Stephen Drake, 58, moved to Nashville to play with the Nashville Symphony in November of 1984.
“At first, it was just a part-time job but they promised me it would be a full-time job pretty soon and within three years I was a full-time player,” the cellist said.
Stephen grew up in upstate New York. He went to Oberlin College in Ohio and graduated in 1978. After school, he moved
to New York for a year and then to Virginia to play with the Richland Symphony before making his way further south to Tennessee.
the CELLO, the BUSINESS, the LIFE
“I grew up in a wild and crazy household like a lot of people. My parents did different things. My mom was a composer and a piano teacher and my dad was a scientist,” he said.
Already playing the piano and the guitar, Stephen said he isn’t really sure how the cello started.
“I think it was one of those things they offered with a school program. They sent out a list of the instruments that they were able to teach and the cello was one of them,” he said. “I really wanted to play the bass, but the bass was pretty big and I probably wasn’t going to be able to fit it on the school bus so the cello was the next best logical option.”
Playing since he was 11 years old, Stephen said the cello has worked well with him naturally, physically and mentally.
“I’ve been able to make a career out of it,” he said. “There are always new things to discover and new styles of music I hadn’t thought about doing. The trick for me is not to get stagnant at it. It can be that job you show up to every day and you play the same music over and over again. That’s a problem in the symphony world.”
He said it’s important not to get burned out playing Beethoven’s 5th symphony in order to pay the bills. The Nashville Symphony plays a lot of different and contemporary music so he said he’s able to get a variety of experience.
Based on the concert schedule and on the basis of what the concerts are, the symphony practices about four or five times a week leading up to a typical weekend series.
He said playing different types of music forces him to show up with his brain on and “keeps your chops going.”
In the years that he’s been in Nashville, he’s done a lot of studio work. Over the years, different things pop up like the Nashville Composers Association, a group of local composers who create opportunities to play everything from classical to salsa style music.
Stephen also plays in the Orchestra Kentucky symphony in Bowling Green, and in a little orchestra in Cookeville, where he’s played every concert for the last thirty years.
Married and living in Green Hills, Stephen also has a teenage daughter at Hillsboro High School.
“Life happens to you no matter where you are.”
Other than playing music, Stephen has an interest in photography.
“It’s really just a hobby,” he said. “Back in high school, it was Plan A for a while. I would set up some dark rooms and I was the annual newspaper photographer and the local newspaper was publishing my stuff.”
Stephen said when the music began to take off after high school he gave away all his photography stuff. Within the last few years, he started to get back into it.
“Between Flickr, Instagram, SmugMug and Facebook, people were positive about what I did, so I did some more and learned more stuff,” he said. “It’s cool to see people doing stuff with my pictures now, but it’s just a hobby.”
Stephen said another thing that has always interested him was electronic music.
“Way back when I was a kid, I discovered synthesizers and just fell in love with them. They were these great, new sound toys,” he said.
A few years ago, he saw a resurgence of the old school synthesizers he knew about so he started getting more into them. Now, he builds modules for other people.
Stephen and his wife have lived in the same house in Green Hills for 15 years. He said they have been seriously considering moving somewhere further out like Williamson County to escape the traffic.
“It was a very quiet suburban area when we moved there and is now something completely different. Developers are buying up houses and putting up tall skinnies,” he said. “Basically, it’s just getting more crowded and traffic has doubled since we’ve moved there.”
Stephen said, fortunately because he’s lived in the area for so long he’s able to maneuver the back way to places like the grocery store and the bank.
“It is neat to see all the people moving here though and what they’re creating,” he said. “People are putting up businesses left and right and apparently they’re doing great.”
COMMUNITY and CONCERNS
“When I look out at the crowd at a concert there are probably about a thousand people out there and they’re a part of my community,” he said. “I go to the Green Hills Kroger for groceries. That’s a part of my community, and there are people I’ll see there on a regular basis.”
“Anywhere you live is going to be an infrastructure of people that you know.”
Stephen said a community means different things to different people.
“Your definition of community is going to be different if you’ve been here for thirty years versus five years. It’s all the same people it’s just different perspectives,” he said.
Stephen said the symphony is using new phrases like “We’re here for you.” and “Your community, your orchestra.” He said a community is reciprocal and the main idea behind those phrases is if you’re going to live and work in a community, you can’t really do it successfully unless you’re a part of it.
Along with an obvious fondness in his heart for Nashville, Stephen has some real concerns.
“There’s always a threat of overbuilding,” he said. “The Music City Center could be a threat because the temptation is for every hotel to put in a new one around that. That’s a great concept until a point and the places like the Omni just aren’t filling up all the time.”
Stephen said he doesn’t have a crystal ball for those kinds of things but would like to see the city move forward at a comfortable growing level.
“The downtown area is always evolving and it’s always going to be,” he said. “There’s always that new building going up, but the old buildings are still there. They are just being used in different ways. There are businesses that have been here for a long time that are closing. Sam’s Clothing & Shoes, for instance, if you’ve worked downtown you’ve bought shirts, socks or underwear there. I just heard he’s going out of business. That’s sad, but that happens.”
Another concern for Stephen is the mass transit issue. He said the city has to figure something out.
“Amp was almost a good idea that was done completely wrong, and it turned into a political thing,” he said. “I’ve heard people talk about subways but where would the money come from? That would be terribly expensive.”
Stephen said the focus should be in areas like East Nashville and heading south toward Franklin and Murfreesboro.
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
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