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A Lineage of SFCM Strings Continues at Charleston Symphony

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Bassist Christian Hales has won the Charleston Symphony Orchestra position once held by his SFCM professor, Scott Pingel. Violinist Sofia Schutte also has a fellowship position with the Orchestra.

December 5, 2022 by Alex Heigl

By Alex Heigl

SFCM's Strings Department has sent two of its own to the Charleston Symphony, continuing a tradition that extends over two decades.

Christian Hales (M.M. '21) won the position of Principal Bass with the Symphony—by, according to his SFCM teacher Scott Pingel, a unanimous vote. It's an especially touching moment for the two bassists, because it was Pingel's first tenured job after finishing school. (Pingel moved on to his current position of Principal Bass at the San Francisco Symphony in 2004.)

Hales, who started in the new role at the end of November said he is "a bit daunted, but excited to grow some new playing muscles as a principal" and flex some non-musical ones as well, calling the position a unique chance to "develop some leadership capabilities while interacting and leading musicians who are twice my age."

He called Pingel "a great mentor" and recalled that during his first semester at SFCM, Pingel told him he needed a new bass, then shipped one to the school for Hales to try, which wound up being the instrument he currently plays. "After graduating I wondered if I would lose access to the 'Scott Pingel Club,' but he has been very gracious to give me a few lessons before auditions, just meet up to chat, or lend me a bow when I needed it," he added, and continued, "I find it significant and also very reassuring to know that Scott held this position before me. It's helped me come to this orchestra with a lot of respect and love before really even knowing anything about it."

Recalling his time at SFCM, Hales said it was, "exactly what I needed," singling out other faculty members like bass professor Steve Tramontozzi, who "lent me access to his studio for two semesters to make finding practice space easier," as well as SFCM Music Director Edwin Outwater, Strings Chair Simon James, Jennifer Culp, Jay Liu, Brass Ensemble Director Paul Welcomer, and percussion Chair Jake Nissly for their time and ears.

Additionally, Sofia Schutte, currently studying with strings James, was named one of the Symphony's Inclusion Fellows for the 2022-23 season, a professional development and mentorship program for individuals from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in classical music.

For Schutte, the fellowship is an opportunity to continue the work she focuses on with her group, Dúo Ávila: Surfacing works by women and BIPOC composers through recitals and community engagement. She thanked the Symphony for allowing her to finish her final semester at SFCM as she flies back and forth between coasts and played her second-year Master's recital in October.

This opportunity is advancing Schutte's skills both on and off the orchestra stage, with performance opportunities and community outreach aspects "giving me a step-by-step of how I can make the duo better," she said. Other non-musical skills sharpened include at everything from venue booking to grant-writing, while the diversity and inclusion workshops the Symphony puts on are exposing her to aspects of music "we don't really get taught in school."

There's one other aspect to the change of scenery she enjoys as well: "It's warm when I get there! Like the sun actually warms you."

Learn more about studying strings at SFCM.