Musician Profile: Gerald Greer, Associate Concertmaster, joined in 1991, from Hampton, Virginia

Gerald Greer with Miranda Lambert

Gerald Greer with Miranda Lambert

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! 12 dogs, three horses, six miniature donkeys, four llamas, two rescue pigs, 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.

Backstage Holiday decorating at the SSC!

Gerald Greer, Brad Mansell, Ali Hoffman, Isabel Bartles, Liz Stewart, Dan Reinker, John Maple, Judith Ablon and Laura Ross took decorating into their own hands backstage at the Schermerhorn. We’ve got that holiday spirit!





Musician Profile: Hunter Sholar, French Horn, joined in 2007, from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

hsholarHow 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 it’s 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?
Gustav Mahler.

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 Trey Anastasio (#treyanastasio), Umphrey’s McGee (#umphreysmcgee), Keller Williams (#kellermusician), and The Infamous Stringdusters (#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.

Our new Principal Timpanist, Joshua Hickman

Joshua Hickman, Timpanist

Joshua Hickman, Timpanist

The Musicians of the Nashville Symphony would like to introduce you our new Principal Timpanist, Joshua Hickman. Joshua was raised in Prospect, Ohio which lies an hour north of Columbus. While he began playing percussion in 5th grade, he was planning on majoring in psychology. He decided to major in Music Composition at Capital University in Columbus. Upon meeting the Principal Timpanists of the Columbus Symphony, Joshua decided to dedicate himself to percussion, especially the Timpani. He went on to the University of Maryland for his Master’s and is in process of his doctoral degree.

Joshua has a wealth of orchestra experience having performed with Columbus, San Francisco, National, Winnipeg, Baltimore, and Richmond symphonies. He tells us the move from College Park, Maryland to Nashville was relatively easy, and he is enjoying his new home. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to alternative rock, reading, composing, and golf.

Please join us in welcoming Joshua to our orchestra and our city.

Our new Assistant Principal Cellist – Kevin Bate

Kevin Bate, Cello

Kevin Bate, Cello

The Musicians of the Nashville Symphony would like to introduce you our new Assistant Principal Cellist, Kevin Bate. Kevin comes from Brookfield, Wisconsin near Milwaukee where he began playing cello at age 9. Kevin attended the University of Wisconsin, and then went to Germany to attend the Freiburg Conservatory. He studied under the famous cellist Janos Starker at Indiana University and also attended DePauw University in Indiana.

He has held the position of Artist-in-Residence for the Evansville Philharmonic and has played as a sub with the cello sections of the Indianapolis and Detroit symphonies. Kevin comes to Nashville with his wife, violinist Jung Min Shin, and their 10-month old daughter, Liana. When not playing the cello or being a new dad, Kevin enjoys making wine and beer, plus he has recently taken up the hobby of geocaching. He tells us he is impressed with the wealth of live music of all genres that occurs in Nashville.

Please join us in welcoming Kevin to our orchestra and our city.

New Assistant Principal Cello – Kevin Bate

The cello section welcomes our new assistant principal cellist, Kevin Bate! He played his first concert with us tonight. Left to right, Matt Walker, Steve Drake, Lynn Peithman, Chris Stenstrom, Keith Nicholas, Brad Mansell, Anthony Lamarchina, and Kevin Bate.


Musician Profile: Judith Ablon, Viola, joined in 1995, from Brooklyn, New York

Judith Ablon, Viola

Judith Ablon, Viola

What led you to play the viola?
I started playing the viola shortly before I entered graduate school. I made the decision to switch from the violin, and I haven’t looked back. There was something about the rich, chocolatey sound of the viola that made me feel like I’d finally found my voice. The violas, from our spot in the middle of the orchestra, have a way of filling in the cracks, of holding the top and bottom together. It’s a wonderful position to be in. You may not always hear us, but you’d sure miss us if we weren’t there.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
My parents had a recorder ensemble, and I can remember them rehearsing at our house when I was a young child. We also went camping a lot, and my dad would bring a guitar and sing songs by Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie and other folksingers.

What’s your most memorable experience as a performer?
Copland’s Third Symphony with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in the late 1980s. He wanted us to play the piece in a sexier way, so he made up lyrics for the theme: “I love the way my baby talks, I love the way my baby walks….” Now I can’t hear the piece without hearing him singing that.

