John Morris Russell said he fell in love with music the moment he took his first breath.
Growing up in Cleveland, his first experience with orchestral music was at age 8, when he heard the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell, who he called the "greatest of the greats."
After he heard the initial trumpet fanfare in the fourth movement of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, Russell said he was hooked. And when his music teacher asked what instrument he wanted to play in the fourth grade, he chose the trumpet.
He played in the school band, the school orchestra, the jazz band, the marching band and the brass ensemble. He even played in a garage band in high school.
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"Growing up, there were no boundaries," he said. "There were no walls between musical styles."
Russell grew up with many musical influences but eventually came back to the one that first inspired him. A life in front of orchestras has led him to his latest gig -- conducting the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.
Russell went on to conduct some of the most celebrated orchestras in North America. He spent 11 years as associate conductor of The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a decade as music director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario, Canada. He has served as guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra, to name a few. He was associate conductor of The Savannah Symphony Orchestra.
In 2011 he took over as the conductor of The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, which consists of the same people in The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra but performs a different style of music. And in March he was named music director and principal conductor of the Hilton Head symphony.
"I am thrilled to have him as our music director," symphony president and CEO Mary Briggs said. "He is exciting to work with. He has great, wonderful, creative ideas and a grand vision for the orchestra. He's already brought so much excitement to the musicians and to our audience that we have kind of record-high subscriptions to the season and general excitement about the orchestra."
Russell lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Thea Tjepkema, and their two children. The maestro has passed on his love of music to his kids. Alma, 11, plays the piano, and Jack, 13, plays the viola.
Russell hopes orchestral music will inspire today's youth as it did him when he was a boy. Music education is something he feels very strongly about. He said music teaches self-discipline, teamwork and a love of beauty. Supporting young artists is central to the mission of the Hilton Head symphony.
"(Music) teaches the value of 100 percent," Russell said. "In South Carolina, like any state, 92 percent gets you an A. You get 92 percent of the questions right on your test -- boom. You get an A. In music, if a kid walks into the band room and plays 92 percent of the notes right, you have cacophony. ... In music we start at 100 percent, and that's where the learning begins."