clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


WHEN CONDUCTOR Norman Leyden came to town last month to do a big-band concert with the Utah Symphony, he filled out the orchestra's ranks with some experienced non-symphonic musicians, all of whom were local. At the Intermountain Horn Workshop a few weeks later at the University of Utah, organizers called on pianist Jonathan Purvin to provide the recital accompaniments, as have many local chamber series before them. And when Utah State University choral director Will Kesling mounted his Rutter fest at Symphony Hall earlier this month, he was able to assemble a wholly professional orchestra without drawing on the Utah Symphony.

That's no surprise. This area has long been renowned for the quality of its musicians, professional and non-professional. What isn't so widely known is that many of the former - including some of the most visible - hold down other full-time professions not related to music.What's it like leading that kind of double life? And what leads to it in the first place? There must be many such stories in the not-so-naked city. Here are four of them:HERSCHEL BULLEN is an attorney, a partner in the firm of McDonald & Bullen, with offices on 500 South. But when he isn't preparing legal briefs, he can sometimes be found playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups around town.

"I pretty much do whatever comes up," Bullen says. Right now that means a couple of dates a year with the Jerry Floor Big Band, New Year's Eve at the Hilton with Dave Compton, a few private parties and the occasional jazz night at D.B. Coopers. However, together with around 50 hours a week as a legal eagle, even that makes for a pretty full schedule.

"It's always been sort of a schizophrenic life," Bullen acknowledges. "Even when I was a kid, I thought about being a lawyer. But when I was about 8 my dad brought his old sax up from the basement, dusted it off and handed it to me. He showed me how to hold it and how to finger it, and I just kind of took it from there."

He ended up taking it with him all the way through law school, from which he graduated - from the University of Utah - in 1969. Then about 10 years ago, with a new wife in tow, Bullen packed it in and headed off to California in search of a new life.

"I was spending so much time playing music, I just didn't feel like it anymore," he says. "I needed to do something else for a while." But two years later the Bullens were back. "I wanted to practice law and my wife decided she liked it here - she's originally from Brooklyn."

Working his way back into the music scene, he found, was a little tougher. "I found that I really missed it. But I'd gotten to the point where, if somebody called me to play a job, two problems cropped up. One, I couldn't play anymore because I never took the horn out of the case. The other was, if it was a casual job where people were calling out tunes, I didn't know them. I hadn't learned a new tune since the Carter administration! I realized I was going to have to get completely out or get back in."

These days Bullen says he tries to put in about an hour a day on the saxophone. "But in reality there may be two or three days in a row where I can't get to it at all. Sometimes, to my wife's dismay, I try to make up for it over the weekend."

At this point, he says, he has not tried to promote a great deal of what he calls "casual or club work for myself. But I know it's out there." He admits to having done a little studio work on the side, but says the ideal would probably be playing "maybe one, two nights a week and Sunday afternoons. There are a lot of guys doing that." Sometimes the main problem is just getting the word out. "Like on this Glenn Miller thing - somebody mentioned my name to the symphony, and they said, `You mean you want to do this?' "WHEN JONATHAN PURVIN plays, he also plays for pay - not as much as a psychiatrist, but enough to keep on a professional footing.

Currently on the staff of Charter Summit Hospital and medical director of the Salt Lake Counseling Center on Parleys Way, Purvin came here several years ago to complete his residency at the U. Medical Center. Originally from New York, he started not as a pre-med student but as a piano major at the Juilliard School of Music, from which he was awarded a master's degree in 1969.

During that time his teachers included Rosina Lhevinne and Vladimir Ashkenazy. In addition to concertizing, he worked as a rehearsal and performance pianist for the Joffrey Ballet and coached for the American Opera Center. He also pulled down prizes in a number of major contests, including bronze medals in both the Rubinstein Competition in Israel and the Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. So what switched such a promising talent onto another track entirely?

"I'd always been fascinated with medicine - my sister is a doctor," Purvin recalls. "Then, too, I kind of got burned out trying to sell an unsalable product, at least if you're not a superstar. I also got tired of traveling all the time."

The upshot was that, in 1978, Purvin entered Columbia University for pre-med ("They didn't give any math or science courses at Juilliard"), then medical school at Albany Medical College, from which he graduated in 1985. After an internship at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, he came to Utah primarily because "I wanted to see what it was like living in a different part of the United States, which I had never done, and because I love to ski and love the outdoors." He liked it well enough that, after his residency, he decided to stay.

