Hometown: Farmington, Michigan
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1992
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the bass clarinet?
I was in the music school at University of Michigan, but I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I came home on Christmas break my freshman year and saw the movie Fantasia for the first time. I’d been studying the clarinet and working on two or three of the same orchestral pieces in my lessons, so when I heard some of the things I’d just been practicing in the movie, I remember thinking, “Wow, that would be fun to do!” That’s the first time I’d really seriously thought about becoming an orchestra musician.
Later in college, I got a call to sub with an orchestra on bass clarinet. I don’t know who thought I was a bass clarinetist. So I told them I had to check my schedule, and I ran down to school and started practicing on the bass clarinet. I called them back and said I could do it. One of the pieces was Ravel's La Valse, which has some big solo parts. It went pretty well, and my teacher noticed, so he asked me to play Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with a group of Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians. I came in and did the bass clarinet parts, and that was very exciting because I was playing with career musicians and I was still in school. So after that, the bass clarinet became an immediate interest, and I started taking lessons.
What inspires me about the instrument is that it has a lot of different colors that a regular clarinet doesn’t have. The low register has a sinister, menacing quality, while the upper register is melodic, fluty and pretty.
Which composers write the best music for your instrument?
Mahler’s Ninth has become one of my favorites because he establishes the bass clarinet as a character from the beginning and uses it all the way through the piece, which means that I don’t have to juggle between two different instruments, as I often do in other pieces. I love Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, West Side Story, Ravel’s La Valse. Prokofiev writes great parts, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has a great bass clarinet part as well — the Russians had a great affinity for it.
What’s been the highlight of your time with the Nashville Symphony?
The concert we did Pavarotti at the arena in 2000 was spectacular. Even though he was late in his career, he still had a great sense of musicianship that you could feel immediately. The orchestra’s first trip to Carnegie Hall in 2000 was another highlight, as was the opening gala for the Schermerhorn in 2006.
What’s your favorite Nashville Symphony recording?
The Astor Piazzolla recording was my favorite to play on, and it’s also one of our best. The bandoneón soloist was sitting right next to me onstage, and it was like playing with another wind player.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
About three years ago, we were playing a concert, and I was finished at the end of the first half. So I packed my instruments, and I left to go watch a hockey game at a bar. The rest of the clarinet section, James Zimmermann and Cassie Lee, were playing on the second half, so while I was watching the game, I got a text from James saying someone had stolen Cassie’s instrument right off the stage. We texted back and forth for a while, when I realized that he was pressing me about something: What happened was that I had packed her instrument and put it away, and my instrument was still out there onstage. So before I could get back to the hall and straighten things out, Cassie had to play on an unfamiliar instrument for an entire movement.
Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I am the assistant director and treasurer for the Eastwood Ensemble, which also includes my Symphony colleagues Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, Kevin Jablonski and Bob Marler. Tia Thomason founded our group about four years ago. It has been great fun for me because of the artistic license we have, making decisions about the pieces we play and even the personnel we work with. Music is supposed to be a communication, an interaction, so we like to take down the barriers of formality, especially for people who aren’t comfortable going to a concert hall. We dress casually, and we pick pieces that we think people are going to get a kick out of. And if we play something unusual, we talk to them about it. Most people are open-minded and have an appreciation for art, but they’re intimidated by formality, so we try to get rid of that intimidation. We also throw in performance partners of entirely non-classical genres to demonstrate the universality of music.
As part of our Chamber Music Underground series, we perform house concerts, which is the way chamber music was meant to be done. The intimacy is so different, and it’s exciting for the audience and for us. We got recognition in the Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville last summer for that.
I also teach at Belmont University, where I play in Belmont Camerata and in the faculty quintet.
How does teaching influence your work as a musician?
I used to teach younger folks, and now I’m teaching college students. Their future is directly tied to what I’m doing, so I remember that it’s not just about teaching specifics, it’s about helping them as people.
Teaching helps you learn about yourself and your background — the things you’ve always done well, the things you’ve had to work hard on. I also keep in mind that learning is a means to an end, whether it’s performing or simply appreciating music. In the beginning, maybe you like just a couple types music, but in the end, hopefully you’ll appreciate many different types.
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
All of my teachers and conductors have contributed to my development, but as far as adding finishing touches on my orchestral playing and musicianship, I would say Frank Cohen in Cleveland and James Pyne, who taught at Ohio State, where I received my doctorate, loom large. Because the Nashville Symphony has been my only real orchestra job outside of subbing, Kenneth Schermerhorn had a great impact on me. When someone hires you and they have their own musicianship, you learn to respond to it.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not rehearsing or performing?
Between teaching at Belmont and playing in the Nashville Symphony, I don’t have tons of free time. I do community outreach of sorts through the Eastwood Ensemble because we raise money for other nonprofits when we perform. I love historic homes and go on home tours, and I’m a Predators and Chicago Bears fan. When I have the opportunity to travel, all the better!
What part of town do you live in? What do you like about your neighborhood?
What I’ve always loved about East Nashville is that, unlike the suburbs, there are huge front porches where people come out and talk to each other. My neighborhood is a patchwork of different types of people, and the arts are flourishing there. I am concerned about some of the changes I see taking place, in that there’s no big master plan when it comes to new construction. East Nashville is unique, and I don’t want to lose that uniqueness.
Do you enjoy reading?
I'm mostly doing beach reads right now — I like Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, Michael Connelly, and Lisa Gardner. I also enjoy reading American history and classic novels.
Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not at work?
Classical music is bad in the car because of the dynamic changes, so I listen to talk radio in the car. When I do listen to music, it’s mostly to expose myself to new music or to study. I don’t do a lot of listening just for pleasure at this point. Music is so much a part of my life as a musician and teacher that I feel immersed in it.