Jazz Ensemble, under Warren Balfour, at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1976 and 1990.

Virginia approached life with optimism, grace, and humor. She is survived by her daughter, Tracy Wright; her son, Jeffrey Wright; and her brother, Jim Shirley.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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