Music teacher looks back on days with legendary conductor

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ROSE HILL — From the clubs of New York and the concert halls of Europe to a small practice room at the Duplin Music Academy in Rose Hill, Jim Candido’s journey has been one of constant change marked by dedication, an ability to work with others and, perhaps most importantly, good fortune.

During a break from his round of weekly lessons at the Academy last week, the tanned, fit looking 76-year-old music teacher spoke about his life in music and how a sports loving teen in Brooklyn, New York grew up to perform with one of the most exclusive orchestras in the world.

Candido, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, grew up in Huntington, Long Island in the early 1950s. Candido said his love of music, if not his talent, was passed down from his mother, who was twice widowed. “She wasn’t very much of a musician. She could play the piano, but when she played no two bars were in the same meter or the same key,” said Candido, smiling at the memory.

When he was 11, Candido’s mother pushed him to take violin lessons, which he would continue for the next four years, becoming skilled enough on the instrument to play with local symphony orchestras throughout his high school years. Eventually, however, other interests, such as sports, cars, and girls, began occupying the teenager’s mind. “That sort of distracted me from music. Plus, it was a little bit of an incongruity walking home from football practice carrying a violin. The kids would really let me have it.”

To stave off further embarrassment, Candido bought a trombone and decided to take up jazz.

Though he was undecided about which direction his life should take, Candido said he was able to secure a scholarship to the State University of New York. In order to take care of his mother, however, he chose to take odd jobs working at supermarkets and other local stores.

A year later, after a night out on the town, Candido and four of his friends made the decision to join the Air Force. After graduating at the top of his class in radio school, Candido was trained in Morse code and was assigned the task of listening in to Communist radio stations and copying the communications.

Out on a date with his future wife, Elizabeth, while stationed in Germany, Candido happened upon a group of local musicians playing a small basement club. When the group took a break, remembered Candido, he picked up a violin and began playing. Much to his dismay, he found his skills had deteriorated since his days on Long Island. “It was a rude awakening for me, because I had become very proficient on the violin when I was younger,” remembered Candido.

Despite his poor showing, Candido said he was encouraged to continue his musical reawakening. After purchasing a trombone, he put together a small jazz group that played wine and beer cellars across Germany for the next three years.

Still undecided about his career path, Candido took a job working in communications with Aeronautical Radio Incorporated, a company that provided communications for airlines.

“I did that from 1959 to 1963, and I said to my wife, ‘You know, I’m not going to be very happy doing this for the rest of my life. I would like very much to try to get back into music.’”

Wary of his chances of making a living as a violinist due to the size of his hands, Candido made the decision to take up the bass. At the time he began studying, said Candido, he was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of John Schaeffer, of the New York Philharmonic, with whom he began taking lessons.

After several years of study, Candidobegan receiving opportunities to play small engagements such as weddings and bar mitzvahs. Within two months, he was offered a chance to go on tour across the United States with the Don Shirley Trio, which consisted of himself, a pianist and a cellist.

“We drove across the country four times playing one night concerts,” recalled Candido.   “We’d go out for about three months at a time, playing about 200 concerts a year.”

When the time away from home began to put a strain on his marriage, Candido made the decision to seek work in New York, playing in Off-Broadway shows and substituting for club musicians before finding a job with Michel Piastro, former concert master with the New York Philharmonic, performing with his group, the Longines Symphonette, a job which took him back out on the road.

Shortly after returning to New York in 1965, Candido was contacted by Broadway Director Will Holt to take part in a review featuring selections of theatre music by famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. While Bernstein was revered for his work on such classics of the stage as Candide, On the Town, and West Side Story, Candido said his initial meeting with the master began on a less than auspicious note.

While the review musicians were rehearsing at a venue in Greenwich Village, Bernstein made an appearance to listen to the group’s efforts. “After rehearsal, he came up to the podium where the musicians were standing around and he said ‘Who wrote these god awful arrangements.”

After making a few changes to the music, Bernstein asked Candido if he knew how to play his bass with a bow. When Candido replied in the affirmative, Bernstein wrote a passage for him to play and was duly impressed with the young musicians skill. “He liked it; he said ‘That’s great.’”

The brief performance would serve Candido well when, a year later, Candido decided to audition for the New York Philharmonic, which was then under Bernstein’s leadership. “My music teacher told me I wasn’t ready but I told him I was just going to go down and do it for the experience”

Candido made it through the first cut and was chosen to audition for Bernstein. “I was just praying he didn’t recognize me; I wished there were a curtain. But when I walked in he jumped out of his seat and said ‘Hey, I remember you, you’re the guy that made the bass sound like an organ.”

Though he was unsure what to make of the comment, Bernstein’s opinion was clarified when Candido received a call shortly afterwards informing him that the job was his. “I was absolutely thrilled,” he remembered. Candido would stay with the orchestra for the next 33 years.

His days with the Philharmonic clearly hold a special place in Candido’s memories, his reverence for Bernstein and his fellow musicians obvious in his animated discussion of their days on the road together.

“Whenever the Philharmonic is on tour it is first class all the way—first class hotels, first class travel,” he stated.

In 1968 Candido joined the orchestra on a State Department tour of Europe. The previous year they were in Israel just after the 1967 Six-Day-War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. “You could drive up to Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv and still see the tanks on the side of the road,” he recalled. “I’ll never forget that.”

Candido said the orchestra, and Bernstein in particular, were often treated like modern day rock stars. “I’ve seen crowds try to tear his clothes off. It was incredible to me.”

Candido would go on to work under a number of conductors during his time in the Philharmonic, before his retirement in 1999, but his reverence for Bernstein remains undimmed. “I had such love for the way he conducted. I can remember having tears come out of my eyes during certain performances it was so beautiful.”

In 2003, Candido and his wife pulled up roots and moved to River Landing in Wallace, after a tour of the southeast in search of prime golfing opportunities. “It’s just perfect here. Completely different than anywhere else we looked,” he commented.

Currently, Candido works as an instructor at the Duplin Music Academy, where he teaches violin, cello, guitar, woodwinds, brass, piano, organ, and voice.

He still performs regularly, with The Tallis Chamber Orchestra and local symphonies in Fayetteville and Wilmington.

“It’s wonderful to be able to pass along what I’ve learned,” said Candido of the most recent passage of his long and fruitful musical life. “The mark of a good musician is to pay attention to those that have come before you. That’s what I did, I studied their every move, and hopefully that’s what I can teach others as well.”

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3 thoughts on “Music teacher looks back on days with legendary conductor

  1. I enjoyed reading your article on my Uncle Jim. I remember days gone by when he used to carry his Big Bass in his station wagons. Him and my father had such a great passion for music all their lives. I’m glad in his later years he is able to give back to others what he has learned through his career.

  2. Hello, I’m Hanne, from Germany and I’m really overwhelmed to find this article about a very extraordinary, impressing and very very kind man,-Jim Candido. I was honored to meet him and his lovely wife Elisabeth ( she was a good friend of my father’s in earlier days) long time ago, in 1976, in our former house in Weidenthal, for some days.We had a really good time, good conversations and a lot of music. I was studying the piano for several years and was honored to give a little audition of my repertoire to him. We went together to Mannheim / Rosengarten, where we were invited to a concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with Pièrre Boulez as director, playing Mahler. Those are times i’ll never forget and I still have the little tiger-eye chain, which they made me a present.
    So, I hope both are still fine. My best regards to you both,
    Sincerely, Hanne Oehl ( Stöhr)

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