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Who's Who: Albany Native Plays Midsummer Mozart

Every week we’ll feature a brief chat with someone who lives, works or plays in Albany. See Midsummer Mozart performances throughout July. Learn more at http://www.midsummermozart.org.

Name: Laurie McGaw

Age: 74

Occupation: Retired San Francisco Symphony trumpet player

How did you get involved in the “Midsummer Mozart Festival”? Since I retired, I was available, and [Music Director] George Cleve asked if I would play, and I did. George knew me from the time when he was a guest conductor at the symphony.

Do you have a favorite Mozart piece? I love the “Post-Horn Serenade,” of course, and I have a nice little post-horn I bought in Austria. There’s an instrument-maker named Lechner whom three of us trumpet-players went to visit after a concert in Linz. We took the train from Linz up through Salzburg into the mountains, stayed in a guesthouse, and went to see him the next morning. I found this post-horn on the wall, and I bought it without knowing what I would use it for, but it turned out to be perfect.

What was it like to play for the San Francisco Symphony? They have such a fine reputation. It’s immense, their reputation. In 1970 when I auditioned, there were about 20 people auditioning. Now, a spot would draw 100 to audition.

Being in the symphony is one of those dream jobs. You’re playing with musicians of the highest caliber.

In the symphony, did personalities ever interfere with getting the work done? It does happen occasionally; you get into arguments backstage. But mostly we act professionally on stage. Mostly we get along, because you have to collaborate. The whole intention is reproducing the piece as the composer wanted it.

How are you spending your time in retirement? I still practice some. I read, I do work on the computer, emailing. I’m active in our church – I’m an elder in my congregation.

I was doing AutoCAD drafting in architecture, and more recently in mechanical engineering and interior design. I had two clients, but they ran out of work, so I ran out of work.

I’ve continued playing and teaching trumpet; I have private students.

How did you decide to become a professional musician?  My mother was a musician; she played the organ at and was choir-director. Occasionally, they would take us to San Francisco, to Stern Grove concerts.  We always listened to classical music on the radio. One Easter, my mother took us up for a sunrise service on Albany Hill. There was a trumpet-player. On the way home I told my mom, “I want to be a trumpet-player, and I want to play in the San Francisco Symphony.” I was not quite 10 years old.

Looking back, I don’t know that I knew it then. [After a six-week summer music program at Berkeley High School,] there was no particular encouragement at home to become a professional musician. I didn’t own a trumpet.

Once at [in fifth grade], I smacked a guy, and in talking to me the principal, Mr. Baker, asked me, “What can you do?” I said, “I can play trumpet.” He said, “We’re going to put you into the orchestra here.”

I played at U.C., Berkeley in the Cal Band. I dropped out of Cal and went into the Marines for four years. I played in Marine Corps bands. When I got out, I returned to U.C., Berkeley, where I met my wife. We married in 1964.

Then we both began our careers as young teachers. I taught at Esparto, CA. Then my wife and I went to Iran for two years; the Presbyterian Church has a school in Tehran. When we came back from Iran in 1968, I was determined to get a degree in world geography. I went to Cal State Hayward for three quarters, then transferred to Rutgers for a year. While at Rutgers, my wife and I started playing in the Princeton University Orchestra. I was also taking trumpet lessons from Gerard Schwarz.

In December 1969 the [S.F. Symphony] audition was announced; a friend sent it to me. I took two lessons a week [with Schwarz] from then on. I auditioned in March 1970 and came away with a job. I had no professional orchestra experience at that moment.

Our son was born in Iran in 1968; our daughter was born in 1971. So for years it was orchestra, practicing, teaching, family, church – that was our life for a long time.

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at emilier@patch.com.

Mary Rees July 19, 2011 at 05:49 AM
I'd like to add that Laurie mentioned a few other San Francisco Symphony musicians who came from Albany: Lloyd Gowan, a retired flute-player; Batty Rae Stanley, who played violin; and John Hastings, a harpist. Laurie recalled that as he was growing up, Betty Rae was playing in the Albany High School orchestra.

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