Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Dallas Symphony Chorus (photo: Sylvia Elzafon)

Committed to inspiration: three Dallas Symphony Orchestra musicians spark change with exceptional music

by David Buice, Special Contributor | March 5, 2020

For those not well acquainted with classical music, at first glance a symphony orchestra might seem like an unfamiliar musical ensemble. A little research would tell you that the typical orchestra is made up of dozens of musicians playing instruments falling into four general categories: strings, brass, percussion and woodwinds. Depending on the music being performed, harps, pianos and even electronic instruments may be included on occasion.

If you dig a little deeper, you begin to realize that an orchestra is much more than the sum of its instrumental sections. At its vibrant, artistic heart, a musical organization like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is composed of your friends, neighbors, teachers and colleagues who come from a variety of backgrounds and countries. They all share a fierce and passionate dedication to the performance of music that at its best, both touches the heart and stirs the soul.

Thomas Demer – Viola

Meet Tom Demer, master of the viola, the violin and Texas country fiddling.

As a boy in Arizona, Demer wanted to follow in his father’s musical footsteps. His dad was a scientist and metallurgical engineering professor, but also a skilled amateur violinist. In the first grade, Demer received his first violin and soon began playing duets with his father. Today, his father’s violin is one of his most prized possessions.

The violin was Demer’s instrument of choice until his high school music teacher urged him to change to the viola. He followed her recommendation, but never lost his love for the violin, and along the way, his English teacher introduced him to another musical specialty – Kenny Baker’s Texas fiddling style.

While working to master the viola, Demer maintained his devotion to the violin and twice won the Tucson Old Time Fiddlers contest. Meanwhile, he was also recognized four times as a high school All-State viola musician.

Later, as his musical career developed, he continued to study the viola while playing the mandolin and electric violin on the side in a number of bar bands in Tucson and eventually, the D-FW area. At age 26, a solo viola recital led to a successful audition with the DSO, and he has now performed in the orchestra’s string section for over three decades.

In addition to his commitment to the viola, Demer values musical flexibility and versatility and works continually to master other instruments, such as the electronic MIDI violin and the tenor banjo, which he has played occasionally during DSO performances.

Outside music, he expresses his versatility through inline speed skating and powerlifting, and in 2016 won a gold medal in the Masters Division of the International Powerlifting League’s World Powerlifting Championship.

Finally, despite a demanding rehearsal and performance schedule, Demer has never lost his long-held love for playing and recording country fiddling — in some circles, he is known as the “Cotton-Eyed Johann.”

“In a lifetime, no one can master all styles of music or achieve perfection in even one,” says Demer. “There is unlimited room for improvement and learning, so why ever be discouraged?”

Giyeon Yoon – Violin

In contrast to Demer, Ms. Yoon is a newcomer to the ranks of the DSO, joining the orchestra in 2019 after numerous years of studying and performances in both her native South Korea and the United States. She earned Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from Seoul National University and later received a second master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where she had a full scholarship.

Before coming to Dallas, Yoon performed with the New York Philharmonic as part of their 2018 Global Academy and made her solo debut winning first place at the New York International Music competition. Additionally, she has given recitals at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

Her determination and hard work eventually led to a successful audition with the DSO, which she calls one of the happiest moments of her life.

“Playing in the DSO is like a dream, and I am so grateful for the musical experience I am gaining here,” Yoon says.

To perform at her best, Yoon practices daily, yet still finds time to teach violin to a number of students, providing an additional sense of fulfillment beyond the concert hall. “I find joy watching my students grow as musicians,” she says.

In working with young, aspiring musicians, she is firm in her conviction that having the ability to perform music is “a gift from heaven.” She adds that in addition to this natural gift, becoming a professional musician requires an enormous amount of dedication and hard work.

“If you truly have a passionate love of music and are willing to work very hard, you can achieve your musical dreams,” she says.

When not practicing, rehearsing, teaching or performing, Yoon likes to relax by listening to recordings of many different styles of music while hanging out with one of her favorite companions, her dog.

Lydia Umlauf – Violin

A native of the Chicago area, Lydia Umlauf, came to the DSO with an impressive background of formal training and performance experience. Among her honors, she is an alumnus of the Music Institute of Chicago’s Academy program for gifted, pre-college musicians. She later studied at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and has received widespread recognition through her performances in numerous competitions in the Illinois-Indiana area. She performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and soloed with the Lafayette and Muncie Symphonies before becoming a member of the violin section of the DSO.

Looking back on her career to date, she says one of her fondest musical memories was her audition for admission to the Institute of Chicago’s Academy program. While any audition can easily create a jangle of nerves, sweat and anxiety, that was not the case in this instance for Umlauf.

“When I walked into the audition and started playing, I remember thinking and feeling how beautiful music is,” says Umlauf.

Away from music, Umlauf enjoys travel, photography, attending other musical performances with friends and playing the game of ultimate Frisbee. In her advice to young musicians, she offers the reminder to stay present in one’s passion.

“Have goals but don’t get so caught up in the end result that you forget the joy of music itself,” Umlauf says. “Giving yourself variety in your life is one of the healthiest ways to stay happy!”

Through the dedication of Demer, Yoon, Umlauf and their colleagues and countless predecessors, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra has grown from a small ensemble in 1900 into a world-class symphony, performing in one of the world’s finest concert halls, the Meyerson Symphony Center.

The DSO’s Principal Guest Conductor Gemma New will lead performances on March 6-8 with music by Rachmaninoff, Barber and American John Adams. The orchestra will also present My DSO Concert on March 7, a musical program specially designed for adults and children with autism and other developmental disabilities, presented by Jan Miller and Jeff Rich and in partnership with numerous local organizations, including Best Buddies International.

To learn more about this event and other upcoming performances, and other DSO musicians, visit http://mydso.com.

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