Posted August 15, 2022

Boyer graduate earns prestigious New World Symphony fellowship position

Percussionist Caleb Breidenbaugh will begin his fellowship position at the Miami-based orchestral academy this fall.

Caleb Breidenbaugh holding a xylophone hammer.
Photography By: 
Joseph V. Labolito
Caleb Breidenbaugh earned a spot as one of just four full-time percussionists with the prestigious New World Symphony.

Caleb Breidenbaugh, BYR ’20, ’22, a percussion performance major from the Boyer College of Music and Dance, was recently awarded a fellowship position with the New World Symphony, a highly competitive and world-renowned orchestral academy.

Breidenbaugh didn’t come from a family of musicians, so it came as a surprise when he asked for hand drumming lessons for his eighth birthday. “I wanted to play djembe and congas, and none of us know where I would’ve had exposure to that sort of thing or what I would’ve seen that would’ve made me want to do that, but my parents said ‘OK,’” he laughed.

He quickly discovered that he not only had a keen interest in percussion, but that it was something he excelled at. Breidenbaugh consistently placed well in district and regional music competitions in high school, and when the time came to decide what he would study in college and pursue as a career, the choice was surprisingly simple.

“I remember thinking I didn’t know what else I would do in college,” Breidenbaugh said. “If I were to lay out a list of what I wanted to study I would basically start with music, and okay, that’s one possibility, what else? Nothing.”

At Boyer, Breidenbaugh found a place where he continued to grow his skills within the structure of an elite percussion program. In the late summer of 2016, before he set foot in his first Temple class, Breidenbaugh began working with the Diamond Marching Band, of which he remained a member for the entirety of his undergraduate education. He also performed with the university’s concert band, the Temple Wind Symphony, the percussion ensemble and the university’s premiere instrumental ensemble, the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, during his collegiate career.

“Historically, Temple is the place that you went if you were serious about percussion,” Breidenbaugh said, and he credits percussion faculty members like Phillip O’Banion and William Wozniak for mentoring him and strengthening the foundations of his playing.

He added that he was fortunate to study under Temple faculty members like Chris Deviney and Angie Nelson of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Steve Fidyk, Tony Miceli, and Rolando Morales-Matos, who has been working on the Tony Award-winning musical The Lion King for over two decades.

But it is the late, great Alan Abel, Breidenbaugh said, whose lasting impact on Temple’s percussion program is perhaps still the most profound. 

“Alan Abel did a lot to codify the existence of percussion in academia, and his legacy is massive,” Breidenbaugh said. “It used to be that if you were at an audition and you saw some Temple students walk in you would say, ‘Ugh, the Abel students are here, we might as well pack up.’”

Breidenbaugh has spent the last two years completing his masters in percussion performance degree from Boyer and preparing for the next step in his career. Miami’s prestigious New World Symphony was something he had heard rumblings of since his undergraduate days when Boyer’s top graduate students went through the audition process. Breidenbaugh, however, hadn’t seriously considered auditioning for a New World Symphony fellowship position until he was in graduate school himself.

The New World Symphony operates, in many ways, the way a professional orchestra would. They have the amount of people they need to run an orchestra and a regular orchestra season featuring multiple concerts each week, and its members get paid. But Breidenbaugh explained that the fellowship position is seen as a stepping stone between a degree program and working in a full-time, tenure track position in a professional orchestra.

The opportunity to play with such high-caliber musicians full time was something that Breidenbaugh knew would be an invaluable experience. The audition process required him to submit a packet of materials including essays and recorded performances. He was chosen as one of 15 percussionists to travel to Miami Beach for an in-person audition this past June, where he was ultimately selected to one of just four full-time percussion positions within the orchestra. 

“Every week you’re playing with the same people, so I’ll be able to really learn the orchestra, how they play, how they respond to a conductor, and I’ll get to play in a really high-level percussion section,” said Breidenbaugh, who will begin his fellowship position this fall. “There’s this phenomenon in music where the better you know someone and the closer you are with them, the more you’re able to play well together. That can sometimes be hard to achieve in an orchestral setting, so that is going to be really neat for me.”

The fellowship position brings with it a multitude of opportunities to play with some of the top conductors and musicians in the world. New World Symphony’s musical director, Michael Tilson Thomas, is world-renowned, and Breidenbaugh is already looking forward to one of the first concerts of the season when the orchestra will be accompanied by world-class piano soloist Yefim Bronfman.

Breidenbaugh can retain his fellowship position for up to three years, and he plans on pursuing full-time orchestral positions upon its completion. He has already performed with groups like Philly Pops, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and his hometown Lancaster Symphony Orchestra.

“I get to meet a lot of people and play a lot of music,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what I want to be doing.”