The board of directors of the Piedmont Wind Symphony in Winston-Salem recently hired Mark A. Norman as the organization’s music director and conductor.
He replaces Matthew Troy, who left the position in early 2020 to lead the Western Piedmont Symphony in Hickory.
Norman has more than 30 years of experience as a conductor and tuba performer. He has been working closely with the Piedmont Wind Symphony on a recording project since late 2020, but his first day on the job as music director/conductor was Feb. 26.
He is also director of Instrumental Ensembles and a conducting faculty artist at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“As one of the only professional wind ensembles in the U.S., we had a very specific wish list — someone with deep knowledge of wind repertoire, a deft hand at the baton, and a stirring passion that will inspire our musicians and patrons to new heights,” Mark Vaders, president and chief executive of the Piedmont Wind Symphony, said. “Mark Norman is the perfect fit, a world-class conductor and educator whose creative leadership will carry the Piedmont Wind Symphony out of the pandemic and on to our next stage of evolution.”
Vaders said the pandemic gave the organization a chance to regroup.
“It gave us time to kind of circle the wagons and figure out what our next steps were going to be and plan how to rebuild and get going again,” he said.
The recording sessions for the organization’s recording project happened in January, and Norman was hired shortly after that.
“We had such a good experience working with him,” said Vaders, who is also an attorney with Womble Bond Dickinson. “The musicians all loved him, and he clearly knew his way around the wind repertoire and was great to work with as a conductor.”
The Piedmont Wind Symphony was created in 1990 by Rob Simon, the president of Windsor Jewelers, based in Winston-Salem. After 25 years as the wind symphony’s music director/conductor, Simon decided to step down from the podium in 2015, a couple of years after he opened a second jewelry store in Charlotte. He was replaced by Troy.
Today, the Piedmont Wind Symphony has about 70 core musicians, but most of its performances include about 45 players.
Simon said he and Andy Schneider, former president of the Piedmont Wind Symphony’s board, were interested in Norman as a replacement for Simon years ago, but the timing wasn’t right back then.
“Both he (Schneider) and I have been talking, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that the timing has worked out now for Mark Norman to be the music director,” Simon said.
Tuba player, conductor
Norman, who grew up in High Point and graduated from Thomasville High School, has lived and worked throughout the United States and guest conducted internationally. He received a bachelor’s degree in music performance and a master’s degree and doctorate of musical arts in instrumental conducting at UNCG.
He is the former music director of American Wind Orchestra and Riverside Wind Symphony and has been on the conducting faculties of the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, UNCG, Washburn University and Towson University. He is a frequent guest conductor with professional and academic ensembles.
Norman, 55, began his professional career in the 1980s as a frequent substitute tubist with North Carolina, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem symphonies. At the age of 22, he won a position with the U.S. Navy Band in Washington, D.C., where he lived for 14 years and was principal tuba with Georgetown Symphony, McLean Orchestra and Mount Vernon Chamber Symphony.
During that time, an orchestra he was playing in asked him to do some conducting which started that part of his career.
Later, he got more guest spots as a conductor and founded some of his own ensembles.
“Eventually I was asked to conduct a professional ensemble — the American Wind Orchestra,” Norman said. “That’s when I knew I was going to be a conductor and not so much a tuba player anymore.”
He likes to put it this way: “During the ‘90s is when I went from being a tuba player, and I turned to the dark side of conducting,” he said, laughing.
After one year of conducting the bands and orchestra at Towson University in Maryland, Norman returned to North Carolina in 2002 to complete his bachelor’s degree at UNCG and stayed to earn his master’s degree and doctorate. During that time, he held jobs as the music director of Greensboro Concert Band and director of Wind Ensembles at UNCSA.
In 2009, he was named the director of bands at Washburn University in Kansas. He has also worked as a visiting professor of conducting at the University of Michigan and was on the faculty at Peck School for the Arts at UW-Milwaukee.
In February 2014, during a winter day in Ann Arbor, Mich., Norman and his wife, Amanda Norman, opened the door to their condo to find snow piled up about 3 feet over their heads.
Norman said: “She turned around and looked and me and said, ‘So when are you getting me back to North Carolina?’”
Norman and his wife, who is the chief financial officer for Winston-Salem Symphony, moved back to North Carolina in 2016. The Normans live in Pfafftown and are the owners of the Charlotte Music School.
Taking the helm
Norman said he is honored and excited about his new job with Piedmont Wind Symphony.
“Having been a conductor and performer with professional wind bands for over 30 years, I am thrilled to work with such fantastic musicians and staff,” Norman said. “We have so much to offer the Piedmont arts community, and I look forward to sharing our ideas and plans for the future.
Ensembles under his direction have performed at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles conference, regional College Band Director National Association and the state music educators’ conferences in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Kansas. He is also the winner of several solo and chamber music competitions and was nominated for a Virginia Governor’s Award in Arts Excellence and a Grammy Award for co-producing the UNCG Wind Ensemble recording of “Fireworks.”
The video series Norman has been working on with Piedmont Wind Symphony is called “Beethoven and the Winds” and was recorded at UNCSA with sound engineer Chris Heckman. This full ensemble recording was put together without a full ensemble being in the room at the same time because of COVID-19 protocols.
“We had to record the woodwinds separate from the brass and separate from the percussion, so we had to do three different recording sessions,” Norman said. “We used, basically, the magic of recording. When you hear it, you hear the entire ensemble performing beautifully.”
The video series consists of three videos: Fantasia in G written by Timothy Mahr, who quotes Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony; March No. 1 in F (Yorckscher Marsch) — Ludwig van Beethoven and “Geschwindmarsch” — Paul Hindemith, who quotes the Beethoven March; and Symphony No. 7 — Ludwig van Beethoven arranged for Harmonie (wind ensemble) under Beethoven’s guidance by Wenzel Sedlak.
“Beethoven and the Winds,” which is a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, will premiere April 18 on Piedmont Wind Symphony’s website at www.piedmontwindsymphony.com.
The first video was chosen for the fact that it quotes Beethoven and is a piece about joy.
“This was the first time that this organization has been back together since the whole COVID pandemic hit, and we wanted to have a piece express that,” Norman said.
He said his job at UNCSA has always felt like a perfect fit.
“When Piedmont Wind Symphony called me, it felt like the same thing with UNCSA,” Norman said. “It felt like a perfect fit.”
He said doing the recording in January confirmed it for him.
“It’s about the players and the people,” Norman said. “That’s what makes it special. Because a lot of people can make music, but when you make music together with people who have a commitment to the art like these musicians do, that’s what makes it so special.”