Nick Matousch interviews Vince Lee, conductor and music director for the Ocean City Pops
OCEAN City Pops Conductor Vince Lee is more than excited for this summer to be in full swing. An experienced conductor from a young age, Vince has travelled the country and the world putting on shows for everyone to enjoy. Now with his position as both the Ocean City Pops conductor and musical director, he hopes to use his experience and knowledge to create the perfect combination of sophistication and fun in the first series of concerts since COVID restrictions were put in place.
What is your background in music and performing?
I went to a performing arts high school in Cincinnati. There I was in a musical and performed with the Cincinnati Opera in a children’s chorus. I did a national tour at age 12 of The King and I. Then I turned to the conducting world. I guest conducted the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at 13, and then I went to Indiana University and the Juilliard School. Right out of Juilliard, an assistant conductor position opened up, and I was lucky.
How did you get initially interested in music?
Well, the trouble all started when I was five years old. I asked for piano lessons for my birthday. I was always very curious about music, and I would push different notes. My older sister did not like this. I was four when she told me I was not allowed to play the piano until I had lessons, so I completely stopped. We would drive by this building when taking my older brother to school, and in the window it said “piano lessons.” My mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday, so I pointed to the music store and said piano lessons.
A conductor stands in front of an orchestra and dictates the music pace, but what are the duties of the music director?
The principal job of a conductor also involves programming all the concerts, choosing what guest artists come in, choosing the themes for different concerts, choosing how many players are or are not there. A big part is reaching out to the community and keeping in contact with people that have been long time supporters along with bringing in new supporters.
How do you program a concert series?
Part of it gets into the strategy of programming a season. The Ocean City Pops will do 20 concerts through a [typical season]. You want to have a balance of things that people will like. It is important to bring in types of music that balance out the music you play all year. Cost is also a [factor]. When you bring in a big name, ticket costs are going to be higher. So you will have a few tent pole concerts in your ensemble, but then you will also have lower costs as well.
What are the advantages to working with Ocean City as a concert venue?
My job is to show that these concerts are for everybody. Ocean City is an outdoor city. Even last year during the pandemic you had lots of people outside on the Boardwalk and the beach. Having an outdoor concert goes hand in hand with that – a young family is more comfortable bringing their little ones to an outdoor concert than an indoor one. You can bring a towel, sit there, bring food, soft drinks – it is perfect.
What is your day-to-day like with planning a concert series?
I will take trip to the Pops orchestra library to see what music we have and what instruments we need for different concerts. If I needed to I could program three to four concerts in a day.
But when it comes to OC Pops, there is never really a start time because you are always thinking about things. I was always thinking and planning about what I wanted to do once I was hired for the job.
You describe yourself as having “one foot in pop music and one in classic music” What is your experience like to balance the two?
A big part of my career as a conductor is bridging the divide between popular and classical. I do not consider myself a pops conductor – I consider myself a conductor. There are not very many people out there who do work on both sides of the field. Popular music is half my life. I started out as a theatre music performer, but at the same time I was studying classic music seriously and I never really gave up either side of my life. I am kind of a unicorn in the industry.
How many instruments can you play?
Just the piano. I did play cello as a kid. I have played on a few other instruments, but not at a level that I would consider for public consumption.
When is the most appropriate time for music? When is it not appropriate?
It is going to depend for each person, but I think the answer is always. Different music is appropriate for different times. For me, music is appropriate just about all the time. It is more integral in each person’s life than we think. I have a hard time falling asleep when there is music going, so probably not then for me.
What movie would you like turned into a musical?
The Bourne Identity or Bridge of Spies. You do not really see a spy thriller in the music theatre world. I think the music theatre world could use a good spy thriller. The closest its gotten to it is “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” around 2004.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Ocean City?
Manco and Manco Pizza. It is right across the Boardwalk from the Music Pier, and I will go there after a concert for a late slice of pizza, which is the best thing ever.
If you could revive one fashion trend what would it be and why?
Oh Lord… fashion is not my thing. The tradition of people going to concerts in formal dress. Decades ago people would go to concerts decked out to the nines. I think the industry should try do that for specific concerts on specific occasions.-photos provided by Vince Lee.
Find this story and more in our July magazine.