Nolan N. Dresden is the Assistant Conductor of The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Symphonic Band. His music background is extensive and fueled by a wide range of instruments from the piano, to the french horn to the Contra Bass Clarinet. All leading to his passion for conducting. On April 11th Nolan will be conducting the band in Frank Ticheli’s Rest and Meredith Wilson’s Seventy-Six Trombones
LGBAC: Let’s start with the basics, what are your vitals?
Nolan: Nolan (given by my Irish grandmother)
Nicholas (given by my older brother who was obsessed with “Eight is Enough”).
Dresden (given by my father…because it’s his last name), 34 years young.
I am a Taurus/Gemini cusp, with my rising in Capricorn and my moon in Leo…don’t be afraid…
L: Tell us a bit about yourself.. Where are you from, where did you grow up?
N: Born and raised in Dixon, Illinois, which is about an hour and a half outside Chicago. I moved to La Crosse, WI for school and I graduated with my BFA in Theater and Opera with a minor in Conducting. My first gig was in the very rural Door County, where I played piano and was a Bing Crosby impersonator…I was actually not too bad.
I then moved to Chicago proper for three years, where I acted and music directed at a few different theaters there. I moved to New York in 2006, took a brief hiatus to China and Hong Kong for 6 months and have been here since conducting and still singing at a few different churches in NYC.
L: What is you’re primary instrument and do you play anything else?
N: This is a tricky question. I started on piano when I was eight years old, and still play today. But I wish I would have kept up on lessons later in life. When I was a church choir director in college, I also took organ lessons from our resident organist. Now, I find myself to be a slightly more comfortable on organ than piano.
The following year, fourth grade, I started playing French horn and played through my freshman year of college. The only reason I stopped is because I injured/strained a group of muscles in my face and wasn’t able to play again. While I was studying, I had the chance to take a lesson with Dale Clevenger, the principle horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I even was invited to sit on stage with them for their final run through of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.
In college, I came to Contra Bass Clarinet out of necessity when we needed a contra bassoon part covered for a concert and didn’t have enough bassoonists. It’s fun to play. It literally rattles the floorboards
L: How did you first find out about the band and when did you join?
N: I was recommended to the band by my therapist (I’m not ashamed) in 2008, and I joined in January of 2009. My first concert was at Carnegie Hall. We played part of our program called Gods and Monsters. That night is when I made my first close friends in the band.
L: What brought you from playing to conducting?
N: I always dabbled in conducting while I was in school. Then I was the resident Music Director for a theater company, and I really enjoyed it. The final turning point was my last full time gig in Hong Kong, when I realized I didn’t like performing all that much. I feel more at home and more valuable to an ensemble when I’m taking the reigns…some might call that “having control issues”.
L: What is your relationship to music (how did you find it ? did it find you?)
N: I was fascinated by my music teacher in elementary school Mrs. Labarre. I would go into her classroom before and after school and just stand at the end of the piano completely enraptured with her playing. That started it.
What sealed the deal was my freshman year, when I was sitting number 15 out of 16 horn players in our all district band and we were playing Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral (which has followed me for years) and hearing that horn line rip through that piece bells up at the top of their lungs brought me to tears. I knew at that moment that I could never not be a musician.
L: What has been your personal greatest achievement?
N: I think being invited to audition at Juilliard last year is definitely at the top of the list. Granted, I didn’t get in, but knowing that I was one of only nine they selected to see from hundreds of submissions felt pretty good. Also, having Alan Gilbert tell me,”you had some of the most impressive pre-screening materials submitted” was pretty amazing.
L: During rehearsal you gave a very moving talk and interpretation about Frank Ticheli’s Rest, its relationship to you and the bands journey. Care to rehash that a bit?
N: I joined the band exactly six years from this concert cycles first rehearsal. I fell in love with the group pretty quickly, and decided that I needed to be more involved. The following season was the bands 30th year anniversary. In honor of this percussionist Leslie Becker showed a video that she had edited about the history of the band and there was a section devoted to the members who had passed over the years. Some of them during/from the AIDS crisis and some not. But they are all a part of the rich history of the group. More importantly, I think the LGBTQ community is uniquely a rich part of the history of NYC.
I was introduced to the vocal arrangement of Rest by Frank Ticheli called There Will be Rest last fall. It is based off of a Sarah Teasdale poem by the same name. I just found it to be really moving. It had been commissioned by a family who lost their young son very suddenly and very tragically. I don’t know, it just spoke to me.
I started poking around Ticheli’s website and saw that there was also an instrumental version, which I like better. I think it’s important for all of us, young and old, to remember our history and to learn and grow from it. Therefore, I am directing this piece in honor of that history, and to the members that have graced this group with their presence at one time or another.
L: How gay are you? On a scale of whatever you want.
N: When I was in high school, every Saturday morning I would make French toast from scratch and watch the musical numbers of Victor Victoria before going to my piano lesson…how’s that???