What makes the Nashville Symphony unique?
Our focus on performing new American music. I loved the “American Encores” initiative we did in the first two concert seasons after the Schermerhorn opened in 2006: every Classical Series concert featured an American work that had already been premiered, but hadn’t received any or many performances since then. In general, I enjoy the breadth of our programming and would love to see us perform even more contemporary American music.

What do you like about being in the Nashville Symphony?
The orchestra’s seating configuration was rearranged this season, and now the violas sit at the outside of the stage. I like being closer to the audience. When we take our bows, we have a chance to make eye contact with people, and when they smile at us, I like to smile back.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to do what I do. It’s so close to our hearts, sometimes we forget that it’s work.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I perform every summer at the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival. When I first joined the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was a young member of the Omaha Symphony. Three orchestras, four cities and many years later, I still find myself drawn to return summer after summer to this very special place of beauty, friendship and glorious music making. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but in a sense, it always feels like a homecoming.

Each summer, I leave Nashville a week before the season winds down, and I come home about a week before the new season starts. Some of my colleagues think I’m crazy to do it, because I don’t get much time off, but I grow so much during those summer months. I stay in shape, learn more repertoire, and I’ve formed many personal connections with people from all over the United States.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you (or near you) onstage?
One summer when I was performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was sitting in front of the percussion section during rehearsals and performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Not only was the sound of the hammer like nothing I’d ever experienced before, but the great wit of the percussion section was on display when I glanced behind me to find a watermelon sitting atop the giant box (in rehearsal, of course), as if ready to be smashed to pieces!

Do you teach?
I teach private lessons. I see teaching as an opportunity to think about the mechanics of playing. When you’re teaching something, you’re thinking about how you do it, and that’s really helpful to my own playing.

What part of town do you live in?
I live in East Nashville. I like it because I can walk to anything I want — restaurants, the grocery, the post office. I live close enough that I can ride my bike to work, which I do sometimes. I also live close to Shelby Park, and I enjoy riding my bike in Shelby Bottoms.

Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
When I’m at home, I welcome the opportunity for silence. When I’m driving, that’s when I listen to music. On Saturday nights after concerts, I love listening to the NPR program American Roots on my way home. Other times, I’ll plug in my iPod and put it on shuffle. I always have something on in the car — frequently it’s a book, but I’ve also got some of my son Josh’s music, along with things I enjoy listening to, like Stephen Sondheim, Diana Krall and k.d. lang, to name just a few.

If I hadn’t become a musician, I would’ve been a…
…doctor. I went to a math and science high school in New York, and I went back and forth about whether to go into medicine or whether to pursue music.

Celebrating Milestones – Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Nashville Symphony

Laura Ross has written a great mini-history of the symphony. This appeared in The Nashville Musician magazine. (click images to see full size)

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 1

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 1

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 2

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 2

Musician Profile: Clare Yang, Viola, joined in 1995, from Bloomington, Indiana

Clare Yang, Viola

Clare Yang, Viola

How did you first get into music?
I am a musician largely because of my parents and their love of classical music. My father was an amateur violinist and later took up the er-hu (a Chinese violin with two strings), and my mom was actually a piano performance major. She taught us the piano at home, which started for me around the age of 3, and throughout my childhood my mother, sister and I played piano trios — Mozart, Beethoven and later Brahms. That is where my deep love of chamber music started, and that’s helped me tremendously throughout my career. After all, what is an orchestra but a giant chamber ensemble when it is functioning at its best?

How did you choose the viola?
My sister, who is a year older, started violin in fifth grade, and I wanted to be just like her and play the same instrument by the time I got to middle school. Of course, she didn’t like that very much, so she took up the cello once I started violin. I actually didn’t switch to the viola until high school, when a new youth chamber orchestra needed viola players. I decided to give it a try, and once I did, that was it. There was no turning back! There are many jokes between musicians about why a viola is better than a violin, but for me, it was the instrument’s warm, deep and rich sound that I fell in love with. I much prefer the darker mezzo sound it creates; to me, it is the string instrument that sounds most like the human voice.

I also like the viola because it is more of a supporting instrument. I much prefer being in the background rather than the lead, and viola players provide the foundation and middle support in the orchestra. If a piece of music is a building, the viola section is the scaffolding.

