From corrections to conducting

Blount County officer faces the music -- and leads the orchestra

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Whether you love your job or hate it, there’s a good chance it’s not the job you dreamed about when you were 10.

Many of us have a "dream job," something we always wanted to do, a path not taken, for a myriad of reasons.

Wouldn’t it be a kick, just for a day, to experience that job? The team here at Blount Today thought so. In July, we shared Marty Millsaps’ dream job as he followed the Smokies in his dream of being a professional baseball player.

David Dudley shared his dream job with us, and, with the help of Bill Robinson and the Orchestra at Maryville College, we were able to give him a taste of that experience. David Dudley’s experience, told by senior reporter Lance Coleman, follows.

We have two more in the works, and look to continue this next year. So let us know what YOUR dream job is. Is it something that Blount Today can make happen for you, for a day, and then share with our readers? Let us know. Email or call Lance Coleman at or 865-981-9106. We will take a look at the responses and see if they are within our capabilities.

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

David Dudley’s black jailer uniform hung in the closet. A black tux would be the uniform the Blount County corrections officer wore on this night.

For a few hours on Oct. 23, Dudley fulfilled a lifetime dream of becoming an orchestra conductor. He led the Orchestra at Maryville College for two pieces during the inaugural performance of the 2006-07 season.

As a part of the Blount Today Dream Jobs series, Dudley, 47, told this paper of his desire to be an orchestra conductor.

The father of five attended three rehearsals and practiced at home with a CD provided by orchestra conductor Bill Robinson. Robinson and the Community Orchestra of Maryville made Dudley’s dream come true.

Three weeks prior to the concert, Robinson introduced Dudley to the orchestra during a rehearsal in Wilson Chapel on the Maryville College campus. "This is David Dudley. We got him out of the Blount County Jail," Robinson quipped. "He’s never
worked with a group (of musicians) before, so lets just do it."

As Dudley stood before the musicians for the first time, orchestra general manager Genevieve Michael whispered to a reporter that what Dudley was attempting to do wasn’t for the faint of heart.

"That’s pretty brave -- to get up in front of a group of musicians and to be bold enough to go in front of an audience," she said.

That same night, Robinson chose "Into the Storm" by Robert W. Smith and the "Radetzky March" by Johann Strauss for Dudley to conduct. After rehearsal, Dudley already had his favorite. The Strauss piece was more difficult.

"This one I got lost early on," he said of the Strauss piece.. "After two parts, I thought, ‘I have no idea where I am,’" Dudley said.

He enjoyed "Into the Storm" more. The piece was written after the Blizzard of 1993. "This one is a lot more fun," he said. "There are short rests, and it was a lot more fun."

Following that first rehearsal, Dudley confessed that he considered backing out of the opportunity to lead the orchestra. "For several days I thought, ‘I’ve got to call the guy (Robinson) and back out,’ and then he called today right before I left for work," Dudley said. "It’s going to be fun. I’m just going to try to have fun. I don’t think I’ll be that nervous."

About a week before he was scheduled to make his conducting debut, Dudley seemed confident and said he wasn’t nervous. Dudley said he had been listening to both pieces at home and practicing.

"I’ve been playing it and listening and going along with the music," Dudley said.

The soft-spoken Dudley only admitted a minor case of the nerves minutes before the Oct. 23 concert began. "A little bit," he said when asked if he was nervous.

Dudley and his wife Judy and their children -- Josh, 17, Jessica, 15, Laura, 12, Brian, 10 and Heather, 7 -- ere subdued as they prepared to leave for the concert. Brian showed some enthusiasm. "I couldn’t wait for it to happen," Brian said.

To introduce Dudley to the audience, Robinson set up a ruse to make it appear Blount Today senior reporter Lance Coleman was interrupting the concert to ask a question.

The orchestra played the "Light Cavalry Overture" by Franz von Suppe and "Hungarian Dances No. 1, 3 and 5" by Johannes Brahms to begin the first half of the program. Just before the third piece, Robinson began to speak, and then, as planned before the concert, Coleman raised his hand from where he was seated three rows back and asked a question. At this point, Robinson played along and asked Coleman up to the stage.

