Kevin Winter was raised in Arlington Texas and graduated from Arlington Martin High School, where he participated in the band and orchestra. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Baylor University, studying with Jeff Powers. He also holds a master’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Rick Solis. Kevin joined the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) as 4th horn in the fall of 2016 and will begin as third horn for the Fall of 2018. He is on faculty at Loyola and Tulane Universities, as well as maintaining a private studio.
What is your performing arts education and background?
I started weekly private lessons in 6th grade, and participated in band and school orchestra as well. I completed a B.M. at Baylor and then an M.M. in performance from Cleveland Institute of Music. After I finished graduate school, I moved back Dallas to continue studying, auditioning and teaching private lessons. I taught at high schools and middle schools in Duncanville, Grand Prairie, Red Oak, and Flower Mound until winning the fourth horn position Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in Fall of 2016. I relocated to New Orleans and began teaching soon after as an adjunct faculty horn professor at Loyola and Tulane and through a private studio.
How did you choose the schools you attended?
I had studied with Janet Nye, based in Arlington, since 6th grade. Janet played with the Waco symphony and was very familiar with the Baylor Horn studio. She recommended Jeff Powers as someone I should consider studying with. I visited Baylor, as well as the other schools that I applied to, and took lessons with all of the teachers of each school to get a sense of what the teacher was like. I really enjoyed my lesson with Jeff Powers, and was interested in learning from him, and was eventually awarded music and academic scholarships at Baylor After undergrad, I really wanted to get farther away from home, and it was a priority for me to be in a city with a top professional orchestra. I fell in love with Cleveland – and the prestige of the school and my teacher – Rick Solis, who played with the Cleveland Orchestra. It was incredible having the opportunity to hear the Cleveland orchestra every week and to study with the musicians who played in that ensemble.
Did you participate in any summer music or young artist programs?
Yes, while I was in school, I participated in the national orchestral institute in Maryland and the national repertory orchestra in Breckenridge. I also participated in Opera in the Ozarks for one summer and now play fourth horn with the Des Moines Metro Opera during the summer season.
What factors should prospective music students consider when choosing a school?
Your relationship with your teacher is very important to your success. You have to trust and respect your teacher, and be compatible in order to get as much out of the experience as you can. Additionally, consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you at each school. I really enjoyed my time at Baylor because of the incredible opportunities and experiences I was afforded, that may not have been possible at another school. Baylor is an undergraduate heavy program, so from day one I was playing major repertoire. With a school that had a heavier graduate program, I may not have gotten those chances or part assignments.
When did you know that you wanted to be a professional musician?
I was 14 years old – a freshman year in high school, and went to the University of Texas with my teacher for a horn conference. It was the first time I had ever heard professionals play all together and I just remember thinking…”This is a lot of fun…people get paid to do this?” I remember how impressive it was, and that I wanted to be like them and do what they were doing. It was right about the time I decided to audition for GDYO for the first time. I knew that if I wanted to be on their level one day, I needed to get serious, focus, and get some great experience under my belt, and I knew GDYO could help me get there.
What is the daily routine of a professional musician like?
The day to day varies pretty drastically sometimes. No two weeks are the same for sure, which I actually really enjoy. Typically within the span of a week, I have four rehearsals and three concerts from Tuesday to Saturday – Monday is the only guaranteed day off from the orchestra, so generally everyone teaches that day. Outside rehearsal and performance, there is still 15-20 hours a week of practicing on my own time. In addition to LPO season programming, we play music for the New Orleans Opera Association, as well as chamber music performances on occasion. Plus, we will get calls to play in shows when big names come through town from time to time.
What is your best advice for auditioning?
I was auditioning for professional orchestras for 5 years before I landed the New Orleans job. It was my 28th audition. I had been a finalist 3 or 4 times before that happened, and they either picked someone else or didn’t hire anyone. Odds are, you are going to get a whole lot more no’s than yes’. It is very easy get discouraged during the audition process because you practice the music for 6-8 weeks, then travel, food, hotels… only to not play as well as you could in the first round and fall short of your goal. You really have to keep pushing yourself and never give up if this is what you really want to be doing. I always wanted this, and was either too brave or too stupid to ever consider doing anything else!
What challenges have you faced in this career?
Avoiding the burn out. So many talented musicians that I know changed career paths because they were overworked, overpracticed, and just burned out. They didn’t find joy in performing anymore. I think I have avoided this because although I have always loved music, I’ve made it a priority to have many other interests. By having other hobbies or outlets to turn to, I’ve never felt burnt out with music – there has always been something else to go to that helps me reset as a musician and refresh my energy and passion.
Time management is also a challenge. I was in band, orchestra, AP classes, and varsity baseball in high school, as well as being both a music major and athlete at Baylor. I learned early on that I needed to be excellent at managing my time and balancing priorities. I thrive on being busy, but if you aren’t careful and intentional with your time, you can easily drown in all of your commitments.
With LPO, there is the challenge on a day to day basis of learning/playing new music every week and sometimes even doing different concerts in the same week. We play a wide variety of shows over the course of our season, so I always have to stay on my toes. With that being said, more of a long-term challenge now that I am in a full time orchestra is making sure I don’t get complacent. Once you win your first audition, its tempting to think “Hey, I’m good enough to play this job, I don’t need to practice as hard anymore”, but it’s important to remember that there are always new things to learn, perfect and grow, and always new goals to work towards. Never do just enough to maintain the status quo, always challenge yourself to continue learning and growing even though it has seemed like you have reached a goal.
This career is by no means an easy one, but at the end of the day, I get to do what I love and what I want to be doing. Not a lot of people get to say that. I get to make music with people that I truly enjoy being around who also like to make music. I have become very close with the horn section in the LPO. They are like a second family to me now, and it’s a great feeling to perform at a high level with talented people who you care about.
How do you feel that GDYO prepared you for your career as a professional musician?
GDYO sets the bar very high for musicians at a young age. There is an expectation for you to play and act professionally, know your music, and always show up prepared. The way that GDYO rehearsals run is pretty close to how a professional orchestra is run. However, with GDYO you only rehearse once a week, so it’s almost more of a challenge because it is tough to put a program together with limited rehearsals. Meaning, there is no time to mess around – you come in and take care of business, and that was incredibly influential in preparing me for college and my professional career.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve performed?
Mahler 6 at the National Orchestral Institute: The horn parts are great and very fun to play, plus the symphony spans a huge emotional range through the 80-85 minutes. It’s a very powerful piece.
Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony: I performed this piece while I was studying at CIM. It’s a big, beautiful work and particularly significant to me on a personal level because our performance was broadcast live on the radio. My mom, Kathy, was able to listen in Texas to a concert I was playing in Cleveland, and that was a really special moment.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I had a great time in Cleveland and really enjoyed living and being in the music scene there. I feel a strong connection to the city and the Cleveland Orchestra, and would love to play with them one day. An overarching goal of mine is to keep hobbies and always keep learning and exploring new interests. I really enjoy rock climbing, cooking – especially tacos, I’m learning Spanish, and I would love to open a brewpub one day.
What other advice can you give to prospective students or GDYO kids thinking about an education and career in music performance?
Listen and learn from other musicians. Listening to their performances can give you ideas and teach you things that you may not have learned on your own. Also, record yourself! You don’t always hear everything when you are playing because your brain is focused on other things. When you record yourself you can treat it like you are listening to someone else and give clearer, more personal critiques. Once you get out of school, you have to be your own teacher and be able to rely on yourself to get better and not get stuck. Play for as many people as possible, practice, practice, practice, and don’t give up!