Phillip Freeman grew up listening to his father's eclectic record collection. There was rock, R&B and many other genres spanning the 60s, 70s and 80s. His dad was also a singer-songwriter himself, making music an integral part of the household in La Porte, 30 miles east of Houston. So it was natural for the younger Freeman to pick up guitar as a kid. And then there was that piano.
"We had a very terrible one," says Freeman. "It hadn't been tuned in so long that it really couldn't be tuned again. It wasn't a great sound but I sort of taught myself on those instruments."
Fast forward a few decades and Freeman has parlayed his love for music into a career with the Houston Symphony. He is the orchestra's bass trombonist, a gig he began in 2007 after beating out around 80 other applicants. But it was another program here in Houston that helped foster his appreciation for orchestral performance, just as it has thousands of other young people over the last 25 years.
VisitHouston: How did you first learn about the Texas Music Festival?
Phillip Freeman: It was 1997, the summer between my senior year at the University of Houston and going on to start my masters at the Manhattan School of Music. I had another friend who was a bass trombonist who was invited to participate in the Texas Music Festival, but he wasn't able to do the whole summer program. So we decided to split it. That was my first experience learning in that kind of intensive summer program with other people my age from all over.
VH: Summer programs like Texas Music Festival bring young musicians together to learn and to perform. What kind of impact does that have?
PF: As a music student you always hear that you should do summer festivals because while everyone else is taking the summer off, you're actually honing your skills. It's true. But you're also getting important ensemble skills and you're networking with others. This business is so small that you're constantly running into people you performed with years ago. I continue to see friends from my years at Texas Music Festival who have gone on to all facets of music.
VH: What sets this particular festival program apart from the others?
PF: I think the biggest strength TMF has is that they pick a difficult repertoire that attracts talent. They select these big orchestral pieces that students in undergrad or even in masters programs wouldn't often get to perform. It's intense and that draws students who want that kind of intensity, who want the challenge.
VH: Did any individuals stand out for you as mentors at TMF?
PF: I've had a great relationship with Alan Austin (director of TMF) that stretches back 15 years now. Certainly much of the credit for the success of the program goes to Alan and the faculty. Another person who I worked with at TMF who ended up being a great mentor to me was Dave Kirk who plays tuba for the Houston Symphony. I took lessons from Dave my second summer at the festival and a lot things I learned that year really influenced how I play. Now Dave and I sit next to each other when we perform with the symphony.
VH: After 25 years, what do you think has kept TMF going and made it successful for students?
PF: As I said I think much of the credit goes to Alan and his team. But also the donations that come into the program from donors who know that what's happening there is important and they want to make sure it continues.
VH: You've had a chance to travel around and perform in many other places. What's your opinion of Houston's overarching music scene? How does it compare to other cities?
PF: What I really like about Houston is that between what's happening at Jones Hall, at the Wortham, at the Hobby Center and then at places like Fitzgerald's and the Continental Club--it's an incredibly diverse scene. You have so many different facets and genres of live music being performed here on any given night. If you're open minded enough to think outside of the typical venues, you're going to find something you like. Our music scene is just incredibly diverse.
This year's Immanuel & Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival kicks off on May 30 and runs through June 28 with multiple public concerts and events each week. Click here for the full season schedule and to purchase tickets.