LARAMIE, Wyo. — It was a few years ago, during a gathering with former classmates, when Laramie native and classically trained musician Byron Hitchcock began to understand just how stacked the odds were against a musical career.
"A few years after I graduated from Cleveland (Institute of Music), I was talking to some friends and we realized (about one-third) of our graduating class was already doing something other than music," Hitchcock said.
"They had already transitioned into doing something else."
Getting into a conservatory, he added, is challenging.
From there, chances of musicians making a full-time career and living off their musical training are slim, Hitchcock said. Earning high-profile gigs in major cities like New York, Chicago or London is even more difficult.
But, while the curtains close early and often on many careers, music's maintained a steady rhythm for the 29-year-old violinist, a 2002 Laramie High School graduate and the son of Laramie residents Dennis and Claire Hitchcock.
He is a master's graduate from the New England Conservatory and an associate concertmaster with the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.
Hitchcock, who is on break from the Rio de Janeiro-based orchestra, returned to his native city last week.
He is spending part of his free time rehearsing for a duo concert at 1 p.m. Feb. 3 in the University of Wyoming's Fine Arts Concert Hall with pianist Timothy Schoessler. The concert is free and open to the public.
It will include three selections — Arnold Schoenberg's "Phantasy," Sergei Prokofiev's "First Concerto for Violin" and Cesar Franck's "Sonata," or "The Frank Sinatra," as it's sometimes called.
Music is prominent in Hitchcock's family.
Dennis has played piano most of his life. Claire was an opera singer for a time.
His grandfather plays the trumpet, his late grandmother, the piano and percussion. Sister Emma plays the cello and sister Teresa is a singer.
"It's been surprising," Hitchcock said.
"Our family is fairly musical, but none of them have really had a career in music. Except now, with all three kids."
His own passion for music, specifically for violin, has been almost lifelong.
"It's hard to remember how I felt the first time I fell in love with the violin," Hitchcock said. "My parents tell me it was around when I was 2 or 3 years old and they showed me in a magazine a collection of instruments and said, 'Which one would you like?' I pointed to what I thought was a violin. It ended up being a guitar."
He received his first violin at 10 years old.
He hasn't put the instrument down since.
"I think it's just the range of emotions that it can convey, the long, singing tones so many other instruments have problems with," Hitchcock said.
"When I go somewhere without the violin . it feels a little weird."
Pursuing his passion for music, however, hasn't come without costs.
With help from his parents, he purchased an American model violin in 1998 from Chicago for $10,500.
His education from the Cleveland Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory required $200,000 in student loans.
It took six auditions with various orchestras before he landed a full-time job.
Still, despite the financial implications and constant critiques inherent to the industry, Hitchcock said he finds joy inside the notes and selections while performing.
"Every performance is fantastic," he said. "It doesn't matter if the orchestra is unprepared, if I haven't fully learned the music. It still feels like a great present to be able to play great music for people."
He's also grateful to have a job with a new — but improving — orchestra in a city like Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil's weather is warm and Rio's setting provides beautiful views of the city with skies as blue as water in the backdrop.
"I feel very lucky to have a decently-paying job, a nice place and a good orchestra," he said.
"Not only do I feel lucky, I feel incredibly blessed to be given the chances I've been given."
Hitchcock is one of two Americans in the orchestra, which has a native and international flare to its members. The orchestra is on break until March.
The violinist plans on using his time off to expand his art into new areas.
"Now, I'm able to focus on the things that can fulfill me more musically than just playing along with a section can," Hitchcock said.
"As enjoyable and rewarding as it is to play the great symphonic repertoire, it's very good to define and refine my personality through playing more soloistic pieces like (the Feb. 3) recital will be."
On Saturday, the musician gave a small preview to the selections he'll play early next month.
"Basically, as soon as I got here (in Laramie), I started preparing music for the recital," he said. "It's hard. I've picked some hard stuff."
Whether it's a recital with the orchestra or something smaller like chamber music, Hitchcock said the pressure to excel remains the same.
Music, he said, requires definition.
"The standard should be exactly the same," he said. "The notes should be perfectly in tune. The general rhythm needs to be perfect and the meaning of the music needs to come out clearly."
With his words trailing off, the musician began another piece from the upcoming recital, smoothing out sounds so they'll soon be ready for an audience.
When played skillfully and artistically, it's amazing what the violin, his chosen outlet for almost two decades now, can do, Hitchcock said.
"It's just kind of a miracle instrument, isn't it?" he said.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com