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Q&A with MSO's Joseph Jay McIntyre

February 12, 2009|By KATE COLEMAN

Joseph Jay McIntyre has been playing with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for 26 years.

The orchestra's principal timpanist is one of the ensemble's two original members.

There are people in this orchestra who weren't even born when he started, he said with a laugh.

He works hard to keep his competitive edge, but, even at 51, he still feels like he's getting better.

"The thing that keeps me going and why I'm still so excited and energized, is that every time I play a concert, I'm constantly finding new nuances or new ideas, ways to play better, to produce better tone - just be a better player. It's a constant learning experience. It's fantastic," he said.

McIntyre grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and said he can't remember a time when music wasn't part of his life. Although there were no professional musicians, there was music in the family. His lawyer father was an amateur trumpet player, who gathered with his buddies for Dixieland jam sessions. His grandmother had played piano in the silent movie era. She'd accompany the stories her grandchildren would make up.

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"It was really a lot of fun," McIntyre said.

His musical career started when he was a kid, a boy soprano singing in his church choir. Summers in Massachusetts he auditioned and sang with a couple of groups, including the Berkshire Boy Choir. Among highlights was getting to sing a boy soprano solo for one of the performances of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass," the piece commissioned for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

McIntyre has been playing drums since he was about 12 years old. After his voice changed, he started pursuing percussion more seriously.

He earned degrees in music performance and music education at the University of Maryland. Despite taking just one composition class in college, he's had success as a composer.

"The creative process is important to me," McIntyre said.

His orchestral "Salute," commissioned by the MSO in dedication to founding Music Director Barry Tuckwell, premiered at The Maryland Theatre in 1998. McIntyre conducted the performance, which featured a horn solo by Joseph Lovinsky.

His Missa Brevis for Chorus, Organ and Percussion had its New York City premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2000.

A thunderstorm prevented the performance of McIntyre's "Ghosts of Antietam" at the July 2008 concert at Antietam National Battlefield, but the MSO will play it at this year's celebration.

How long have you been playing timpani? When did you start? Why?
I've been studying drums since the fourth grade. Timpani is just sort of included in that. I obviously got a lot more serious about practicing music when I got to my senior year in high school and in college. In college, I was much more interested in playing the marimba. That was my first love.

In the last 10 years or so, my focus really has sort of been more geared toward timpani. About 12 years ago, I attended a master class in Colorado presented by Cloyd Duff. He has passed away now, but he was the principal timpanist with the Cleveland Orchestra for many years.

I was really energized. I purchased a new set of timpani for myself and I really got much more focused and into timpani at that point.

How long have you played with the MSO?
Twenty-six years.

Do you play with other musical ensembles?
Three or four times a year I get to play with the National Symphony Orchestra
at the Kennedy Center. I had an opportunity to play both in the percussion section and fill in as their timpanist as well. I play with the Opera House Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery Orchestra, the Fairfax (Va.) Symphony, the Alexandria (Va.) Symphony, the National Philharmonic at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md., the Washington Concert Opera and a number of choral groups. As a freelancer, you get called to play in a lot of places.

How do you prepare for a concert? How much time do you spend preparing for each performance?
Generally, we receive the music (individual parts) at least a month in advance, so we have plenty of time to prepare. I try to find as many recordings of the piece as possible. I think iTunes is the best thing to have come along. It's amazing how much classical music they have on there.

I'll get the recordings and listen and study from the recording. When it's possible, I try to also get the score so that I can study the score and then see how my part relates to the rest of the instrumentation. Because of my interest in composing and conducting, I like to see the score. You get a much better idea what the composer's overall intentions are. You can really see how you relate to everything else in the piece.

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