What makes Bill Denton, principal trumpet, exceptional in the Lyric Opera Orchestra? Naturally, his outstanding trumpet playing, but in addition, the unusual path he took to get to Lyric.
Bill holds music degrees from Kansas, Arizona, and South Carolina, and his job history includes the Army Field Band and teaching mathematics. But while serving as a band director in Georgia, he faced a life decision.
“I took long walks and thought about doing this (band directing) for 20 years.” He didn’t want to give up free-lancing, which he loved. He auditioned for the North Carolina Symphony Principal position, and felt very dejected when he didn’t advance. Discussions with a supportive friend in the Charleston Symphony led to his belief that as long as he kept trying, kept improving, and didn’t give up he would eventually be successful. About a week later he won the Second/Assistant Principal position in the Alabama Symphony. There he met Wei, his future wife and a cellist in the symphony.
Four years into his tenure in Alabama he saw the ad for the Lyric Opera opening. Wei supported him completely. “Winning this job was a team effort. Some days I felt like I was unstoppable; other days it seemed like I couldn’t play at all.” He said she helped keep his ego in check when it got too big and supported him when he wasn’t feeling up to the challenge. “She also has a great ear. I would play for her every day and ask, ‘do you like this lick better this way or that way?’ We both won this job.”
“I enjoy that we’re all part of a much bigger deal,” says Bill, who joined the Lyric Orchestra in the 2013-14 season. “We may be stars in the moment — in solo passages or in orchestral interludes — but we’re always at the service of the stage. I also think these operas represent the composers’ best music.”
Bill said he’s looking forward this season to three things in particular:
• Berg’s Wozzeck: “The second act has some brilliant trumpet playing, and the third act has a big trumpet call and big dramatic moments. Some licks look impossible, so you have to slow them down, figure them out. Picking the right instrument helps.” He explained how he used a rotary trumpet in Tannhauser last season, which sounds different: more mellow but with a brassy quality and a darker sound. “We (the trumpet section) use the rotaries on Wagner, Mozart, and sometimes Strauss operas”, he said.
• Bel Canto: “I’m curious about it.”
• Rosenkavalier: “The Berg and Strauss are bucket list kinds of pieces.”
Bill is on the trumpet faculty at De Paul University and has played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic, and Grant Park Orchestra as a sub. Several years ago he took up water coloring. He is enjoying Chicago’s relatively low humidity compared to Alabama and the nearby green spaces. Two Forest Preserves are a short drive away from their home, and he is delighted that their 17-week-old puppy can now go with them on hikes.