Lake Forest man follows heart’s music
Mark Taylor of Lake Forest is the newly named director/conductor for the Milwaukee Festival Brass. On Sept. 20, he was the guest conductor for the Chicago Brass Band, in which he usually is a percussionist. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
NAME: Mark A. Taylor
VOCATION: Conducting, music education
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in music from Notre Dame, 1989; master of music in conducting and music education from Northwestern University, 1995; Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of North Texas
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “It’s really kind of amazing to watch a piece of music come together. In a way, it’s like how an artist approaches a blank canvas and has to create something out of nothing.”
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:13AM
LAKE FOREST — Interpreting a piece of music — understanding the whole thing from beginning to end — that’s the work of a great conductor.
How will the musicians end the piece? What will the pace be? Are the opening and the closing in contrast? Or do they recall one another?
These are the important questions Lake Forest resident and conductor Mark A. Taylor has asked himself during the past two months as he prepares the Milwaukee Festival Brass for its opening show on Oct. 21.
Taylor became the ensemble’s conductor at the end of the 2011-2012 season.
“What the audience sees visually from the conductor is a lot of what looks like time keeping, keeping the beat, etc.,” Taylor said. “That’s only part of what our job is. I think what really good conductors do is motivate and inspire musicians and offer a kind of overview of the piece of music.”
Want a sports comparison to make it all stack up?
“Coach, cheerleader, ticket seller – we do it all,” Taylor said.
The ensemble’s performance is themed “Homecoming,” featuring pieces that exemplify the fall sentiment present in high school and college football-centered reunions and the unity of the Thanksgiving holiday. The performance will feature “Paganini Variations,” a 15-minute-long piece by British composer Philip Wilby.
“For me, it fit in perfectly with this theme because every section of the piece involves some variation of the original theme,” Taylor said. “Every time you hear it, it’s like bringing your ear back to home base.”
Home was exactly where Taylor wanted to be after spending two full years away at the University of North Texas pursuing a doctoral degree. Already in his 40s, making the decision to leave his home and family — a wife and young son — wasn’t an easy step, but Taylor now understands that it was the right one.
“I guess with every big decision in life you’re never absolutely sure you’ve done the right thing,” Taylor said. “But when I finally went down to enroll and start my course work, I realized I was at the nation’s largest collegiate school of music with almost 2,000 music students between undergrad and graduate students.
“To be surrounded by that volume of talent and that caliber of musician was really inspiring. It was challenging, too,” he contined. “Everybody has to be on top of their game on that level of professionalism. I knew then that this was the right thing for me.”
Taylor is fortunate to have an understanding and supportive family. His wife, Andrea, is a professional singer and voice teacher, and their 7-year-old son, Kevin, recently began piano lessons. This summer, the entire family participated in a production of “The Music Man.”
“On the North Shore you get so used to living around people who are cookie cutters,” said Taylor’s neighbor of eight years, Todd Curry. “Are you an attorney? Executive? Consultant? There’s not nearly as much variety as living in the city, but Mark and Andrea are both accomplished musicians, and it’s always refreshing to get together with them and see the world through their set of eyes.”
Taylor is excited to help others experience the world through his eyes — and ears — at his community ensemble’s upcoming performance.
“Live music is becoming an increasingly rare experience for people in these times,” he said. “There’s something special about creating art in the moment, not only for ourselves, but also to have people share that with us.”