My Summers of Music in the
by Cale Self, assistant professor of music
When the final chord of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” was released, the audience of more than 2,000 responded by filling the brisk North Carolina air with thunderous applause.
Cale Self, center, plays the euphonium during a July 2010 concert at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. Keith Lockhart, of the Boston Pops, was the conductor.
The maestro, Thomas Wilkins, of the Omaha Symphony, left the stage. When he returned, I was recognized with a soloist’s bow in an orchestra that included musicians from the Houston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Dallas, North Carolina and New Jersey orchestras. The chorus of cheers was enormous. Many of the cheers were from the 400-plus high school and college students that I watched over every day of the summer as the dean of students at the Brevard Music Center.
It was a rare moment of recognition for me at the music center. My position is a behind-the-scenes job, a completely non-musical gig at a place bristling with music. Music saturates every tree, creek and hill.
As a musician, I have performed with every program at the music center save for the opera company. But that’s not what I’m there to do. I spend my days managing musicians, the very best and brightest young artists in the music world. Most of them are superstars back home. Almost none of them have ever spent six weeks in the company of hundreds of other people of similar caliber. My staff and I must make sure they’re out of bed every day, in class, at rehearsals and doing their cabin chores to pull off the season’s 80 plus performances.
They live in cabins with 15 to 25 other students all summer long. Watching them learn how to work together and simply get along is one of my favorite facets of the gig. At the beginning of the summer, we tell them that learning to work with other people, to be a part of a team, and to sacrifice a small part of their individuality for the group will be just as important to their musical careers as how well they play their instruments. In today’s classical music world, that is certainly truer than it has ever been.
This summer marked my fifth at the music center and my third as the dean of students. Previously, I spent my summers recovering from long academic years taking workshops and teaching at the annual band camp at my alma mater, West Texas A&M University. I had held that position since the summer after my sophomore year, 1998.
But my move to Georgia in 2005 to pursue my doctorate changed all that. Since UGA doesn’t offer summer classes for doctoral music students, I needed to find a way to make ends meet during the summer months. I began a furious search for a summer job. I called every music festival I could find, hoping they would need a euphonium teacher for their festival bands. No luck.
Just as I ran out of festivals, I found the Brevard Music Center’s website. One of my advisors, Jean Martin-Williams, professor of horn and director of the Lily Teaching Fellows Program at UGA, was on the faculty. She put me in touch with the festival’s administrator, who told me there were no open faculty positions. But she encouraged me to send in my CV anyway. My search continued.
Just as I was losing hope of finding a musical job for the summer, Dr. Bruce Murray, Brevard’s artistic dean and administrator, called me back. There were still no faculty jobs open. But after reading my CV and noticing my experience as a high school band director and at WTAMU’s band camp, he inquired if I’d be interested in a position in student life. My response was a quick and resounding yes. I worked two summers as an assistant dean working with college students. In 2008 he offered me the dean’s position. I’ve had the job ever since.
Now, Brevard has become my home away from home, my family away from my UWG family. Every summer more than 400 students from all over the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries come to BMC to study, work and perform with an all-star lineup of artist faculty -- a Who’s Who in American orchestras and universities. And, occasionally, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to play alongside them as well. I’ve been a regular performer with BMC’s high school wind band, the Transylvania Symphonic Band since I first started working at the music center.
My first opportunity for play with the faculty orchestra didn’t come until the 2008 season finale. And it wasn’t even on my instrument. Leos Janacek’s “Sinfonietta” calls for the seldom-used bass trumpet, an instrument more commonly found in the opera pit orchestra rather than on stage. It is twice as long as a typical trumpet and it is rarely played. Stravinsky’s popular “Rite of Spring” is its most frequent caller. Because most trombone players are not proficient on valved instruments, it often falls to euphoniumists to play it.
Although I had only three weeks with the instrument to figure it out, the performance closing Brevard’s 2008 season under Steven Smith, of the Richmond and Santa Fe orchestras, was a resounding success.
One of my favorite memories of that concert was playing alongside timpanist Charles Ross, of the Rochester Philharmonic and the Eastman School of Music. At one point, noticing the difficulty I was having projecting my sound on the awkward instrument, he remarked, “Just play as loud as you can. I’m going to beat the heck out of these things.”
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of performing with the orchestras at BMC three more times, including the Mussorgsky this past July. I’ve performed under JoAnn Falletta, of the Rochester and Virginia orchestras, and BMC’s Artistic Director Keith Lockhart, of the Boston Pops and Utah Orchestras. I’ve shared the stage with hundreds of wonderful musicians in my short time at Brevard.
Since I’m not there to be a musician, it’s an honor to be asked to play professionally with them. That level of trust and respect from some of America’s finest musicians is something that I’ll never forget and never take for granted.
If you’re looking for something to do during the summer, I encourage you to make the short four-hour drive up to the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. The combination of music, scenery and camaraderie that Brevard possesses makes it a truly special place.
I’m proud to be a part of it.
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