“This is what I do”: veteran conductor, musician appointed director of the Piedmont Wind Symphony | New
âGrowing up, it was music or baseball. I had a little better luck in music, âsays Mark Norman, the new artistic director and conductor of the Piedmont Wind Symphony, of the origin of his dedication and passion for music.
Norman, a professional tuba player and conductor, who served as director of instrumental ensembles and artist professor at the UNC School of the Arts, began working for the Piedmont Wind Symphony in February.
âAs much as I enjoy leading a varsity group, I knew I always wanted to go back to having a professional group as well, and now that’s it,â Norman said.
The Piedmont Wind Symphony, created in 1990 by Rob Simon, a Granger scholar and a group of local musicians, music teachers and students, was formed to play a demanding repertoire for wind ensembles.
“What spurred this organization on was Rob’s vision to have this wonderful professional wind orchestra in this area, and he has survived all these years very well,” Norman said of the ensemble who usually has around 50 musicians.
After Simon stepped down in 2015, conductor, musician and educator Matthew Troy took his place until early 2020.
âThe Piedmont Wind Symphony has served this community very well,â he said.
According to Norman, he had a “start to the race” in the new position.
In October 2020, the board of directors of the Piedmont Wind Symphony approached him to carry out a Beethoven project after receiving a grant to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth as part of a community campaign “Beethoven Rocks” . Norman agreed to put together a program focused on the iconic composer, resulting in a three-part film series.
The project, named “Beethoven and the Winds”, includes music inspired by Beethoven, a tribute to him, and a wind ensemble from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
The production went âfantastically,â Norman said, and that’s when they offered him the job of music director. While Norman began his new role in February, it wasn’t made public until two months later.
âI knew I wanted to be the next Music Director, and I’m just glad they wanted me to be the next Music Director,â he said.
Simon is also delighted that Norman is taking on the role, stating that he will take the Piedmont Wind Symphony to the next level.
âHe knows the repertoire and stays on top of new compositions to keep the growth of a versatile lineup,â said Simon. âMusicians love Mark because he knows what he wants and what he’s doing. I love Mark, his style, his experience, his understanding of where PWS came from and where it was going. “
According to Norman, his father was the catalyst for him to start playing music. Although Norman wouldn’t describe his family as inclined to music, his father was a wonderful harmonica player.
âHe was playing the harmonicaâ¦ and I realized I really liked it,â he said.
In second grade, Norman picked up the guitar while living in Florida. After his family moved to High Point, where he grew up, Norman auditioned for his school band.
âI heard someone play the trumpet and wanted to play the trumpet, and then later my best friend switched from trumpet to tuba because he had braces,â Norman said. âWe were the first and second chair trumpeters in our group, and suddenly I was like he was going to change, I am going to change. “
The sound of the tuba inspired him.
He has attended many summer music camps, such as those organized by the University of North Carolina (UNCG) and East Carolina State University.
âTo be a professional musician, it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hours; I have always liked to practice. So I had no problem training four to six hours a day, âsaid Norman.
After his second year in high school, he knew he would become a musician.
At 18, Norman was a backup tuba player for the Greensboro Symphony, Winston-Salem, Charlotte and North Carolina Symphony.
He began his full-time professional career at age 22 with the US Navy Band in Washington DC. Norman played for the group for four years but remained in the area for 14 years, launching his career as a conductor.
âI like to say that in the 1990s, I turned to the dark side of conducting,â Norman joked.
He started conducting covers, following the conductor and knowing the score if the conductor cannot work, for one of the orchestras in which he played.
In 1993, he founded the Loudoun Symphonic Winds and, in 1997, the Riverside Wind Symphony. In 1998, he was appointed Music Director of the Professional American Wind Orchestra.
From there he began his career as a college conductor. He conducted the marching bands and orchestra at Towson University before returning to the state in 2002. While musical director of the Greensboro Concert Band and director of wind ensembles at the UNC School of the Arts , he completed his undergraduate studies, obtained his Masters degree and Doctor of Musical Arts in Orchestral Conducting from UNCG.
He would become the group director at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas; Visiting Professor of Conducting at the University of Michigan; and a faculty member of the Peck School for the Arts at UW-Milwaukee before he and his wife purchased the Charlotte Music School.
âLooks like we bought a zoo, but we bought a music school,â he said.
In 2016, Norman became director of wind ensembles at UNCSA. In 2020, he was appointed director of instrumental ensembles and conductor artist at UNCSA.
Norman, who lives in Pfafftown with his wife Amanda, said there were challenges and exciting times as a conductor, dubbing the conductor the “ultimate multitasking,” who often voices music to the musicians. musicians, listen to the music, compare it to a previous score study, and communicate it to the ensemble.
âIt’s our job as conductors, it’s to make the most of the ensemble in front of us,â Norman said.
Like anything else, good behavior comes from constant practice.
âThe more you do it, the more you get on the podium, the better you do it,â he said.
Norman’s favorite part of his job is the collaborative nature and hearing everyone “in sync”. Conducting requires a great relationship with musicians, Norman said, adding: “musicians make music, we encourage them”.
âThere is no such thing as a large ensemble because we are able to create something much bigger than any of us could do individually,â Norman said. “The collective sound of what we do is unbeatable.”
Norman’s vision for the symphony is to become the wind ensemble authority for the state of North Carolina. Part of that vision, Norman said, includes incorporating Simon’s goal of being an example for other groups in embracing classical and newer music to create a “new soundscape.” In addition, it wishes to get closer to composers and young audiences while expanding educational programming, especially for young people.
“I feel like we are about to take a big step forward to help lead the movement of the group in this state which is already so active, and I think we can still do more,” said Norman.
The ensemble’s new season begins in the fall, but will bring a creative touch to their work. According to Norman, the ensemble will perform in a variety of authentic settings, such as a church instead of a concert hall, but they will collaborate with other art forms such as film, bring in guest artists, and plan to do more community performances.
âOur first gig will be about the joy of making music together,â Norman said.
For more information, a schedule or ticket sales, www.piedmontwindsymphony.com.