Hometown: Hampton, Virginia
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1991
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with instruments. When I was 2, I got a tambourine and a record player for Christmas, and I would play that tambourine along with my records all the time! Originally, I wanted to play the trumpet, but my mother did not want a trumpet in the house, so I got a clarinet instead. She said that if I could teach myself how to play it and read music on my own, that I could then start taking clarinet lessons. So I did.
Then in fifth grade, one of my friends played cello in my school’s string section, and I really wanted to do the same. They didn’t have a cello my size since I was a bit smaller, so I was assigned to the violin instead. Once I started playing the violin, I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was so obsessed that my mother would have to force me to stop practicing to eat dinner.
I turned my clarinet into a lamp, which I still have to this day!
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
I’d have to say my college violin teacher, Elaine Richey. She really crafted my development and changed a lot of things about how I played, things that have stuck with me and have carried me to where I am now. She was a great musician herself and very much a mother figure to all of her students. My previous teachers were good too, but Elaine really polished and molded me into a better musician.
If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select?
There would be only one, and it would take up the entire program: Mahler’s Second, the Resurrection Symphony. If it is played well, the Second has this moment, when the orchestra is at full volume and the choir is singing and the organ is blasting, that is the closest thing to a truly spiritual experience in music that I know of. When we did the Second here, it was almost an out-of-body experience for me.
How did you end up at the Nashville Symphony?
I came here from Charleston. I had only been there for about eight months, and the orchestra just wasn’t a good fit for me. So I decided that the first audition I won — wherever it was — would be my next job. The Nashville Symphony turned out to be that audition.
I joined the orchestra thinking I would only be in Nashville for a few years. But I saw so much potential here, particularly in the caliber of musicians. So between that and the strong recording industry here, I decided to stay in Nashville and be a part of building this orchestra to prominence.
What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?
As I mentioned earlier, Mahler’s Second was one of my favorite memories here. But another great moment was that first Carnegie Hall performance in 2000. It was such an exciting thing to be a part of, and there was this great energy in our orchestra. The second performance there, in 2012, was special too, of course. But you only get one first time at Carnegie Hall, and it gave all of us a taste of what an acoustically magnificent concert hall sounds like.
If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Mozart. He had such an interesting life, and I would love to meet the genius behind all of that spectacular music.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
We were doing one of the Halloween Pied Piper concerts, and of course we were in costume for the occasion. One of my fellow violinists had dressed up as the solar system, which was really a great costume. Her head was the sun, and all the planets were hanging around her head in orbit.
Well, I was in the middle of a big solo, when suddenly the biggest of the planets on her costume fell off and started rolling right past my shoe. Here we are performing, and this bright-orange ball is rolling across the stage. Everyone onstage who saw it was laughing quietly, and it took every ounce of willpower I had to stay focused and not break out in laughter myself!
How have the city and the orchestra changed for you since you first arrived in 1991?
It’s amazing to me just how much Nashville has exploded with all of the building and development. I do like that the downtown area has really come to life, but I must admit I’m not a fan of the increased traffic!
For the Symphony, moving into the Schermerhorn has been the biggest and best change because it transformed the way we play. When the orchestra was at TPAC, we had to work so hard produce a balanced sound for the audience. Once we moved over here, it took all of us a year or two to readjust. The hall is an instrument itself, so we all needed to learn how to play to the acoustics. Now it feels more natural, and we don’t have to play as aggressively.
Watching our orchestra’s reputation and stature grow has also been very gratifying, and that goes back to why I ultimately decided to stay here. The Nashville Symphony has evolved from a medium-sized-city orchestra to one that gets to play in the big leagues now and is internationally recognized.
Do you teach, perform, or record outside of your work with the orchestra?
I used to teach, but I had to stop: Our work here has gotten so intensive that I needed to eliminate something if I wanted to have a life outside of my work. I have done, and continue to do, a lot of recording sessions in Christian and country music, and I’ve been fortunate to record with artists like Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Sheryl Crow.
What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?
I love going out on the town with my friends, and I especially enjoy dining out. Union Common and Urban Grub are two of my current favorite restaurants, and I also like going to Etch and Trattoria Il Mulino after concerts.
What part of town do you live in?
About three years ago, I moved to a 12.5-acre farm out in Williamson County. I needed plenty of property to build a kennel for all of my dogs, and I also wanted to have the privacy that kind of land affords. The farm is great for all of my animals, and I also spend a lot of time working on my flower gardens there. I’ve always been into gardening, but it’s a much larger-scale thing now because I design all of my own flower gardens.
How many animals do you have on your farm?
So many! 14 dogs, three horses, six miniature donkeys, four llamas, and two alpacas. I used to be very involved in dog breeding and dog shows. I had a bullmastiff named Liam who was an award-winning, national dog show superstar. He was at the top of the circuit for almost three years before I retired him and started becoming more active with rescue dogs. Of the 14 dogs I have now, three are show dogs and the rest are all rescues.
There are a ton of coyotes out near my farm, so I got the llamas to help protect our other animals from them.
Do you own anything that you consider a “prized possession”?
I still have the baby blanket that my mother brought me home from the hospital in. It has these pink, blue, and yellow baby lambs on it, and I always keep it in a drawer. One time I thought I had lost it, and I absolutely freaked out. But it’s the one thing I have left to hang on to from that time in my life.