Have baton, will conduct

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

Story by Phyllis Speidell
Photos by John H. Sheally II

A unique and upbeat man of music, Daniel W. Boothe brings a medley of experiences and talents to his first season as conductor and music director of Symphonicity, the Symphony Orchestra of Virginia Beach.

Now a resident of Western Branch, Boothe is man con brio, radiating that energy as a performer, conductor, composer, captain in the U.S. Air National Guard, family man and neighbor who considers himself a “regular, average guy.”


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It all started back in 1983, when Boothe was a 5-year-old with a pair of improvised drumsticks banging on his Lite-Brite box and any available pot lid. He learned to read music early from his older brother, who played trumpet. His father was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, and the family lived in a trailer in a rural area in Salisbury, Md. Money was tight, but his parents instilled values, including the value of money, in the boys and managed to save enough to buy a drum set for him when he was 10 years old.

In spite of his middle-school band director’s cautions that no one from their community — ever — had been selected, Boothe auditioned for the All-State Band. He made the band that year and for the next five years after that, working to stay ahead, gaining and retaining his position as a principal player.

“I was a drummer with a passion for marching bands and a desire to go wherever the music took me,” he said.

Daniel W. Boothe has conducted musical groups in a variety of settings, including in the U.S. Air Force. (Photos by John H. Sheally II)

The music took him the University of West Virginia to major in symphonic percussion (learning steel pan, Japanese taiko, African drumming and Balinese gamelan as well) and then to George Mason University for a master’s degree in conducting. Then he earned a Bachelor of Music Composition, magna cum laude, from Radford University. USA-TODAY News recognized him as one of the top 20 collegiate scholars in the country, and he earned a place in the Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Numerous fellowships and prizes followed, including the prestigious David Effron Conducting Fellowship at Chautauqua, N.Y.

All the while, his career was taking off in diverse directions simultaneously. As a percussionist, he performed with jazz, Dixieland and pop groups as well as with symphonies, operas and ballets all over the eastern United States. He conducted numerous philharmonic orchestras, brass bands and wind ensembles. He taught at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and was director of percussion at Radford University, among other jobs.

Refusing to limit himself to a single genre, he goes by different names for different gigs — Dan Boothe, Daniel W. Boothe or Daniel William Boothe.

After marrying Andrea, a vocalist and flute player who teaches in Virginia Beach and writes lyrics for some of his compositions, Boothe took a long look at his future.

“I wasn’t sure I was ready to take the family on a journey up the tumultuous ladder of a conductor’s career,” he said. “I wanted to be part of something that was art for art’s sake and, much as I love teaching and children, I wanted to work with professional musicians.”

He saw a notice for a position as a conductor with Air Force bands — and life changed. With 13 military veterans in his family, he felt pulled in that direction and, he said, “In the Air Force, the musicians are all professionals and, although we are combat trained, our work is as full-time musicians.”

A month late in applying, he talked his way into the selection process and, in 2009, won a national audition for a conductor with the U.S. Air Force Bands. Three months of officer and combat training later, he assumed command of the “Band of Flight” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.

Life took another turn, however, when he impressed the chief of staff there, who sent him to the Department of Defense Information School to become a public affairs officer. Boothe graduated with honors and took a job at the Pentagon. He was further from music but on a stable career path where, he said, he could take care of his family — now including four children. “Shoot up the career elevator not the ladder,” he quipped.

Deployed to Qatar and Afghanistan, he was on the flight line in September 2014, when the rockets came screaming in. He thought his life was about to change again.

“You only have eight to 11 seconds to find cover when you hear them,” he said. “We ran for cover and I sheared my ankle muscles. I hit the deck and thought what a change this was from leading a symphony orchestra in New York.”

“In Kabul, our concerts had been canceled because of an expected attack on the base and we had to detour through the worst parts of the city. I wondered if the children rushing out to us carried sticky bombs and if the man opening his umbrella was disguising a weapon or signaling an attack,” he remembered. “I also wondered if this was my long term future, performing concerts with weapons at our sides.”

Life did change, again, when Boothe earned the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Communication Company Grade Officer of the Year and accepted a job at the Pentagon for the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force.

“It was incredible but as far from my musical goals as I could get,” he said. “Then I found Symphonicity, a genuine community orchestra very professionally run. I was about to be transferred back to the premier Air Force band so I had to do some soul searching. I felt a calling to Symphonicity, even though I would be taking a pay cut, and signed with them in May 2017. I don’t know any other conductors like me — liking and participating in a wide variety of genre. Symphonicity is like that too — it’s a good fit.”

When a job as public affairs officer also opened at the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard he applied and entered the Air National Guard on Sept. 5, 2017, the day after he left active duty in the Air Force. Holding both jobs seemed the perfect solution, he thought, perhaps divine intervention.

So why settle in Western Branch when your work is in Virginia Beach and Washington?

“Neighbors make a neighborhood,” he said. “And as soon as we drove into the neighborhood and saw its quaint charm, quiet, proximity to schools and conveniences, we knew we would find the right home.

“Our daughter is falling in love with Western Branch Intermediate School,” he added. “We hope to be active contributors to this community for many years to come — Lord willing, maybe even for all the years to come.”