Clarinetist Tim Carter’s resume includes “eating Mom’s cooking” as one of his interests. The 29-year-old musician is back in Southwest Harbor, getting his fill of home cooking while practicing for an upcoming recital with pianist Yalin Chi later this month at St. John Episcopal Church.
Mr. Carter has just returned from Japan, where he spent about three years as principal clarinetist with one of that country’s top orchestras, the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra. He recently spoke about that experience and his musical journey during an interview at his Clark Point Road home.
The 29-year-old musician moved from York to Southwest Harbor when he was 10. It was while a student at Pemetic Elementary School that he began his lifelong love of classical music.
“I had three mentors on the island,” he said. “Looking back, they might have been the three best I ever had.”
Before tackling an instrument, Mr. Carter took voice lessons from Carol Cramer Drummond.
“She was the first,” Mr. Carter said. “I was really into singing. When my voice changed, I got into clarinet.”
Along with teaching him vocal techniques, Ms. Cramer Drummond introduced her young student to the classics, especially Mozart.
At Pemetic, Mr. Carter studied music with Ed Michaud, learning to play saxophone and clarinet. Clarinet became his main instrument for one reason.
“It was simply that Mr. Michaud needed a clarinet in the band,” he said.
Once Mr. Carter discovered the classical repertoire written for the instrument, he was hooked.
“I found there was a Mozart clarinet concerto and I got excited about that,” he recalled.
Mr. Carter’s third local mentor was Bill Whitener of Lamoine. A member of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra where he is one of the principal trumpet players, Mr. Whitener also teaches clarinet. Recognizing Mr. Carter’s talent, both Mr. Whitener and Mr. Michaud encouraged him to tackle increasingly difficult material.
“They were the first to show me the challenging things,” Mr. Carter said.
He attended high school in Connecticut. In the 10th grade, he was tapped to participate in a pre-college music program at The Juilliard School in New York City. The program, held on Saturdays, immersed the clarinetist in ear training, music theory and performance.
“It was a total conservatory program in one day,” he said. The experience cemented his desire to become a professional musician.
“You can go into infinity with a musical instrument,” Mr. Carter said. “It’s a never-ending journey.”
After high school, Mr. Carter attended Juilliard, majoring in clarinet performance. After completing his undergraduate work, he was admitted to the master’s program there but decided to take a break. He spent about two-and-a-half years at the Lighthouse Music School in New York, a program that teaches music to blind and sight-impaired people of all ages.
After leaving the Lighthouse School, Mr. Carter returned to Juilliard but soon felt restless.
“It was my eighth year at Juilliard,” he said, explaining he had been attending since high school. “It’s a great school but I wanted to go to another school for once in my life.”
Mr. Carter completed his master’s degree at another New York institution, Hunter College, all the while playing every chance he got, performing in orchestras, chamber ensembles and at recitals. That’s when he got the opportunity to go to Asia.
“I was going to Japan for a music competition,” he said.
Entering the competition was easy. Organizers accepted every musician who turned their paperwork in on time. Unfortunately, Mr. Carter’s friend in Japan, who was given that task for him, failed to meet the deadline.
“All of a sudden, I was stuck with a nonrefundable ticket to Japan,” he said.
Mr. Carter then learned that the Nagoya Philharmonic was holding auditions for a principal clarinetist. “I said I’d try out for it and I got it,” he said.
Mr. Carter became the only American in the 80-piece orchestra. The first obstacle was the language barrier.
“When I first went there I didn’t know any Japanese at all,” Mr. Carter said.
Orchestra conductors would sing out how they expected Mr. Carter to play rather than telling him in Japanese. He eventually learned to speak Japanese.
Gaining the acceptance of his fellow musicians also took some time.
“In the beginning there was this feeling of freshman orientations,” he said. “After awhile, they accept you.”
Mr. Carter said Japanese orchestras work much differently than their counterparts in the United States. Japanese orchestras play many more concerts than American ones. As a result, there is little or no rehearsal time.
“I never worked that way in my life as a musician,” Mr. Carter said. “Personally, I didn’t like working that way.”
Many of the Japanese musicians felt the same way, he said. Mr. Carter hopes that changes at some point; the musicians, all of whom are excellent players, deserve to have their work showcased in a more rewarding setting, he said.
Mr. Carter will return to Japan this summer, to perform the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Nagoya Philharmonic. After the concert, he’ll return to the United States while looking “into other possibilities,” he said. Those possibilities include working with another orchestra, entering competitions and teaching, he said.
In the meantime, he continues to practice the clarinet eight hours a day and prepare for the May 24 recital at St. John’s Church in Southwest Harbor. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s some of my favorite pieces all in one night.”
The program includes works by Johannes Brahms, Carl Maria von Weber, Claude Debussy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Accompanying Mr. Carter will be Yalin Chi, whom he met at Juilliard.
“She’s a fantastic piano player,” he said. “We’ve performed together many, many times.”
Admission is free. Donations will be accepted to benefit the church’s music fund and the Westside Food Pantry.