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July 9, 2020
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Following a career with the U.S. Coast Guard Band as a performer and conductor, Rick Wyman is bringing his musical and management chops to the Community Music School as the organization’s new executive director. Photo courtesy of Rick Wyman

Following a career with the U.S. Coast Guard Band as a performer and conductor, Rick Wyman is bringing his musical and management chops to the Community Music School as the organization’s new executive director. (Photo courtesy of Rick Wyman )

Rick Wyman: Music Man

Published June 03, 2020

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It wasn’t a new mouthpiece or new reeds that helped Rick Wyman solve one of the problems of playing the baritone saxophone. It was fiberglass. After carrying the heavy instrument, weighing more than 11 pounds, in its even heavier case, Rick invested 25 years ago in a fiberglass carrier.

“It’s much more manageable and I’ve used it ever since,” he says.

Rick has just become executive director of the Community Music School in Centerbrook. In fact, it’s a return for him; he taught saxophone at the school when it started nearly 40 years ago.

There will be summer music lessons at the school, but not in classrooms. Teachers will continue to teach as they have since mid-March, online.

One of the scheduled summer camps, Broadway Bound East, which had planned a live musical production, will be presented online with workshop sessions on vocal study, performance, auditioning, and choreography.

Other camps have been postponed until the fall

“It’s lucky to have a new job, but this is all a little weird,” Rick says.

Actually, he has two new jobs. He has just become the music director of the Noank-Mystic Community band as well.

Rick retired in 2018 after a 20-year career with the U.S. Coast Guard Band, six years as a baritone saxophone player and 14 years as assistant conductor. Before coming to the Community Music School, he served as general director of the Musical Masterworks concert series in Old Lyme.

In addition to his conducting responsibilities, Rick also organized the band’s yearly series of Young People’s Concerts for students in both Connecticut and Rhode Island who came to the 1,000-seat Leamy Hall auditorium at the academy for performances. He also supervised a program where ensembles of musicians visited elementary schools.

For a time, he oversaw travel arrangements when the band played performances for general audiences throughout the country. That, he emphasizes, meant thinking about even the smallest details involved.

“It’s the simple overlooked detail that can get you,” he notes. “If the band arrives at a concert venue, and the band members don’t know which door to go in, or where the changing rooms are, it’s a problem to have 50 professional musicians roaming around the building trying to get in every locked door of a venue.”

Rick, who grew up near Springfield, Massachusetts, got an early warning of the challenges facing someone who planned a professional career in music as a college freshman at the Eastman School of Music. Early in freshman year, a professor took a white board and wrote a large number on it. That, the teacher noted, was the number of talented violin students studying at the top college music programs; next he added the number of other violin students at less prestigious schools. Then he wrote the number six, explaining that was the total of top violin positions usually open at prestigious orchestras every year. He told the class he just wanted to make sure they understood the odds they faced.

“And then he said anybody who wanted to, could leave then,” Rick recalls, though he notes that no one did.

After Eastman, Rick and three other classmates who had formed a saxophone quartet spent two years playing in rural Kentucky and Georgia as a part of a government program to bring arts to small communities.

At the University of Illinois, where he later earned his master’s degree, Rick saw a notice about an audition for a baritone saxophone player with the Coast Guard Band. At first, he told one of his professors that he wasn’t sure he was interested in a military band, but the teacher advised that it was an excellent job. He auditioned and won the position.

“I lucked out,” he says. “It’s one of the five premier military bands in the country.”

He moved to conducting because he was interested in broadening his musical experience, and at the same time he began studying for his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Connecticut.

“I figured if I was going to do it I should really get the credentials,” he says.

Rick misses the daily contact with the skilled professional musicians at the Coast Guard Band, but there are musicians in his own family. He met his wife Erin, who plays clarinet and piano, when he was studying in Illinois and their three sons, the oldest two in high school and the youngest in middle school, also play instruments.

The group sometimes plays together at the Noank Baptist Church where is Rick the senior choir director and Erin is the music director. Now, in the time of social distancing, the family quintet has been visiting parishioners giving impromptu concerts in front yards.

Rick looks forward to starting classes at the Community Music School in the fall. In addition to the changes that Covid-19 makes necessary, he will have to think, as many non-profits are, about how to keep the organization on stable financial footing.

He points out that the current unprecedented situation has made people think more both about the value of live music performances and the benefits of making music themselves.

“Music is as basic to education as math or science. It’s an important way of developing yourself,” he says. “Now that people are not having direct access to live music, they are beginning to realize that. Music is a crucial part of life.”

For more information on the Community Music School, visit cmsct.org.


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