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Orchestra Alumni Spotlight: Paul Babcock

September 15, 2017

I am the President and Chief Operating Officer at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. In that role, I oversee the many programs and operations of MacPhail that help reach students of all ages and backgrounds throughout the Twin Cities and across Minnesota. In addition, I teach percussion lessons and lead the percussion ensemble of advanced high school students, Rimshots!

How Music Shaped Him

Music and percussion have always been a part of my life. In many ways, the positive impact that music had on me as an adolescent shaped what I do today. I grew up in a rural area of western Illinois where access to music instruction was limited. Through the support of my mother and family, I was able to find instruction but it wasn’t easy and we had to travel significant distances. Ever since, I have been immersed in music and have looked for ways to provide students with access to music education. I am very fortunate that my role at MacPhail as an administrator and as a teacher provides me with vehicles to reach students from various locations and multitudes of backgrounds.

I have had the great fortune to play in so many jazz and classical settings since graduating from the U. One of my favorites was playing with Marvin Hamlisch and being caught by what I was later told was a recurring joke of the wrong chord being purposely placed in the vibraphone chart. Fortunately, I passed the test, which meant I read the wrong chord correctly (playing it wrong) and then corrected it.

Playing music is a reward itself. One of the most rewarding pieces for me has been all of the awards and accolades that my students have received over the years including being accepted in university’s and conservatories across the country (including the U of M) and some going on to professional careers.

U of M School of Music Memories

I have a couple of memories to share.

The School of Music hosted a conductor symposium and the University Symphony Orchestra played for a masterclass with Edo de Vaart. I still remember this masterclass vividly. The orchestra was asked to play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Students in the symposium came from around the country and were all quite talented conductors. One after another, they would conduct the orchestra to varying levels of success, especially with the opening. After several conductors had their turn and had received their critique from Edo, he got up on the podium and demonstrated. The difference in the sound of the orchestra was amazing. It was a display of maximum result from the orchestra with minimal movement from the conductor. The movement was so well planned and executed, yet it looked effortless. It was a peak musical moment.

While I was in the University Symphony Orchestra, we took a tour of Minnesota, travelling to a variety of towns throughout the state. This was a great experience for me, being new to the state. One of the towns we visited was Austin, MN. I remember playing in a wonderful auditorium in this smaller town in southern Minnesota. Three years ago, I returned to Austin as part of my work with MacPhail. We have now opened the first MacPhail site outside of the Twin Cities with the support of the Hormel Foundation. It has been very gratifying to work with such an arts enthusiastic community and to return to that wonderful stage (similar to Northrop) and develop a music education program in Austin.