Furman’s link to the Boston Pops

By Vince Moore

As a Furman University piano student 32 years ago, did Keith Lockhart have a feeling he would one day be an internationally renowned orchestral conductor?

Not at all. He planned to be a lawyer.

“I originally thought I’d get a music degree and then go to law school,” Lockhart said in a recent phone interview. “That went by the wayside because I dug down deep, understood myself better and realized I had a chance to conduct for a living.

“It’s fun to come back, especially to talk to students who may be asking the same questions I did,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart, a regular visitor to Greenville, will bring the legendary Boston Pops to the Peace Center Tuesday night for a concert that also will include the Furman Symphony Orchestra.

Singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway will be featured in the program, presenting a tribute to Barbra Streisand, backed by the Pops orchestra.

After intermission, the Furman Symphony will perform Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” then join the Boston Pops for a combined ensemble of 140 musicians to offer Tchaikovsky’s rousing “1812” Overture.

Lockhart and the Boston Pops are on a 10-city Southeast tour, but Greenville is the only stop that will involve student musicians.

Lockhart is not only including the Furman Symphony in the concert but, earlier Tuesday, will bring 10 principal musicians with the Boston Pops to Furman to offer musical coaching and advice.

“The idea was to make this a real collaborative experience,” Lockhart said. “The music students will be able to ask questions of people who’ve made their living as musicians.”

“We’ve never done this before,” added Lockhart, who’s based in Boston. “It’s a first, and I think it’s a great idea for us to interact with the community we’re serving.”

The unique collaboration has everything to do with Lockhart’s continued close connection with Furman, from which he earned bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and German.

“I’m proud of my alma mater, and this is my way of giving something back,” said Lockhart, who has led the Boston Pops since 1995.


Thomas Joiner, conductor of the Furman Symphony, said Lockhart has frequently visited the campus in the past three decades.

“Keith has been very generous with each generation of students that he’s talked to here about his time at Furman and the importance of the liberal arts background that he received here,” Joiner said.

Sparking interest

Ashley Marshall, a Furman Symphony trumpet player who’ll be participating in the concert, said the chance to perform with the Boston Pops has inspired the young musicians.

“This opportunity has really made our playing jump to the next level,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to make it as professional as we can because we’re going to be sitting next to professional players.”

She said the upcoming concert has sparked interest across the Furman campus.

“Everybody is talking about it at Furman,” Marshall said. “It’s really good for the Furman community to know that Furman produced Keith Lockhart in the beginning.”

Adam Collins, principal cellist with the Furman Symphony, looks forward to seeking some career advice from members of the Pops.

“My goal is to be a cellist in a full-time orchestra like the people we’ll be working with, so hopefully they’ll share some of their experience,” he said.

Collins, who has performed for the past three summers under Lockhart’s leadership at the Brevard (N.C.) Music Center, has high praise for the detail-oriented conductor.

“He’s very precise with what he says in rehearsal,” Collins said. “He has very high standards and is very demanding, but also knows how to achieve great results.”

Joiner has been rehearsing the Furman Symphony in advance of the concert and said his students are fired up.

“I know that this is an experience our musicians are going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Joiner said. “I just wonder what we’re going to do for an encore.”

Lockhart, who often works with hundreds of young musicians as the director of the Brevard Music Center, said students need mentors.

“I think one thing I missed at Furman was a connection to the outside world,” Lockhart said. “There’s probably more for Furman students than there was 30 years ago. I would have loved to have had more interaction with people who are in the same position I am now about what it takes to establish a satisfying career in music.”

Lockhart said opportunities still exist for young musicians but competition in the classical world is fierce.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Lockhart said. “The performing arts in general are facing a great number of challenges. There are numerous orchestras that are in very rough shape or have closed their doors. There’s no doubt we turn out more and more qualified people from universities and conservatories but we have fewer positions for them.”

Visiting the parents

One of the first things Lockhart always does when a tour brings him to Greenville is visit his parents, who live in Brevard.

They’ll be in Greenville for Tuesday’s concert, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to see them because I’m not a very good son in that way,” Lockhart said. “I don’t get home very often.”

The idea to pay tribute to Streisand on this tour was suggested by Callaway, and Lockhart readily agreed.

“Barbra turned 70 this year,” Lockhart said. “We thought it was a great opportunity to pay tribute to her. She’s one of those performers who’s so iconic that the songs she sings are more associated with her than the people who wrote them. You can only say that about a handful of people — Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald.”

As for the “1812” Overture, which famously features cannons and is therefore often performed outdoors, Lockhart said the work may require a little bit of tinkering.

“The Peace Center won’t let us bring cannons inside, so we do the cannons the old-fashioned way, with lots of bass drums,” Lockhart said, with a laugh. “We’ll make enough noise, I promise.”

Life on tour

The life of a classical-music superstar on tour is not always as glamorous as you might expect.

Lockhart, for this interview, spoke to The News from a truck stop somewhere in rural Missouri. He was on tour with the other acclaimed ensemble he conducts, the BBC Concert Orchestra.

“There’s a lot of work involved,” Lockhart said of touring. “You get up. You get on the bus. You drive somewhere for four or five hours. You get off, grab something to eat. You rehearse. You play a concert, then repeat.”

But the audience makes it all worthwhile, Lockhart said.

“It’s great to see so many people who want to see you,” he said.