Who would you consider your biggest musical inspiration?
My teacher at Indiana University and the former principal violist for The Cleveland Orchestra, Abraham Skernick, immediately comes to mind — not only a fantastic musician, but an amazing person. Many of my instructors on the faculty at Indiana were former Cleveland Orchestra players. They all had such a pure love and joy for music-making that really rubbed off on me.

What is it like to perform at the Schermerhorn? Describe how it feels on a concert night.
Concert nights are always fun for me to look around and enjoy the diversity of our audience. I am especially happy to see students and sometimes very young children who attend with their families. There is a warmth onstage that is really comforting for me. You feel surrounded by support when you look out and see the audience, and that’s truly an inspiration.

I recently got to experience a classical concert night as an audience member, which was a first for me. When we were doing Mahler’s Ninth, I came down with the flu and missed all of the rehearsals. I couldn’t perform, so I attended one of the concerts. It was a completely different experience for me — it literally blew me away and moved me to tears! It really reinforced that all of the hard work and preparation that goes on behind the scenes really shines through in the final performances. There is an intimacy that is inherent in the Schermerhorn that I hadn’t fully realized until I was an audience member that night. After that experience, I always try to look out and find someone to try to connect with and play to; it is so rewarding to see the smiles of enjoyment in the audience.

What is your fondest memory of playing with the Nashville Symphony?
We played Sibelius’ Second Symphony at Cheekwood with Kenneth Schermerhorn in the early 2000s, and it was incredible. Sibelius’ music is so vast, and maximizing the effect of that sound was part of Kenneth’s genius — he was actually awarded the Sibelius Medal in 1979 by the Finnish government for his outstanding performance of works by the composer. The No. 2 was the perfect piece to play outside, sending those notes and melodies out into a vast landscape with no bounce-back, exactly how that music is supposed to be played.

Do you perform or teach outside of your work with the orchestra?
Right now I’m teaching adjunct at Lipscomb University. Before I had my daughter, I taught more frequently at various schools throughout Nashville, but obviously there’s not as much time to do so when you’re a parent. I’ve played in a number of chamber groups outside the Nashville Symphony throughout the years, including most recently the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, and also do occasional session work and weddings.

What do you do when you’re not playing and teaching?
I have a 13-year-old daughter who is a trumpet player and a great one at that — she was recently the first chair trumpet player in the MTSBOA Mid-State Gold Band! Being a parent is actually a tough balancing act with the symphony schedule. Most people might not realize the backwards lifestyle we have, as we are always working when most people are off — i.e., weekends/evenings, which means some weeks, especially when we rehearse all week with the choir in the evenings, I hardly get to see my daughter at all.

I love anything outdoors — kayaking, hiking, biking. I love all of Nashville’s greenways and recently discovered the trails at Beaman Park. When I can, I try to catch up on some Netflix shows, including West Wing, House of Cards and Mad Men, to name a few. Also, I’ve been trying to slowly sample some of the many restaurants that are part of Nashville’s exploding culinary scene.

Do you listen to music on your own time?
I definitely need my fair share of quiet time at home after doing such a noisy job, but I love listening to jazz — Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the like.

What would you like the public to know about the Nashville Symphony that they might not know?
It takes a tremendous sacrifice in a way to do our jobs, whether it is the time it takes to prepare the music, the physical demands of each individual instrument, or the weekends/evenings away from our families to play the concerts. I will also say that the Symphony’s financial crisis of a few years ago certainly made me rethink my entire outlook and my job. I’ve realized that getting to play in a world-class orchestra is not something to be taken for granted. Rather, it’s a real privilege and honor to be able to play with such an amazing group of musicians in an incredible concert hall and get to share our love of music with Nashville.

Celebrating the careers of Julia Tanner and Bill Wiggins

This past weekend we celebrated the careers of two of our members who are retiring at the end of the season. Julia Tanner and William Wiggins have both been with us for a very long time, and they will be missed. A presentation was made before our Friday night concert, and a reception was held afterwards.

Besides being fantastic musicians, Julia and Bill are our dear friends and trusting mentors. We really can’t imagine the Nashville Symphony without them. When not on stage, they have dedicated countless hours to promoting the symphony, classical music, and music education. Simply put, the Nashville Symphony would not be what it is today without their efforts. They have made it clear to us that are not finished with their work in making Music City live up to its name, and we are increasingly inspired to do the same.