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GRSMA Musician Profile: Oboist Ellen Sherman and Trumpeter George Goad

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GRSMA musicians Ellen Sherman and George Goad have held positions across the globe. We were pleased to sit down with them to ask about their musical experiences at home and abroad.

GRSMA: What led you to a career in music? Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?


Ellen Sherman: I grew up in Boston, a great place for all its cultural offerings it could provide for an aspiring musician. My mom was a pianist who also went to Juilliard, and both my parents were always supportive of my music. I was so fortunate to spend many summers at music camp in Maine and to play in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra for five years. My musical career started at age five with the piano. In fourth grade I began flute lessons and started the oboe the following year since my music teacher needed an oboist to fill the vacancy left by a graduating student in our band. I played both flute and oboe for nine years until Ralph Gomberg, the Principal Oboe with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, told me I had to give up the flute in order to remain his pupil.


George Goad: I’m grateful for a wonderful support system growing up that encouraged me to try my hand at many things. I was part of a family that enjoyed music and supported me taking lessons and participating in extracurricular music activities. I grew up in Rockford, Michigan, and was in their band program, which has only continued to rise in its position as one of the best in the state and in the Midwest. What ultimately led me to a career was a love for the trumpet and seeing that the way of a musician may suit me, which meant practicing, pushing the envelope, searching for new inspiration, and lifelong learning. I was fourteen years old when I began to pursue music with fervor. 


GRSMA: Previous to the GRS, you had orchestra jobs outside of the US. Were there any challenges in working internationally?


GEORGE: For me it was an enriching experience to be international. I was in Montréal, Quebec, which has a very European feel to it. There was a bit of a cultural barrier there, but it was fun to interact with all the people in Montréal. It is a very international place, and I would recommend visiting there if you ever get the chance!


ELLEN: My first international job was in Santiago, Chile. The orchestra sent representatives to various cities to audition for Principal Oboe (including New York City, where I was studying at Juilliard), and I was shocked when I won the position. The job proved to be amazing in every way, and the same can be said for my job with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. I love to travel and experience different cultures, so how fortunate that I had these opportunities. Both countries are incredibly beautiful, and both had wonderful orchestras which enriched my world and where I developed friendships for life. Oh, come to think of it, trying to drive on the left side of the road was a bit of a challenge!


GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?


ELLEN: I don’t remember thinking about it, as music was always what I wanted to do and making music was where I was the happiest. I consider all of my mentors heros in my life, as I learned so much from them all: Valerie Edwards, Fred Cohen, Larry Thorstenberg, Ronald Roseman, and Lois Wann. I still seek out lessons from oboists I admire, as there is always more to learn. Alex Klein is my “go to” when it comes to listening to the modern oboe, and he is always a source of inspiration for me. I began learning the Baroque oboe several years ago, as I also perform in the summer with the Carmel Bach Festival in California. Gonzalo Ruiz, one of the greatest Baroque oboists, joined the festival and has mentored me in Carmel and at the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute. Also, I’ll always remember working with Leonard Bernstein, Sergiu Celibidache, and Martha Argerich.


GEORGE: It was a gradual solidification that “yes, this is what I will pursue professionally”. I believe it was in 10th grade that people would have been noticing that I am prioritizing this more than most students prioritized any pursuit at that age. My mentors are very many, and they are heroes as well: Cullen McCarthy, Aaron Good, Greg Good, Brian Phillips, John Varineau, David Bilger, Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer, Marie Speziale, and Tom Siders. There are many more who’ve impacted me even through a short conversation. 


GRSMA: Tell us about your most memorable moments from GRS concerts.


GEORGE: A standout moment for me from this season of GRS concerts was the “Sights and Sounds of Scotland” program. Mendelssohn’s 3rd Symphony, “Scottish”, was very impactful when we played it. GRS Music Director Marcelo Lehninger was a magnificent guide through that piece, and the energy from the GRS was inspiring.  


ELLEN: There are so many, but our Carnegie Hall performances stand out. Also, Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”, the Stephen Paulus “Oratorio, To Be Certain of the Dawn” (inspired by the Holocaust), and the John Adams “Chamber Symphony” are all memorable. Working with GRS Music Director Marcelo Lehninger is always a joy, and I was honored to perform the Marcello oboe concerto with him. 


GRSMA: If you weren't an orchestral musician, what career path would you have taken?


ELLEN: I’ve never thought about a career in anything other than music, and I am lucky that it became a reality. Sometimes now I think about working for a non-profit organization such as The Innocence Project, where so much good can be done for those that would otherwise be forgotten. 


GEORGE: I’d like to think I have the stuff to be a professional triathlete, if I had set my sights on it earlier and started swimming seriously at a much younger age! At the moment I’m really not sure. I enjoy coaching though, so maybe something in that vein, such as being a personal trainer.


GRSMA: What are your favorite places in Grand Rapids?


GEORGE: I really like the beach at Grand Haven, St. Cecilia Music Center, New City Fellowship Church, and Townsend Park.


ELLEN: My husband Phil and I are members of Meijer Gardens and love going often and in every season! Growing up near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I love to be near and in the water. So, living near the lakeshore today is such a gift!


GRSMA: Do you have a favorite composer or orchestral piece?


ELLEN: Having played at Emmanuel Church in Boston where every weekend they offer a Bach cantata, followed by my years in Carmel, my love for the music of J.S. Bach has only grown. I’m thrilled that the GRS now has its own Bach Festival so we can share it with each other and our audience.


GEORGE: If I could listen to only one composer for the rest of my life, it would be Beethoven. However, if I could play the music of only one composer the rest of my life, it would be Mahler. 


GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?


GEORGE: In addition to our symphony repertoire, I am always looking to play recitals and love working on solo pieces. Outside of music, I’ve been a lifelong runner and began competing in triathlons over the last few years. I also coach track and cross country. 


ELLEN: Gardening has become a real joy since moving to Michigan. Having grown up in an apartment in the city, gardening was not part of my orbit. Thanks to having lived in New Zealand and spending summers in Carmel, I certainly enjoyed the beauty and peace that a garden can provide. I love to swim, cook, read, film, and spend time with my husband and friends!


GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?


ELLEN: Being a part of an organization which is dedicated to bringing excellence and education in classical music to people in our community.


GEORGE: I’ve found the GRS to be a very welcoming and positive orchestra. The leadership has shown itself very strong throughout the pandemic, and I feel that the group is unified in its desires to serve the community and pursue excellence. Great colleagues are a real treasure. 


GRSMA: The GRS has announced its 2022-23 season. Is there a specific concert that you look forward to the most?


GEORGE: Without a doubt, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan”. I’ve not played this one yet and I’m very excited about it!


ELLEN: I’m happy that the GRS will be returning to St. Cecilia Music Center next season, and I look forward to the Mozart “Paris” and the Haydn “London” symphonies there!

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