Coleman introduced himself and asked, "Just how hard is it to become a conductor?" Robinson replied that it took years of training and education. When Coleman explained Blount Today’s Dream Jobs series, he asked if Dudley could lead the orchestra. At this point, Robinson inquired as to what Dudley did for a living. "He works at the Blount County Jail," Coleman said, to which the audience responded with laughter. Robinson then told Coleman to call and set up an appointment, but
Coleman countered that Dudley really wanted to lead the orchestra that very night.

Robinson then asked Dudley to come up on stage and meet the audience. Dudley, who was seated about 10 rows from front with his family, walked down the aisle and came up on stage with Robinson. When Robinson asked about his musical training, Dudley said he played drums for several years, but that was about it. When Robinson agreed to let Dudley lead the group and tried to give the officer a conductor’s baton, Dudley countered that he brought his own, pulling it out of his pocket.

Dudley drew laughter from the audience when he turned to the left to begin the piece and the musicians behind him played. He appeared shocked, turned around to the left and tried again. This time, on cue, the musicians to the right started.

Finally, Dudley stood facing the middle of the orchestra and began conducting. He appeared comfortable as he led the orchestra in the final piece of the first set.

So comfortable, in fact, that, at intermission, many in the audience thought Dudley really was a conductor, asking, "Is he a new assistant for Mr. Robinson?" Dudley used the intermission time to go backstage and change into a black tuxedo.

Robinson invited Dudley back up to conduct the final piece of the concert, the "Radetzky March." While he had sat in the audience and came on stage clad in his street clothes to lead his first piece, Dudley came clad in a tuxedo and tails to conduct the last piece of the concert. The audience applauded as he walked from the back of the stage past the musicians and nodded graciously to the audience.

After the concert, Dudley confided he had the jitters prior to taking stage. "I was pretty sweaty, but once I started, I loved it. It was great. They’re the real musicians," he said of the orchestra musicians. "I was up there flailing my arms, not to disrespect Bill (Robinson) and his work."

Dudley’s co-worker, corrections officer Alex Bus, praised Dudley following the concert. "I think he did pretty good - a lot better than I could have," Bus said.

While Dudley’s family was somewhat reticent before the concert, after it was over they were pleased. Judy Dudley said she wasn’t surprised he pulled off his dream job.

"He did great," she said. For the 25 years they have been married, Judy said her husband had a habit of "conducting" the music playing on the stereo while he was walking around the house. "He does it all the time at home," she said.

Daughter Laura was enthusiastic about her dad’s conducting gig. "It was cool," she said. Daughter Jessica was proud of her pop. "I think he did great, and he looked good in the tux," she said.

Dudley said he always wanted to be a conductor, but never could afford to quit work and go to school for eight years to study music.

"It’s one of those things where, after you marry and have five kids, some things you put aside for family," he said.

Dudley conducted well for not having any formal training. "He was very easy to follow and gave good cutoffs," said flutist Janice Veal. "We enjoyed playing with him. He obviously did his homework."

Robinson said the musicians were impressed with the first-time conductor. "The orchestra was amazed. The first piece was tricky. I’m very proud of him. This was a fun thing to do," Robinson said.

Although Dudley resumed his duties at the Blount County Jail the next day, he apparently had at least one fan who recognized him from his one-night stint as a conductor. On his way home from work, he went to Target in Maryville and a lady who recognized him from the concert tapped him on the shoulder.

"She said, ‘You were serious about working at the sheriff’s office. I thought you were joking.’ She said she enjoyed (the concert) very much," Dudley said the day after he conducted the orchestra. "I enjoyed it beyond words. It was really a neat experience."

Publisher’s Note: Blount Today would like to thank Todd Duggan of Duggan’s Men’s Shop on Hunters Crossing Drive in Alcoa. Duggan supplied the tuxedo that Dudley wore the night of his dream job.

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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