SALEM - Will "Butch" Hallewell learned to sing as a boy, taught himself to play guitar during a mid-life crisis and became so inspired during a trip out west that he started writing music.
He's been sharing those musical talents for several years at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Salem, as a musician and music minister and as a guitar teacher to young people.
Now he's planning to share his talents to help feed those in need, with a concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2 at Holy Trinity to benefit the Banquet in Salem.
"I had always wanted to do a big concert," he said.
He also wanted to do something special to celebrate turning 50, which occurred Aug. 17, so the two desires meshed into one big event. All proceeds from a free will offering and a silent auction for numerous donated baskets during the concert will benefit the Banquet. Checks payable to the Banquet in Salem are tax-deductible.
A picnic type supper will follow the concert, with people asked to rsvp for the meal by calling the church at 330-337-3342.
WHAT: Benefit Concert for the Banquet in Salem
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2
WHERE: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1089 E. State St., Salem
FEATURING: The music of Salem Resident Will "Butch" Hallewell
GENRE: Western, Love & Patriotic songs
The concert will feature Hallewell's songs, his lyrics and music, with Hallewell playing guitar and singing, his sister Susan singing on one song, his daughter, Hannah "Sophie" Fast, playing guitar and singing and fellow musician and church member Sue Deutschlander playing keyboards.
Guitar students Dan Mikol, Halle Cochran and Chloe Kyser are also scheduled to make an appearance.
A native of Struthers, Hallewell moved to the Salem area in 1988. He and his wife Karen have two daughters, Hannah and Gretchen, who both graduated from Salem High School. Hannah lives in Washington State with her husband, Anthony Fast, also from Salem, who's stationed there in the U.S. Army.
It was a road trip to Washington state that led Hallewell down the songwriting path - the majestic mountains, the cowboys along the way and the beauty all around him - but the story of his musical awakening actually began a lot earlier.
His late father, William, literally woke him up every morning with a John Denver song. He still loves John Denver songs and uses them in the guitar lessons with his students. The first song they learn is "Leaving on a Jet Plane" because it only requires three basic chords, G, C and D.
His mother, Mary, was and still is a church organist, now at a church in Austintown. She was the organist for 45 years at Bethel Lutheran Church in Boardman and accompanied the Sheet & Tube choir.
"They kind of took me under their wing. I ended up singing in the choir with them," he said.
Around the time she retired, he realized he would have to do something to accompany himself. He was going through a mid-life crisis, picked up a guitar and starting learning how to play it. The guitar and the challenge of learning it gave him something to latch onto during his depression.
Now here he is, seven years later, teaching guitar, writing songs and giving a concert. He also learned how to play keyboard in order to write the music, getting help on keyboarding sometimes from Deutschlander, a musician in her own right.
He's always trying to learn new things on the guitar, he said to stay ahead of the kids.
"I just really enjoy it. It's a challenge to me, to stretch myself...I just love to do it," he said.
Hallewell said he'll teach anybody and uses the method of teaching them chords first. Once they get that down, he teaches them the notes and then works through the scales.
"I try to make it as fun as possible. That day when they realize they can do it, that just lights them up," he said.
He and his students formed their own group known as the Purple Pick Praise Players and perform at the church and sometimes during the Banquet in Salem. They started out learning guitar and now the band has guitars, a drummer and a singer, all 8 to 12 years old.
Hallewell put together his own CD, "Ride On!", featuring all songs that he wrote, with titles such as "Take Me To Montana" and "Where the River Meets the Sea." He said when he's listening to the radio while driving, he turns off the volume when the commercials come on, takes in the scenery and listens to whatever comes into his head.
"The hook of a song will come or just the chorus or words, " he said.
He records it on his phone and then writes it out later. His genre includes western music, love songs and patriotic songs, such as "10 Years On." A friend of his asked if he had ever written any praise songs and sent him some poems he wrote for praise songs, with Hallewell writing the music.
He played at Camp Frederick last month during a contributors/volunteers dinner, sort of a precursor to the concert coming up.
His advice for anyone wanting to learn guitar is to practice, practice, practice - and have fun.
"He certainly has evolved amazingly as a musician," Pastor Connie Sassanella of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church said.
As president of the board of directors for the Banquet in Salem, she said the board is grateful for his willingness to share his talents to help out. The Banquet in Salem served 12,927 meals from May 2, 2011 to April 30 this year, with 1,648 of those meals served to children. The average number of meals per Banquet is 202. The largest number of meals ever served was 290 on Oct. 24, 2011. Sponsors and teams provide the meals at an average cost of $500 to $600 per Banquet based on an estimate of 230 meals.
The Banquet began on Sept. 20, 2004 and serves meals every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. and on the fourth Thursday of each month.
Hallewell's music can be accessed at www.soundcloud.com/will-hallewell.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org