VIRGINIA BEACH – In a search for a new music director, Virginia Beach’s Symphonicity orchestra is almost halfway through a five-concert series in a “Quest for the Best.”
On Sunday, U.S. Army Music Officer Silas Huff will take the podium and conduct a three-song symphony, called “Love, Strife and Fate,” in hopes of earning the esteemed position at the orchestra’s helm.
There was never any question about the career that Huff had in mind for himself. He said at 10 years old, he knew that music would be his lifelong path. He picked up the guitar and played in rock bands throughout high school and got his bachelor’s degree in guitar performance from Texas State University.
“I was trying to make a living as a guitarist in Texas, and turns out, that was really hard to do,” Huff said. “So, I decided to go to graduate school where I studied composition.”
Huff headed for Los Angeles, hoping to start a career in film scoring. Soon, he enrolled at UCLA and eventually got his master’s degree in music composition.
During his graduate studies, course requirements included a few courses in conducting. Turns out, Huff was a decent composer, but a natural at conducting.
“I started getting work as a conductor,” Huff said. “Instead of getting calls to write film scores, I was getting calls to conduct recording sessions of film scores.”
While Huff entertained the calls to lead orchestras, it wasn’t until he attended his first Los Angeles Philharmonic – a concert he said kept him at the edge of his seat for its entirety – that he decided to switch gears again.
After that concert, Huff said, he knew that he had to conduct. The raw emotion he felt during the philharmonic’s performance, led by Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, was enough to sway Huff’s passion.
“I didn’t realize that sounds like that were possible,” Huff said about the performance. “I wanted to recreate what I felt, to emulate it so that others could feel how I felt that night.”
Huff has wielded a baton ever since. He’s conducted symphonies in Germany, performed at the Louvre, taken orchestras on tour through Italy and has lead countless 4th of July celebrations up and down the East Coast.
While living in Queens, N.Y., Huff founded the Astoria Symphony Orchestra in 2002, and would regularly fly back to Texas to conduct at the Round Rock Symphony. He even taught at the Manhattan School of Music while producing operas for the famed conservatory.
Of all his performances and tours, Huff said the smaller shows were the most meaningful, recalling a time where he led an orchestra at an outdoor show at the World War II monument in Washington, D.C.
“All of a sudden, these buses pulled up,” Huff said. “World War II veterans were streaming off of them. It was a whole new level of responsibility to play for them.”
One more change in career was coming for Huff, though. In 2015, he received a phone call from a friend in the U.S. Marine Corps who encouraged him to apply for an open conductor position with the U.S. Army.
Huff said he decided to apply, and after being offered the job, he shocked his family with the news of his new post. Soon after, Huff shipped off to boot camp, where he learned how to be a soldier and an armed services musician.
“I never thought I’d be able to serve in the military because I was a musician,” Huff said. “This was perfect, though, because I could still do music and serve my country at the same time.”
Now, Huff is stationed at the U.S. Army School of Music in Virginia Beach, where he oversees the training of about 300 soldier musicians every year. The soldiers make up the Army bands that play shows all over the world, and sometimes, even rock shows for soldiers stationed overseas.
“These bands sometimes go to places like Iraq and Kuwait and play for soldiers so they could have a little taste of comfort – of home,” Huff said.
Huff calls the Southside his home now and said he is hopeful in earning the music director position with Symphonicity, a group he said is enthusiastic and easily conveys their love of music to audiences every time they take the stage.
It also helps that the job is close to home, Huff said. After years of flying in and out of cities to conduct, an orchestra on his own turf is ideal.
Whether he receives the designation of “the best,” Huff said the experience has been overwhelmingly positive – as he believes any person’s interaction with music is.
“Working in all these different places over the years,” Huff said, “music is possibly the thing that could unite all people.”