Jeweler by day, maestro by night? Such dual life paths seem incongruent, but for Robert Simon, the two complement each other.
Simon, owner of WinstonSalem's Windsor Jewelers, also conducts the Piedmont Wind Symphony (PWS).
"It was really my vision to incorporate the two," Simon explains. His business, along with sponsors including BB&T, Newbridge Bank, and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem, helps support the symphony, while his career in music has reaped more intangible benefits. "The creativity of the music world," says Simon, "has helped me in the business world, and the discipline I learned all those years in music has paid off." Simon has a degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but chose to enter the jewelry industry. In 1986, he established Windsor Jewelers and during a stint serving on the faculty at North Carolina School of the Arts, he was inspired to found PWS in 1990.
Simon liked the idea of a wind ensemble because — having no string section — it can better explore the nuances of wind, brass, and percussion instruments. "And there's a lot of exciting music for it," he adds. In its 22-year run, PWS has performed everything from J.S. Bach to George Gershwin, and has presented concerts with guest artists such as trumpeters Arturo Sandoval and Maynard Ferguson, or vocalists Dionne Warwick and Paul Anka.
Beyond the performances, Simon believes PWS serves a greater purpose in the community. "We have a lot of music educators that perform in our group, and it might be the only thing they actually still play in," he says. "It keeps them on their toes as players, as well as teachers." To date, there are about 48 core members of the ensemble, many of them longtime members. "I really enjoy the brotherhood in the building of the programs and the rehearsals, and seeing my friends on stage."
Equally important is what happens backstage, where community members like underwriter Dr. Michael Morykwas, board president Dr. Andy Schneider, executive director Cheryl Kingman help support and plan the symphony's programs.
Programs which include opportunities for high school honors students to perform alongside seasoned veterans and attend master classes, like the one in which Sandoval displayed his virtuosity. "It's pretty amazing stuff when students get to experience that," says Simon.
And pretty amazing stuff will be on tap this season. Jazz saxophonist Kenny G is slated for the ensemble's annual holiday concert on December 11, and Simon is considering a program with pieces by contemporary American composer David Maslanka, whose works Simon describes as "large-scale, very challenging, pushing the limits of the range and the color." The maestro would settle for nothing less. Whether he's choosing a challenging score or selling exclusive PatekPhilippe watches, Simon strives for excellence. "I've set the bar very high for myself, my colleagues at Windsor Jewelers," he says, "and my colleagues at Piedmont Wind Symphony, where we strive to do the best we can."