In 1972, I was having a private lesson with Dr. Erwin C. Mueller, my percussion teacher at Ball State University. Transferring to Ball State in the Winter semester, I was having my 2nd or 3rd lesson with him–when the phone rang. It seemed that the principal percussionist of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic had fallen very ill, the day before a crucial romantic music festival concert at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis. The phone call to Dr. Mueller was to see if he could fill in for the fallen percussionist.
He hung up the phone and told me that I should go to Indianapolis, play the dress rehearsal and performance. Although I was just 19 years old at the time, I came with several years of experience with various community and regional orchestras around Chicago and beyond. Playing orchestral percussion was my focus in life–at that time.
I played the dress rehearsal and concert, and the conductor Thomas Briccetti was impressed–offering me a section position with the orchestra. I played section percussion there from 1972-74 while finishing my undergraduate degree at Ball State.
Thomas Briccetti played a big part in my life. After finding out that I had Hungarian ancestry, he suggested that if I learned the cimbalom part to Kodaly’s Hary Janos Suite he would program it with the Omaha Symphony (he added that orchestra to his directorships). So in 1981 I played the part–and continued to make recordings and do performances to this day. Actually, not as many performances these days as my day job (as Dean of CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media) takes a great deal of time, energy and effort.
Thomas Briccetti always remembered my filling in on a major concert with his Fort Wayne Orchestra. He recommended me to played extra percussion in the Omaha Symphony while I was percussion teacher at Drake University in Des Moines. We had coffee together in the late 80’s while I was doctoral student at the University of Michigan and he was visiting Ann Arbor. He taught me a great deal about music and loyalty.