If you know classical music in DFW, you also know that trumpet player Cody McClarty is a home town musician to keep an eye on. Having just been offered both the Interim Utility Trumpet position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the Assistant Principal Trumpet position with the Fort Worth Symphony within the same month, he sits across from me enjoying a double espresso and delving into his ultimate choice to play with FWSO, how he got there, and how GDYO played a significant role in his life and career.
Cody grew up in Keller, Texas, and began taking lessons at age nine with his older brother. His brother was his first musical influence, though he admits that the deciding factor that led him down this path was the youthful desire to avoid singing in the choir. Hearing about his long list of accomplishments at the young age of 27, it seems that Cody’s foundation in music and trumpet performance was a whirlwind of big wins and big names. He won a position with both the Air Force Academy Band and the U.S. Navy Band in Washington D.C., and also has played with the Las Colinas Symphony as Principal Trumpet since 2016. He has studied with Tom Booth, former Assistant Principal Trumpet with the DSO, as well as Ryan Anthony, Kevin Finamore and Russell Campbell with the DSO, Tom Cupples of the National Symphony, and Wiff Rudd of Baylor University.
While his career has been filled with many major wins, he is sure to make clear is that in this business, you never know what to expect. A life changing gig could be just around the corner, but you may go years without making it out of the first round of an audition, even when you work as hard as you can. He tells me that it would be logical to think that if you practice hard and learn as much as you can, you will succeed, but music is not a logical business. In order to find success, you have to stick with it, persevere, and believe in yourself even when the going gets tough.
Cody was a member of the GDYO family from 2006 to 2009, participating for his first year as a sophomore in the Philharmonic ensemble, and then moving to GDYO for his junior and senior years. He talks about his experience fondly from both a musical and personal standpoint. Many of his best friendships were formed from other students he met through playing with GDYO. We talked about his background, his career, his new job, and what GDYO means to him.
What was your favorite memory while playing with GDYO?
It is hard to choose just one. I remember my first day of GDYO. It had been thunder storming all day and I had listened to Alpine Symphony all the way to Sammons. I sat down and we played straight through the piece right off the bat, and I remember thinking that the ensemble had so much more of a mature sound than any youth orchestra I had ever heard, and that this day and rehearsal reconfirmed for me that this was what I had to do as a profession. I also made so many great friends through GDYO, we hung out all the time outside of rehearsals. I remember being together with the brass ensemble and watching Michael Phelps break five world records in the Olympics. We had a great time together and are still friends today.
You attended SMU and earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in Trumpet Performance. How did you make the decision on where to go to school?
I chose to attend SMU because I was familiar with the faculty. Many SMU faculty members, including my teacher Tom Booth, played with the DSO, and I had been playing for them periodically to get feedback and instruction throughout high school.
I was also awarded a music scholarship to SMU, and the idea of staying in the community where I had already formed relationships in the industry made the most sense to me. Location is everything when choosing a school. Being at SMU, I was able to see the DSO every week for just $5.00, and got invaluable experience learning from professional musicians.
What advice do you have about music school and pursuing a career in music?
Undergrad is what you make it. If you practice and work hard, you will do well. Be open to criticism and opinions of other musicians. Get as many opinions as you can. Make connections and form relationships with people in the industry and be nice. Take as many auditions as you can to get real world experience!
There are so few jobs available. It is shocking when you really break it down. There are 14 full time symphony orchestra jobs in Texas for trumpet. Facts like this can be daunting. You truly have to love the music business in order to stay in it. Don’t do it for money or recognition.
How do you feel GDYO prepared you for your career as a professional musician?
GDYO taught me the importance of showing up prepared, and giving everything your best no matter what. Everyone in GDYO WANTS to be there. They are giving time and money to be there and getting incredibly valuable experience. I remember sitting through high school rehearsals and the ensemble barely making it through a piece, but then you get to GDYO and it’s a whole new ballgame. People are passionate about what they are there to do. It means more to them than just a required school elective. Your conductor and your peers are counting on you to help them make the great music that they have waited to make all week long. Not to mention, I got the chance to play at The Meyerson 10 times before I even left high school. I got to play side by side with the DSO players! GDYO was an eye opener for me. Not everyone gets the chance to be a part of something like it. Actually, very few people get that chance.
How did you decide to take the FWSO job over DSO and what do you see in your future?
Both are fantastic jobs. It wasn’t an easy choice by any means. The job with FWSO is the Assistant Principal position, while DSO was the Fourth Trumpet position, but was an incredible chance to take over for my teacher and mentor. Truly, the deciding factor was that the opportunity with Dallas was a one year contract, and Fort Worth was offering me a tenure track. The Fort Worth job means more security and stability for me. I want to settle down and start thinking more long term, as compared to the freelance lifestyle. I am honored to have been given both opportunities and could not say enough how grateful I am.
What unique challenges and rewards come from working as a professional musician?
The biggest challenge for me has been to stay engaged even when I don’t want to be. It has to be your primary focus DAILY no matter what. Even if you don’t have a gig for a week, you still have to practice. You have to work just as hard for the smaller gigs because you want to do your job well no matter how big or small it is. Even if you have a bad day, you have to perform – put on a happy face no matter what.
The rewards, at least for me, consistently outweigh the positives. It’s just really fun to do what I do. To see people’s reaction and watch them enjoy the music that you are playing for them. I’ve watched as audiences break out in big smiles and be brought to tears by the music that we are playing. There’s nothing else like it.
Who are the biggest inspirations for your career?
My older brother James, who is also a professional musician and currently playing in “The President’s Own” band in D.C. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now without his influence. Phil Smith, who is Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic. I grew up listening to his recordings, and Ryan Anthony, Principal Trumpet of the DSO, and founder of ‘Cancer Blows’ an organization that raises both awareness and money to encourage research for cancers with a focus on blood cancers & multiple myeloma. Ryan was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012, and is currently in remission.
What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in music performance? To GDYO kids currently in the program?
You have to love the music business in order to stay in it. Don’t do it if you don’t love it. It is a lot of work – just as much as any other ‘regular’ job, it just looks different. Be ok not making a lot of money. Definitely don’t do it for the money. Be ready to change – not who you are, but your playing habits, the way you think about and approach things musically – take criticism and feedback and run with it. A career in music isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy playing and performing in other capacities. Be OK with the idea of not doing this as your profession. Have other hobbies and find other things you are passionate about so that you have balance in your life. I was filling out an application to become a Texas game warden right before I won the navy job. It worked out for me to take this route, but what I realized was that it wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t end up where I am now.