Harness racing punters who have a nice wee collect at the Harrah's Chester racetrack in Pennsylvania will tell you that course announcerJames Witherite's dulcet tones are sweet music to their ears. And they wouldn't be far wrong either.
Witherite is more than your average race caller. He's also a very gifted musician who is a self taught pianist and trombonist and also learnt the trumpet at school. He also plays the flugel horn and is an accomplished singer.
In fact in the winter of 2012, James will join forces with the Zeropoint Big Band to record "+17", his first studio effort specifically written for a jazz orchestra.
The inspiration for "+17" stems from his time at Duquesne University, when he explored and embraced the expanded palette of colour and orchestration in writing for big band.
While his earlier albums "West by Northwest" and"Live in Pittsburgh" enabled Witherite and his Pittsburgh sextet to flex their soloing muscles, "+17" will see a shift in focus away from "solochops" to the capabilities of the full ensemble in terms of texture, timbre, and lush harmonies.
"I've always loved music and I've always loved harness racing from the moment my grandfather took me to the track when I was a youngster.
"I couldn't choose between the two because I'm very passionate about both. They balance each other out nicely in my life. One takes the stress away from the other," Dover (Delaware) based Witherite said.
Witherite originally got into harness racing because he liked to have a betand then later on when he was at University he enjoyed numbers and worked probability theories on gambling.
"I got the calling bug when I was public announcer at sporting events at my old Junior High School - Brookville Area in Brookville, PA.
"Then I started calling at county fairs in Michigan in the summer of 2006 and managed to get a job calling at Chester when I was completing my University studies. I have been there since July 2007," Du Bois, Pennsylvania-born Witherite said.
But Witherite's love of music goes back to the late 1980s.
His mother Lisa, a physician, left her son with his grandparents while she was studying at Ohio University.
At the age of three, he first set himself upon the bench of his grandmother's Wurlitzer organ.
Within a year, James taught himself how to read music and piece together simple melodies on a keyboard.
Five years later, his formal music education began in study of trumpet from elementary school forward in Brookville, Pennsylvania. James was rapidly garnering attention for musical ability and rapid grasping of even the most complex musical arrangements from an early age.
Witherite was introduced to jazz as a child and latched onto it quickly, following what would become his favourite genre of music into Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, where he studied with Mike Tomaro, Sean Jones, and David Cutler and earned a degree in composition.
Today, James performs at various venues throughout the Mid-Atlantic, stretching from Atlantic City, NJ to Fredericksburg, VA. In addition to live performance involving several diverse instruments, James is also an accomplished composer with a reputation for thorough, complex works that have impressed a number of audiences on the east coast.
During his time at Duquesne, James practised the art of announcing horse racing several nights aweek at area tracks, often rushing from music rehearsals to make the first post.
After plenty of guidance from well-known announcers throughout North America, including quite prominently Scott Ehrlich at Cal-Expo, James made his debut at Ontario's Flamboro Downs in 2006.
"I've now called at tracks and country fairs since then, including some of the major tracks like the Meadowlands and Yonkers.
"I really enjoy calling. It's something I'm always trying to improve," Witherite told Harnesslink.
The 25-year-old said calling a leg of this year's World Driver's Championships at Chester was a career highlight as was calling three of the fastest miles ever on a 1000m track.
They were recorded byand who both went 1:48 prior to 's 1:48.2.
Asked if there was any one horse that he enjoyed calling Witherite quickly replied:
"I've always been a big fan of Buck I St Pat. She's a mare for the ages and a wonderful trotter. I've really got a thrill calling her victories over the years. I enjoy trotters just like I enjoy tea," said Witherite.
Yes that's right Witherite is a tea connoisseur and also enjoys travelling, micro breweries, and live theatre.
As a side note, James has had more than a few experiences in announcing other sports over the years, including local basketball and baseball games, even pulling double and triple duties of being the vocalist for the National Anthem pre-game, the organist for the baseball game itself, as well as the regular announcing duties.
He also calls at some thoroughbred meetings and has been trumpeter at some meetings prior to race-start.
He also has an ambition to call while holidaying in New Zealand next season.
James Witherite's webpage: www.jameswitherite.net
By Duane RANGER(editor)
(1)What Does It Take To Be a Harness Racing Track Announcer? James Witherite knows:
(2) James Witherite calling the action at Freehold Raceway back in 2007:
(3) James Witherite featured on PA Harness Week:
(4) James Witherite calling at a galloping meeting:
(5) James calling one of his favorite horses to victory - Buck I St Pat in the Maxie Lee Pace at Harrah's Chester in August last year: