Stephen Drake

Hometown: Ithaca, N.Y.
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1984

What inspired you to become a musician, and what drew you to the cello?
Both my parents were musicians to some degree. My mom is a composer and was a piano teacher, and my dad played accordion professionally at one point and still plays to this day. So I was always surrounded by music of various types. My mom was more classically oriented, while my dad was more popularly oriented. So the records in the house were all over the place.

I played piano first, and then picked up guitar and got pretty good at it. Cello just happened because there was a music program in my elementary school, and cello was one of the instruments they offered. It seemed cool, and I just went out on a limb and tried it.

Which composers write the best music for cello?
The three B’s: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms all have fantastic cello stuff. In the contemporary world, I’ve always liked the works of George Crumb and Peter Maxwell Davies, who write very nice cello parts.

What’s it like to work at the Nashville Symphony?
It’s a pretty amazing experience that I had no idea I was going to enjoy and keep doing for 30 years. The musicians of the symphony are all top-notch, amazing people, and I’m the luckiest person alive to get to play with them.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Perhaps the most memorable was a chamber orchestra concert the symphony was doing at St. George’s Episcopal Church one gorgeous spring day. We had the doors open, and it was just beautiful and going really well — and then a wasp stung me on the chin. For the last 10 minutes of the piece, all I could think was, “My gosh, this hurts. I can’t believe the pain.” My chin was swelling like crazy. As soon as the piece was finished, I ran offstage, but nobody in the audience had noticed.

Tell us about your family.
My wife works at the Center for Nonprofit Management, although she used to work for the Nashville Symphony, where I met her in the early ’90s. I have a teenage daughter who is an enthusiastic equestrian.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
The main person would be Jacqueline Du Pré; I went to a concert of hers in the late 1960s. She was a rock star of the cello world, and it was the first time I realized you could really do something with this instrument. Between seeing her and Rostropovich a few years later, that’s what drew me to the cello.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I enjoy geocaching, photography and building and playing synthesizers. You can see my photographs on my SmugMug page at I got interested in synthesizers back in the early 1970s, when I discovered that they were being made near where I lived, in Trumansburg, N.Y. I started learning about them in college, but the cello took over. There was a resurgence of interest in modular synths around 2000, and on a whim I bought a couple of modules and kits, started building my own, and it just kind of snowballed from there. A guy in Holland asked me to start building modules for him, and I ended up building a whole synthesizer for him. Now I’m busy building them for other people.

Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not working?
I grew up on progressive rock and classical music, so those are the main things. Maybe about one-third of the music I listen to is electronic music. It changes from week to week. I like a lot of the old stuff – I have box set of the band YES from their first 10 years together, which I’m making my way through right now.

Do you like to read?
I am a big science fiction fan. I like reading almost anything that Neil Stevenson writes.

What would you most like people in the audience to know about the Nashville Symphony?
The 84 members of the orchestra work together in close quarters many hours of the day each week. It’s different from many work environments in that we don’t have our own offices or work spaces. We’re in shoulder range of each other, and it kind becomes like a family because we have to be able to work together so closely. In order to do what we do, we have to get along well, so there is a whole social dynamic that is different than a lot of workplaces.