LENNOX, MASSACHUSETTS —
It's THE stereotypical American tale: the plucky hard worker blessed with talent and a penchant for hard work, never gives up on his dreams and hits the big time! That is the promise of America, and it's the story of Miles Salerni - a young musician who learned, if at first, second, third or fourth attempt you don’t succeed, try harder.
His story evokes the struggles of the young men and women currently on display at the Rio Olympic games. But instead of swimmers and racers and gymnasts, the people in this story are violinists and oboists and percussionists wowing the crowds at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) summer home in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.
Miles Salerni on the timpani, with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
Being selected as a BSO Fellow is just as challenging as making the U.S. Olympic team. Practice and persistence make a difference. Salerni is there this year, but it wasn't an easy journey.
“I got close; I got alternate past four years," he laughs, "but yeah, it finally took this fifth time!”
Many audition; few are selected for the Boston Symphony’s elite summer training program. When the 25-year-old Salerni got rejected the third time, he found a quirky way to get to Tanglewood. He joined the stage crew.
“When I arrived, I was under the impression that I would just be moving chairs and percussion instruments and stands and maybe setting up some risers for the orchestra," he remembers. "I had no clue that I was gonna be 45 feet in the air, trying to feed a rope through a pulley.”
Not an easy job.
"He got up on the catwalk, and about halfway down, he completely froze and said, 'I don’t think I can do this,' recalls John Demick, the BSO's stage manager. “But he did. And you know what? I would hire him again, today.”
The willingness to do what it takes rubbed off on the musicians Salerni worked with, says percussionist Kyle Brightwell.
“Miles kinda knew everything that was going on in the percussion section, and so we took advantage of that a little bit and said, 'Hey, Miles, can you grab us the tambourine?' 'Hey Miles, can you go grab us that Grover triangle clip that goes on a suspended cymbal stand?' We could say that to him and he would know what to look for,” he said.
The Grover triangle clip clamps the instrument to a music stand and suspends it while being played so it resonates.
During those two seasons when Salerni wasn’t looking for triangle clips, he listened and learned.
“I, most of the time, went out into the audience during the rehearsals or the concerts and would try and just soak in as much as I could,” he said.
Getting to play
Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and this story's happy ending. After five tries, Salerni is finally a Fellow. He got to play snare drum with his peers and the BSO on the 1812 Overture.
“It’s very exposed and it’s nerve-wracking, but very, very fun," he says.
Salerni’s former boss, John Demick, says the stage crew misses him, but they’re thrilled.
“For us, it’s incredible. I mean, once I found out that Miles actually made it through, I may have been the first person to call him to congratulate him,” he said.
As for Salerni: “I do miss the guys back at the stage crew – don’t get me wrong – but, yeah, there’s something special about creating music, especially with a young group of enthusiastic musicians.”
The moral of the story is one for the ages: hard work and devotion to craft pays off.