Violinist James Glazebrook will wrap up 30 years running Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute when he conducts the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra concert Friday evening.
Though he intends to retire from the Virginia Tech music faculty next year, Glazebrook said he won’t stop working with the budding young musicians in the youth orchestra anytime soon. “Of all the things I do and I’ve ever done, this is absolutely the favorite thing,” he said. “I think I’m best at it.”
Glazebrook, 79, has done a lot. An Arkansas native who grew up in San Diego, he first picked up the violin in fourth grade. He played in the San Diego Symphony even before he started college, and after graduating, spent years freelancing and teaching. In 1967, Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo, Colorado, invited him to join the music faculty. He became concertmaster for the Colorado Springs Orchestra before moving even farther east.
In 1975, he received another invitation to join a music faculty, at Virginia Tech, which, back then, “no one on the West Coast had ever heard of.” (Glazebrook shared that Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University had another nickname at the time, “Vippy-Sue,” which I as a card-carrying Hokie had never heard before and got a laugh from.) He joined the Roanoke Symphony when he arrived. He also became conductor of the New River Valley Symphony Orchestra.
He also served two stints as RSO’s concertmaster, from 1981 to 1984, and then again starting in 1986, when Victoria Bond, the first woman to receive a doctorate in conducting from the Juilliard School in New York, became RSO’s first paid conductor. Experienced in conducting youth orchestras from previous jobs, he applied for and landed the position of Roanoke youth orchestra conductor in 1988.
In California, “I had a long list of things that I did to make a living, one of which was teach high school. I had a high school orchestra for three years.”
In 2003, nine years after current RSO music director David Stewart Wiley took charge, Glazebrook chose to step down a rung, asking to move into the then-vacant assistant concertmaster’s chair. “I told David that it was time for another concertmaster. I felt like we needed a better violinist in that position than I am.” His maneuver paved the way for the hire of present concertmaster Akemi Takayama.
He often jokes that moving over one chair allowed him to share a musical stand with a much better partner. “I’m very proud of that decision.”
The Summer Music Institute is connected to the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra program. Members of RYSO and the youth string orchestras are expected to attend. The weeklong institute ends with a free public concert. “All the music they will perform has been learned in a week at camp, with the support of our awesome faculty,” said RSO Education Director Sarah Wardle Jones.
Reflecting on 30 years running the institute and conducting middle school and high school age musicians, “they’re all different yet they’re all the same,” he said.
“One of the things about working with young people is the constant change. They reach a certain point, and they leave, and then the people who are behind them have to step up in order to maintain the standards, and the new people who come in soon figure out how we do things,” he said. “They come and make music with us, and they meet one another and reinforce one another.”
The achievements of RYSO students after they graduate from the program matter a lot to Glazebrook.
“That’s really the kind of thing that keeps me in the game, seeing what our young people can do,” he said. “Some of our standouts go on to be professional musicians. We do have quite a few for a little town like this.”
He rattled off the prestigious accomplishments of several past members of the youth orchestra, first singling out harpist Rachel Lee Hall, now on the Hollins University faculty, who earlier this month won the $25,000 top prize in the Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition.
“On the other hand, there’s all those people who went on to become physicists and university professors and so on who continue to maintain their contact with music,” he said.
“To be honest, I think of that as being our main mission. It’s great we produce aspiring professionals, but really what we want to be is the agency through which people make contact with music in such a way that it impacts them as young people and encourages them to live a life in which music is an important part.”