Hometown: Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2007
How did you get interested in music, and what drew you to the horn?
Both my parents were gospel musicians, so I grew up with lots of piano and singing. My mother sang and played piano with The Speers and Higher Ground, and my father sang and played piano with The Centurions. My mother also taught piano, and one of her students was Tony Brown, who went on to become Elvis Presley’s piano player in the mid-’70s, and is now a Music Row record producer.
I started piano at age 5, trumpet at age 10 and horn at age 11. When I first moved to horn, I wasn’t fond of it because it was heavy and hard to play, but I was encouraged to stick with it, and I’m glad I did. When I was in the 9th and 10th grades, I had teachers who pointed me in the right direction and gave me some influential recordings of the Chicago Symphony. I wound up studying music at Northwestern University because of that.
What's it like to perform onstage with an orchestra?
When I connect and I’m in the moment, I feel present with everything that’s happening onstage. There’s nothing quite like being in that zone. It’s like time stands still. I and my fellow colleagues become one with the music. We collectively feed off the audience, and also off of one another onstage. It puts everything in perspective.
One can draw comparisons to being in the zone when you’re playing sports, but nothing comes close to music, because there’s so much social and emotional content, and so much existential depth connected with music. It’s incredibly humbling to think about the enormous impact music can have on society and how it makes us feel about what’s happening in the real world. All that being said, it’s still really hard to sum up in words!
If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select for the performance?
The first half would be Barber’s Essay No. 1 for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. After intermission, the second half would be Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht for strings and Ravel’s Boléro. Some of my favorite moments performing with the Nashville Symphony have been when we’ve played Boléro. There’s so much anticipation that you can sense from the audience, and people become ecstatic, like they’re in a trance!
Other pieces I’d love for the Nashville Symphony to perform include Schoenberg’s Pelléas and Mélisande, Webern’s Passacaglia for Orchestra and Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10. Non-classical artists I’d love to perform with the orchestra include Umphrey's McGee, Keller Williams and The Infamous Stringdusters.
What’s been the highlight of your time with the Nashville Symphony?
There are so many: Every Mahler Symphony we’ve ever performed — Giancarlo Guerrero does them very well. Strauss’ Don Quixote with Yo-Yo Ma. Leonard Slatkin conducting Symphonie Fantastique during my first season with the NSO. Every time we’ve done Beethoven’s Ninth. Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloé. Our trip to Carnegie Hall in 2012. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. Concertos with Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten are also at the top.
My favorite pops concerts and special events with orchestra include Willie Nelson, Boyz II Men, Cherryholmes and our “Music of” tribute concerts to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. Getting to play with Ben Folds was a real thrill, both when we performed with him at TPAC and when he premiered his Piano Concerto on our Classical Series. I also really enjoyed our “Classical Americana” special with Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas and others. We have such a wealth of musicians in town, and getting to play with them is incredible. You don’t get that in other cities.
What would you most like people to know about the Nashville Symphony?
Being the orchestra in Music City is a huge responsibility. Each year we raise the bar higher and higher, not only with our musicianship, but also with our programming, which appeals to the diverse musical tastes that exemplify Music City. If anyone’s had a negative thought about what it’s like to go to the symphony, they might want to reinvestigate it. Everybody can find something to enjoy here.
I also want people to know that, as musicians, we have so many varying musical influences. That adds a human element people might not be aware of. In addition to classical music, we listen to rock, jazz, bluegrass, funk and other genres — just like many of the people in our audience.
Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I have a summer job with Santa Fe Opera, which is a 10-week festival and leaves me with very little time in between seasons, so I really enjoy my time off when I’m in Nashville. That being said, there are a few local groups that I enjoy playing with regularly, which include the Gateway Chamber Orchestra and my regular seasonal gigs at Belmont United Methodist Church.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I enjoy practicing at home, and I like exercising, going to the gym and anything outdoors — running, hiking, mountain biking. I play a lot of disc golf with Music City Disc Golf Club. I follow MLB pretty closely, and I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. I also love cooking, brewing beer, gardening, laying in the hammock and spending time with my partner, Kristen.
What do you like about living in Nashville?
Before I came to Nashville, I moved around a lot — Hawaii, Portland, St. Louis, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chicago, to mention some. I was ready to have a home, and Nashville has become more and more of a home ever since I’ve been here. I have a lot of friends here. Nashville has a great music culture, and I love going out to see live music, especially bands that improvise and have a really deep connection with the music. I learn from that, and it inspires me. I love the fact that we have a growing craft beer scene, and we have some of the best disc golf courses in the country.
What have you been reading lately?
Andre Agassi’s biography Open was really interesting. I was a big fan of his growing up, and it was interesting to learn about what really went on behind the scenes in his career. He’s one of those human beings who seem bigger than life, and you learn that life’s often more difficult for those people than you’d expect — they have to overcome their share of adversity.
Right now, I’m reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow, and Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and John J. Palmer’s How to Brew are always open at my house.
Do you enjoy listening to music?
More times than not, I have music on, although there are times when silence is more desirable. I listen to a lot of non-classical music in my spare time, including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Phish, Umphrey’s McGee, The Grateful Dead, The New Mastersounds, Bob Marley, The String Cheese Incident, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, The Infamous Stringdusters, Talking Heads, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Weather Report and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, just to name some. I have SiriusXM radio, which I listen to in the car, and my favorite station is Jam On.