Carolyn Wann Bailey
Hometown: Lakeland, Florida
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1996
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
I have older sisters, and I wanted to do everything they did. Two of them played in orchestra growing up, and when I was 4, my parents took me to one of my their concerts. I couldn’t really see them because they were in the wind section, so I decided that it would be better to sit up front. The cello was too big, so that’s how I landed on the violin.
What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?
There have been so many peak experiences: Carnegie Hall with Kenneth Schermerhorn in 2000; touring with Amy Grant; Giancarlo’s first concert with us after Kenneth’s passing; Pink Martini; the myriad of guest conductors, including Leonard Slatkin and Christopher Seaman. Everything we do, it’s such an honor to be playing in this building on a regular basis. It’s an incredible space.
Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I’m a member of Gateway Chamber Orchestra, which is based in Clarksville and performs in Nashville as well. I also work with smaller chamber groups periodically. Performing in these groups is so good for honing your skills — for listening, for growing in your craft. You don’t want to eat the same food all the time, and variety is beneficial to your diet — it’s the same thing with playing music.
You’ve also worked a lot as a session musician. Are there any recordings that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s a large pool of talented performers and arrangers in town. Sometimes you’ll have a session where you’ll play a simple arrangement, but the experience with the artist is really special. And sometimes the artist isn’t even present, but your arranger has done a very intricate chart and it’s exciting to be a part of that. There are many Christmas CDs I’ve been on, because it’s always Christmas in the recording industry here. It’s always fun to dog-ear those as Christmas gifts.
When you’re recording, the music needs to be there immediately, so session work hones your skills in learning something quickly. As a string player, you hear yourself more in the recording studio than you do in the orchestra. So in a way, it’s a form of chamber playing too.
Both your husband, Jeff Bailey, and your stepson, Preston Bailey, perform in the orchestra’s trumpet section. What’s it like to have your family go to work with you every day?
It’s great. I met Preston when he was 12, and it’s been lovely to see him evolve as a person and as a musician. I get a real kick out of watching and hearing him grow. And Jeff — I’ve always admired his playing and his work ethic. He really inspires me, and to be around that for more than just a few hours a day is a real honor and a luxury.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I love animals, and we have what people call a hobby farm. We have dogs, and cats, and guinea fowl, which help keep the ticks in check. We just started raising chickens, and that’s going well. We got four pygmy goats that we acquired because we have a steep bank that we didn’t want to weed-eat. But that didn’t work out too well because they eat brush instead of grass. However, they do provide many hours of entertainment just watching them. I have a horse that doesn’t live on the property. My trainer is down the road, and she takes amazing care of him, as I don’t have the daily time he requires. I do try to ride as much as I can. And I also like to cook and garden.
What are you reading now?
I enjoy reading, but I don’t get to read books often. Animal behavior fascinates me, so I’ll usually have some books pertaining to that or animal care by my bedside.
Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not at work?
If it has been a long day, I really enjoy silence. I wasn’t that way until I moved to Nashville, as my schedule wasn’t as full. I like classical guitar, jazz, salsa, Pink Martini, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat ”King” Cole — an eclectic mix. I love 1970s music too.
What would you most like people in the audience to know about the Nashville Symphony?
When I first joined the orchestra, I was impressed by the ensemble, how they’re able to play together, and how they are able to change styles so quickly and so well. We play Styx one week and Mahler’s Ninth the next, and not every orchestra does that effectively. Rosemary Clooney years ago said that we were one of the best orchestras she had done a concert with. To get a compliment like that touches you. The people are genuine here, and I’m really proud of being in the orchestra, as well as being with my section. It’s a good group of people, and it’s an honor to be here.