Playing his horn for the Philadelphia Wind Ensemble

A Whitman musician plays with the all-volunteer Philadelphia Wind Ensemble, embarking
on its second season next week.

By Jess Fuerst

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 6, 2012

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Photo by Mike Muszynski

Every Tuesday, many of Philadelphia’s professionals — doctors and lawyers, included — show up with instruments in hand to practice for the Philadelphia Wind Symphony.

“We have this group made of people very much like myself, people who weren’t making a living playing — but there are some professionals and then there are amateurs,” Stephen Slater, who plays the French horn and serves as the director of development for the all-volunteer, 60-member group, said. “I love the diversity. It felt really enticing how diverse the group was.”

Founded by Virginia Allen two years ago, the all woodwind-, brass- and percussion-playing group has its season’s first concert 7 p.m. Tuesday at University of the Arts’ Gershman Hall.

“We have a guest conductor, Mr. [Brad] Genevro. He really wants to give Philadelphia a nice introduction to band literature — traditional marches interspersed with some really cool, great pieces by John Mackey,” Slater, from Sixth and Wolf streets, said. “Some is very jazz influenced; It really runs the gamut. There are diverse styles of music that you’ll hear, really cool combinations.”

A one-time professional musician, Slater moved behind the scenes into arts administration and then arts education, a position he still currently holds full-time with The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Philadelphia Wind Ensemble is a way for him, like so many others, to keep up with their craft and share it with a larger audience.

“When I moved here, I was working in arts administration with The Philadelphia Orchestra. I grew up performing and I have an undergraduate and master’s [degree] in performance,” the 33-year-old said. “I love being a part of behind-the-scenes work for the orchestra or an ensemble. But I really wanted to play in Philly. It was a performance opportunity, and every Tuesday it’s simply a great way to make sure I get the horn on my face.”

Despite busy schedules all of the members make time for weekly rehearsals. Each person also is responsible for the maintenance of their own instruments, though this can prove challenging for some of the sections of a wind ensemble.

“As the director of development for the Philadelphia Wind [Ensemble] I’m hoping to garner funds for the biggest push, which is to buy percussion equipment,” Slater said. “We’re all-volunteer, and no one gets paid. We do this out of the love of music. Percussion equipment is quite cumbersome and can be quite expensive. My first mission in the second season is to help buy some percussion.”

Despite the many expenses, the ensemble has been met with generosity from organizations, such as The University of the Arts, who donated the rehearsal space. The community aspect of the group is one of its most attractive qualities.

“I get to play with people who really are very passionate and this is not their job, which is something really cool. It’s a very cool vibe. I felt it in the first rehearsals,” he said. “There is a passion for performing and playing and while there are many wonderful opportunities in this city to see great music — this is an incredible city with a very classical music history — this is something a little more unique. You don’t see very many wind ensembles.”

Hailing from Atlanta, Ga., Slater took to music easily. He headed to New York City for an undergraduate education at Manhattan School of Music and then straight to a master’s degree — both in French horn performance — from University of Colorado at Boulder.

“I got a job with Tales & Scales, in the ensemble. We were a traveling ensemble of musicians that performed very specific music tales — stories using musical theater and dance to tell them, geared toward elementary and middle school.

“We traveled nationally and performed — in school and after-school programs — these one-hour long stories. It was really unique.”

His two years with the Evansville, Ind.- based, four-member group helped to foster a love for arts education that would lead him to his current job. Before that, however, Slater was given the opportunity to see more of the world.

“From there I went and played two months with the Macao Orchestra in China in 2009,” he said. “From there, I moved to Jerusalem, Israel, and played for two years, from 2009 to 2011.”

When the financial support that allowed him the work visa to play in Israel was no longer available, Slater returned to his home state and moved into arts administration, taking on the role of artistic coordinator with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

“With Alabama, it filled that musical component of my life, being around music and being a part of it. I was helping them make a better performance. I had a hand in the great concerts they had every week,” he said. “But also, I went to administration out of necessity.”

He secured a new job with The Philadelphia Orchestra in the same role, which he described as “guest artist liaison,” and moved to the area last year.

“I really liked Philadelphia. I feel like we all work — it’s a working-class city. To me, I see that as a really positive thing. I think you gain a lot of pride in your city because you work in it and you help make the city better in whatever job you’re doing,” he said.

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