Making music together: Couples of Utah Symphony share their journeys of falling in love, playing in the same orchestra
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It is said that music brings people together, and the saying holds true for several couples who play together as members of the Utah Symphony.
Some of the couples met after being hired by the Utah Symphony, but for those who fell in love before, landing a spot in the same orchestra was a difficult task that required risk and sacrifice.
Auditions to join the orchestra are competitive and rigorous — one doesn’t “get” the job, one “wins” the job. Applicants play for the orchestra’s selection committee from behind a screen so only their ability will be taken into account, said Renee Huang, director of public relations for the Utah Symphony.
Many of the best musicians in the world audition with the orchestra in hopes of securing a full-time position, Huang said. While the chances of a couple making it into the orchestra together are slim, the potential benefits are great.
Here are the stories of how four couples who play together in the Utah Symphony came to be in love and in the same orchestra.
'A dream come true'
Violinist Karen Wyatt and percussionist Michael Pape met in 2010 as contract players for the Pittsburgh Symphony. They dated long distance for two years while playing with different orchestras.
Pape was playing with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic when Wyatt won a position with the Utah Symphony.
“She got the job here, and I moved to be with her,” Pape said. “I decided to leave Fort Wayne and follow my heart to be with the woman I loved.”
Pape worked as a teacher and did some contract work with the Utah Symphony while he waited for an opportunity to audition for a full-time position.
“We had decided we were going to be fine no matter what happened,” Pape said. “It was really good the way Karen was able to be supportive during the audition process. I had to spend a lot of time practicing on my own. She did a good job of not putting extra pressure on me to get the job.”
“Well, we both know how hard it is,” Wyatt said. “We know how many auditions it takes to get a position especially in this beautiful city!”
Pape described the odds of one musician getting a full-time symphony job as comparable to lightning striking the same spot twice. As for the odds of two musicians getting a job together, the couple just shook their heads.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Pape said. “I don’t know if non-musicians understand how rare it is for musicians to win a job in the same orchestra.”
“I’ll never take it for granted,” Wyatt said. “It really is a dream come true.”
'Always on the same page'
Nick and Claudia Norton met as musicians, but during their 20 years of marriage, they've become triathletes, gardeners and travelers as well.
“All the things we love doing, we get to do together,” said Claudia Norton, a Salt Lake City native who plays string bass for the Utah Symphony.
She had been playing with the orchestra for a number of years when Nick Norton, who plays trumpet, auditioned in 1980.
“We were best friends in the orchestra for years and, I don’t know, we kind of just fell into it,” Claudia Norton said.
“And it was because we like all of the same things,” Nick Norton said. “Physically, intellectually, politically — we’re just always on the same page.”
Because they share a profession, the Nortons are able to relate to one another in ways specific to their career.
“(In) this life, you end up doing a very personal thing most of the time,” Nick Norton said. “Claudia understands. For instance, let’s say you go to work and the guy to your left says, ‘Oh, you’re playing sharp.’ That doesn’t sound like much. But to a musician?”
“‘How dare you say that!’” Claudia Norton said with a laugh.
“‘Oh yeah? Well you’re playing flat!’” Nick Norton said. “I know that doesn’t seem like anything, but when your partner understands the culture, you always have somebody to talk to.”
Claudia Norton explained that even the day-to-day routine of a trumpet player requires special understanding. Meals, naps and traveling schedules often need to be altered to help brass players stay in shape and be in peak condition for certain concerts.
“It’s a very athletic instrument,” Nick Norton said. “That can be a real drag for a spouse. She’s really great.”
Last year, the Nortons traveled to Sweden, where Nick presented to the International Trumpet Guild. While he performed, Claudia accompanied him on the piano.
“That was the highlight of my career,” Nick Norton said.
'Little did he know'
Trumpet player Peter Margulies first heard Louise Vickerman play the harp when she auditioned for the Utah Symphony. He was on the selection committee.
“He didn’t see me,” Vickerman said, “I was behind a screen. But little did he know. ”
Months later, after Vickerman accepted the principal harp position and moved to Salt Lake City, Margulies and Vickerman realized they lived parallel lives, just 10 years apart.
“We both studied at the Eastman School of Music we both played in the San Antonio Symphony,” Margulies said. “So we had been in all the same places.”
“Yes, we also played in the Heidelberg Music Festival, 10 years apart,” Vickerman added. “And our fathers are both scientists.”
Their parallel stories united when the two began dating as members of the Utah Symphony, and they've now been married for 13 years.
“I was of eligible bachelor age,” Margulies said. “I sat next to Nick Norton for years and years, and he and Claudia really fostered our relationship. It’s a big, close-knit family.”
“Orchestra life is really quite strange,” Vickerman said. “I’ve never actually dated anyone that’s not a musician.”
When they’re not at the symphony together, Margulies and Vickerman enjoy flying. The two recalled a recent trip to "Spiral Jetty."
“I’m a pilot,” Vickerman said. “But every time we land, they always assume he’s the pilot.”
“I read the charts,” Margulies said.
'A great combination'
Cellist Anne Lee and violinist Claude Halter met as members of the New World Symphony of South Beach, Florida, while pursuing graduate degrees.
“We were both taking auditions, trying to get into a professional orchestra,” Lee said. “I took the audition in Salt Lake and got it, so Claude moved out to Utah with me.”
“At some point, you make a choice between your job and pursuing somebody,” Halter said.
Lee got into the orchestra in May, and Halter knew there would be an opening for a violinist the following September.
“I practiced a lot,” Halter said. “But I was confident that I wanted to live near Anne. The job was just a bonus.”
Because they play the violin and the cello, Lee and Halter complement each other in the music world, too.
“We’re lucky that it’s such a great combination,” Lee said. “We often play in chamber groups together. It’s nice to have someone that I can turn to for advice if I’m having trouble with a piece of music.”
Lee and Halter said that since they play near each other in the orchestra, it’s not uncommon for them to glance over at one another during a concert and laugh a little during a specific passage of music that they struggle with or particularly love.
“We just know,” Lee said.
“We’re so intertwined,” Halter said. “Our work, our relationship, our passion for music.”
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