As for music, Purvin says medical school didn't leave him much time to pursue that on the side. "I suppose my official re-entry was when I moved here and started doing a little playing. Suddenly I was asked to do a great many things."Programs on which he has performed to date include the Nova Chamber Music Series, the Deer Valley Chamber Festival and, as the featured soloist on their last all-Gershwin outing, the Utah Symphony. To his surprise he found "the vacation from being a full-time musician had done me a lot of good" and even today performs mainly because he wants to.

"Money's not an issue, so I don't have to do stuff I don't feel like doing. At the same time I don't know any activity that is so totally occupying physically, emotionally and intellectually as giving a performance and becoming part of the whole musical tradition. I love the practice of psychiatry, but performing has an intensity that's unmatched by anything else, in which you get up in front of a lot of people and really put it on the line. It's still the biggest thrill of anything I've ever done."JANE MORRISON LYMAN made a similarly abrupt change a few years ago, from a career as a full-time flutist and flute teacher to chemical engineering. The result is that for the past four years she has been employed by the Bureau of Mines, a branch of the U.S. Interior Department. But she didn't give up music - she only relegated it to the back burner. And even there it still burns pretty brightly.

"In my family every one of us grew up knowing we would play an instrument. My parents said they would give us skiing lessons or music lessons, but not both." Because the family had a piano, Lyman assumed her future lay there. But one day, after having attended a flute recital, she remembers banging both her fists on the keyboard during a practice session and declaring, "I WANT TO PLAY THE FLUTE!"

That led to years of study - with the New York Philharmonic's Julius Baker, among others - marriage to another local wind player, bassoonist Mitchell Morrison, and a teaching and performing schedule that, besides regular work at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, included as many as 60 students.

At the same time there was another tradition in Lyman's family. Her father, Milton E. Wadsworth, is not only president of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers; next June he will also step down as dean of the College of Mining and Metallurgy at the U. So when she decided on a formal degree program just after her marriage, she likewise opted for metallurgical engineering.

Three children, another degree and a lot of flute jobs later, Lyman says she could see her marriage heading downhill. But after a few rocky years in the metals industry, along about 1987 some jobs began to open up in that area.

"It's proven to be a really good move for me," she says today. "At the time I could see I needed a new avenue and, with two tiny babies, some security."

At the same time, she says, she's been able to maintain continuity on the music scene. "In some ways, in fact, my playing has continued to improve." Part of that she attributes to reduced stress, a reduced number of students and a work schedule that, although demanding, affords her some flexibility. "If I want to do a recording session, for example, I can take my leave time in 15-minute increments."

Since their marriage last July, she and her husband, guitarist-cum-restaurant-manager Steve Lyman, have had something like four careers to balance. "It's hard to juggle sometimes," she admits. "Some days I drop the kids, come to work, pick the kids up and go play a job - it makes for a long day. But the job offers security and retirement and health benefits that, with few exceptions, aren't there in the music world."ROGER L. HICKS, a Salt Lake dentist, also lays his double life to his father's influence.

"Music has always been a part of my family," the part-time bassoonist recalls from his office on 3900 South. "My dad, Lowell Hicks, plays the marimba and vibraharp, and my sister Kay once played piano on `Salute to Youth.' Even so, he's the one who encouraged me to study dentistry, pointing out that it was difficult to make a living in music, especially in a city the size of Salt Lake."

Hicks still remembers the pace his father kept, getting out of the house every morning at 6:30 to teach school, then home around 4 for his private students. "Then he'd grab a shower and about three bites of dinner before loading his instruments up to play a wedding or a dance job in the evening. We all loved music - it just seemed to come naturally. But I decided I didn't want to do that."

So what he did was keep his music up while preparing for a career in dentistry. Just out of ninth grade, he played his first paying job with the Utah Symphony - "$10, because that's what union scale was. I thought, `Boy, that's great!' " Then came summers at the Music Academy of the West under Maurice Abravanel and his own "Salute to Youth" solo spot in 1965. Even in dental school, at West Virginia University, he played in the university orchestra.

Currently Hicks spends around four 10-hour days a week in his dental office, with music and family taking up most of the remaining time. Even from the first, he says, finding work was no problem. "Musicians need to chew, too, so when they came to see me as a dentist we'd reminisce and pretty quickly word got around."

"Obviously it's a subjective thing," Hicks says of his musicmaking. "But it's an inspiration in my life, something I love and will never give up. At the same time I have a scientific interest, an interest in health care, and have chosen to incorporate that as a way to support my family. Still, in combination with that, I'm able to play in the ballet orchestra or with Pro Musica as well as some of the chamber groups in town, all union jobs."

Carrying on the family tradition, Hicks says he would advise his kids the same way. "Enjoy music, but have something that can be a little more regular and dependable for your living."

In other words, musicians not only need to chew - they also need to eat.