To say the volunteer musicians of the Piedmont Wind Symphony are passionate about what they perform would be an understatement. Their infatuation reverberates against the walls of the venues in which they play. It can be heard in every note, seen in every jaunty snap and flip of the conductor’s baton, and felt every time the group warms up its instruments with oscillating anticipation before the start of a show.
There’s got to be something electric in the air that has led to the organization’s success. And this year brings with it even more excitement as the Piedmont Wind Symphony celebrates its 25th season.
“I just like to get out there and know we’re going to run it down from start to finish and make a great show,” says conductor Rob Simon, who founded the symphony in 1990. “And I love the adrenaline rush that sort of everybody has, that live frenetic energy that happens out there.”
Prior to founding the Piedmont Wind Symphony, Simon taught private lessons to students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and coaching them in small ensembles. He was approached to start a larger symphony there, which later became independent.
During the symphony’s December 11 concert, he will take his final bow as conductor.
“It’s been a great love and a great passion,” he says. “I’m at the point where I think somebody else coming in with fresher ideas and energy can take the group to the next level.”
Simon loves the instant gratification that comes with shaping music into something new. It’s a sentiment that is also mirrored by those who work alongside him.
David Legette, who has been with the symphony for 22 years and plays the saxophone, says he has enjoyed witnessing the symphony’s repertoire take shape over time.
“It continues to grow and evolve and search for new ways of expression,” Legette says. “I think the future will allow for growth in that continued track.”
For a regional wind symphony to have such a strong talent pool like this one is unique, especially given members’ willingness to give up so much of their spare time to music —after their briefcases from their day jobs hit the kitchen counter.
“It’s rewarding to see people so passionate about their skill and their art, to find time in their schedules to really work at it, and make it possible for other people to enjoy it as well,” says Cheryl Kingman, the executive director of the symphony.
To Simon, it comes down to fostering an artistic culture that inspires members to perform the highest level of music possible since “nothing worthwhile happens and exists without a lot of work,” he says.
For many of the members who teach music as a profession, being in the Piedmont Wind Symphony presents the rare opportunity to step outside their leadership roles and simply throw themselves into the music.
“It keeps them on their toes with their teaching,” Simon says.
It doesn’t hurt that the symphony also often ropes in big-name acts for its annual guest artist concert. In the past, saxophonist Kenny G, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and singer Neil Sedaka have performed with the group.
As for this year, the symphony will welcome Grammy-winning rock group America to perform some of its best hits like “Horse with No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair” on December 11.
Aside from the collaborative performance with America, Simon is also excited to share “Lincolnshire Posy,” a piece by Australian-born composer Percy Grainger, with the audience. Simon considers it to be his “lifelong work” since he researched it as a student and helped update the piece in the 1980s.
Just as the love for music runs deep among members of the symphony, so does their appreciation for the camaraderie the symphony fosters because without it, the music wouldn’t be nearly as good.
“It really is one of those team approaches. It’s not about me. It’s about creating this medium that there was a lot of great repertoire written for,” Simon says. “Without groups like ours, a lot of these musicians might not have this high a level of organization to perform in, and a lot of that music might just not be being played.”
WANT TO GO?
Be there on December 11 as the Piedmont Wind Symphony celebrates its 25th season when it performs with America, a rock band that blends elements of multiple genres and boasts wide-open harmonies. During the first half of the performance, the symphony will play holiday tunes and other classical pieces. In the second half, the symphony will be joined by America. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. Tickets are $35-$75. To purchase, visit ticketmaster.com or call (800) 745-3000.
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