Story by Martha Lane and Photography by Bruno Murialdo
What does Southern Maryland have in common with Northern Italy? St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM) and its campus in Alba, Italy, share Jeffrey Silberschlag, world-renowned trumpeter and conductor.
Each spring, Silberschlag travels to the St. Mary's campus in Italy to co-direct the Alba Music Festival, performing 21 concerts in ten days. He returns periodically to Alba throughout the school year to serve as the director of academic and music programs there. Along with his teaching responsibilities at the St. Mary's campus in Southern Maryland, Silberschlag is the music director and conductor of the River Concert Series held there each summer.
This magnificent maestro grew up in Pikesville, Md. At 18, he was accepted into the Institute for Advanced Music Study at Montreux, Switzerland. "While there I studied with 100 other students, living in the Grand Hotel on Lake Geneva, where English chamber maids did all the housekeeping. It's been downhill ever since," Silberschlag laughingly lamented.
After some soul-searching and weighing family expectations to decide among business, medicine or music, the decision to follow music as his life's work was like "a fish deciding if he should swim." And swim he did, playing his "lofty trumpet" and conducting throughout Europe, the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and Israel.
Silberschlag's life was significantly influenced by his grandparents on both sides of the family. During his summer vacations he worked for his maternal grandfather, from whom he learned entrepreneurialism and his grandfather's motto, "a good idea is an idea that is good for everyone." Silberschlag reaches out to bring colleagues, students, friends and family with him wherever his heart and musical talent carry him. He does not wait for opportunity to knock but seeks opportunity wherever and whenever he can to "make music happen."
When he was five or six, his paternal grandmother gave him a bugle, which her father had played in European circuses. "She did such a good job of teaching me how to place my lips on that instrument that even today I am complemented for my excellent embouchure."
At 24, Silberschlag became principal trumpet in the National Symphony in Torino, Italy, where he stayed for five years. Initially not able to speak Italian, he carried a pencil and pad on which to draw pictures of what he wanted to purchase at shops and restaurants. "It sounds strange, but I got to know people better because I did not speak the language."
Silberschlag met his wife, Deborah Greitzer, in the Jerusalem Symphony, where he was associate principal trumpet and Greitzer principal bassoonist. It was through Greitzer, having been invited by SMCM to perform in a summer concert in 1987, that he made his first contact with the college.
The following year, due to a sudden resignation in the music department at SMCM, he agreed to join the faculty temporarily. That became the beginning of a long and fruitful 22-year tenure. "Although it was a hard decision to leave Italy, in the end I did not have to give up either." Looking back over the events of his life, Silberschlag felt the truth of a favorite quotation: "Coincidence is a manmade word trying to obscure the active hand of God."
From Silberschlag and Greitzer's marriage have come two sons: Zachary, 17, and Nathaniel, 12. Following in their family's musical heritage, both are members of the Maryland Youth Symphony, holding the principal trumpet and principal horn chairs. Music is in their DNA. Greitzer's father was the first violist of the New York Philharmonic; her mother was a pianist at Julliard, and her sister a cellist and flautist. Silberschlag descends from generations of trumpeters and drummers. He said, "I can really tell you that of all my accomplishments, my sons and my students and their efforts bring me the greatest pleasure."
However, there was a time when Zachary wanted to play lacrosse. Would it be music or sports for Silberschlag's trumpet-playing son? An accident that occurred during one of Zachary's games helped him make up his mind. He told his father, "When you can't choose between lacrosse and trumpet, God breaks your leg."
While at SMCM, Silberschlag became a professor of music, chair of the music department from 1997 to 2004, founder and director of the Chesapeake Orchestra and Student Orchestra, and director of music and performance. He currently holds the Steven Muller Distinguished Professor of Arts Chair.
His talent and love for music brought him to SMCM; his love for his colleagues, his students and the community have kept this musical powerhouse in Southern Maryland. "Living in any one space," said Silberschlag, "is a day-to-day decision for me, but day after day St. Mary's and Southern Maryland win my heart."