Feb 01, 2018 09:00AM
Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
When I first met Don Buxton, at the Easton-based offices of Chesapeake Music, my first impression was of a refined and stoic gentleman…and then we started talking. Buxton’s modesty, whimsy, and warmth—sprinkled with a touch of self-deprecating humor—glowed as we discussed the origins of Chesapeake Music, as well as the organization’s current endeavors.
Indeed, the musical beacon that he co-founded 33 years ago still excites Buxton, who grew up a small-town boy in Waynesville, Ohio before attending Julliard for a Master’s degree in music conducting. The year was 1982 and that summer, after leaving Julliard to spend time with a Shore native he befriended during college, he crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for the first time. “I was completely struck with the beauty and rural setting of the Eastern Shore,” Buxton says. “My decision to come to Maryland was to take the summer to make plans for conducting auditions in the United States and abroad. We lived the first part of that summer in St. Michaels and then moved to Easton.”
It was the small-town vibe of the Shore coupled with its natural beauty and farming roots that captured Buxton (himself having grown up on a 500-acre farm) and it didn’t take long for him to see two things: a new home and opportunity. “I saw the area as an opportunity to create art and arts organizations to begin the long process of bringing classical music to the Eastern Shore. At that time, classical music was not on many local resident’s list of things to do or pursue.”
And so, Buxton, “along with a small band of interested musical aficionados, and current Artistic Directors Marcy Rosen and Lawrie Bloom,” founded what was then called The Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival. That one event has now grown to an organization which presents more than 30 live music events throughout the year in both the genres of jazz and chamber music, including jazz and chamber music festivals—most notably, the annual Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, and the biennial Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition.
“Many great artists’ careers have been launched after receiving awards and concert opportunities at the Competition,” Buxton states enthusiastically. “[And] we have instituted First String and Presto programs in the schools, which introduces hundreds of kids in 3rd and 4th grades to the violin.” The music education programs of Chesapeake Music have become the pulse of the organization’s day to day mission.
Buxton’s reach into the musical community has extended far beyond his current role as Executive Director of Chesapeake Music, however. He was the Associate conductor of the Talbot Chamber Orchestra in the mid-1980s; became Music Director of the Dover Symphony in 1989 (and maintains); founded, directed, and conducted the Mid-Atlantic Symphony from 1997 to 2005; was faculty at Washington College in Chestertown; and has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including the Talbot County Arts Council and Maryland State Arts Council. He even serves on Vestry and sings regularly in the choir of Christ Episcopal Church in St. Michaels.
Reflecting on those accomplishments and their impact on the community Buxton is proud of, “Creating an environment for people that made them want to stay in Talbot County, and attracting artists and artistic organizations to Talbot County. There was no Avalon Theatre when I moved here; a small Art Academy was an infant compared to what it has become today as the Academy Art Museum. There was no orchestra, no string instrument education, et cetera. I, along with my wife Merideth, were determined to leave an artistic thumbprint on Talbot County.
“The quality of music the organization provides today—internationally-recognized musicians performing here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland—still amazes me. Many people think the world is flat when they cross the Bay Bridge. If they only knew about the gem of an arts community we have here.”
Because of Don Buxton and the many individuals he’s inspired, the music emanating from this amazing community is spreading far beyond the Shore.