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The faculty woodwind quintet: Alan Taplin, Kaycee Ware-Thomas, Andrew Sprung, Jaimie Wagner, and Cindy Duda. Stacey Jones-Gar­rison | Courtesy

Laughter fills the vast expanse of McNamara Rehearsal Hall, bouncing off stacks of chairs, bleachers, paneled walls, and floor-to-ceiling window panes. Stray rays of sun­light escape from unhappy clouds and reflect off the metallic sur­faces of a bassoon, a clarinet, a flute, a French horn, and an oboe — tools of the trade for the Hillsdale College Faculty Woodwind Quintet.

Hillsdale adjunct music pro­fessors Cindy Duda, Andrew Sprung, Alan Taplin, Jaimie Wagner, and Kaycee Ware-Thomas, laugh at the last strains of a joke made during a break in rehearsal before looking up.

Here, laughter is plen­tiful and time is pre­cious.

The quintet members rehearse every week between teaching classes at Hillsdale, working with high school orchestras, con­ducting private lessons, teaching at other uni­ver­sities, per­forming in ensembles, caring for fam­ilies, and, in Taplin’s case, even playing full-time with the Toledo Sym­phony Orchestra.

“The biggest chal­lenge for a lot of us is driving,” Duda said. “Driving to work, to dif­ferent schools. I am kind of cranky until I get here because it’s a lot of driving.”

Some­times, she said she asks herself why she con­tinues to make the trek through the snow and ice of Michigan winters.

“But then I get here,” she said. “And I work with the stu­dents, and I play, and it’s like, ‘Aha.’ I remember. It’s not work anymore. I’m making music. And it’s just cool.”

Duda has been playing bassoon since high school. She said she started with the flute, but noticed the bassoon when a col­league was cleaning out a closet.

“I asked what it was,” Duda said, “and she said to take it home and try it. I just loved it, and she told the high school band director that I tried it and he recruited me.”

Her private high school was in need of bassoon players, so when the band director heard she was inter­ested, he offered her a schol­arship.  She hasn’t stopped playing since.

Sprung and Ware-Thomas both started playing their instru­ments in fifth grade. Sprung said he chose the clarinet after real­izing he could make the biggest and best sound with it. Ware-Thomas said she decided to play the oboe when her older sister sug­gested she would get all of the solos.

Com­posers Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss brought Taplin to the horn.

“When I was a kid, my Dad used to play clas­sical music on Sunday morning before church while we ate breakfast,” Taplin said. “I would sit by the stereo and listen to recordings. I thought the horn made the coolest sound. I knew from age 3 or 4 that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Taplin went on to play in a brass quartet in college. His first gig was sitting on the street corners of Ann Arbor, Michigan, playing for change. He made $30 per day.

Now, Taplin plays in 170 con­certs a year with the Toledo Sym­phony Orchestra.

“One hundred seventy con­certs a year? Not including rehearsals?” Ware-Thomas asked when Taplin men­tioned his schedule. “They’re working you to death!”

Taplin dis­agreed.

“If you enjoy what you’re doing, then it’s not work, is it?” he said.

Years of training and hours of practice brought each of the five to their respective posi­tions.

“I think we’re busier than the average person,” Ware-Thomas said. “All of us have probably studied long enough to be brain sur­geons by now. We probably have more training than they do because we start in ele­mentary school. String players start when they are 3. We’ve been training longer than any pro­fession I can think of.”

But the five call them­selves lucky. Few schools of Hillsdale’s size possess the time or resources to sponsor pro­grams like the faculty woodwind quintet, Sprung said, and there are plenty of tal­ented musi­cians with graduate degrees working retail to make a living.

Working free­lance also pro­vides schedule flex­i­bility.

“The benefit of free­lancing is the flu­idity of schedule to change things around,” Duda said. “If my husband needs to work late, we can switch off and he can come home in the evenings. I have a little flex­i­bility that makes it much easier to be there for really important events. That makes it really nice to be both a mom and a musician.”

For the first time ever, the quintet also asked a student to perform with them. Senior Kaitlyn Johns, an eco­nomics major and music minor, has been playing clarinet with the group this spring.

“I thought it was going to be intim­i­dating, playing with five pro­fes­sional musi­cians,” Johns said, “But it has been a joy to work with them. Every­thing is very col­lab­o­rative, so I am com­fortable expressing my thoughts and ideas about the piece, but I am also learning a lot because I’m getting instruction from five dif­ferent teachers with five dif­ferent per­spec­tives.”

Hillsdale pro­vides an amazing oppor­tunity to engage with music and the arts in ways few rural areas expe­rience, Sprung said. Every week there are free con­certs and recitals, yet many stu­dents miss out.

“What we have here with weekly rehearsals is really nice — it doesn’t usually happen that way,” Ware-Thomas said. “With chamber music, I think you do need to just put in the time together to feel like you’re gelling as a group. It’s dif­ferent than prac­ticing indi­vid­ually and learning your notes. You’re learning to read each other’s body lan­guage, to become one unit instead of indi­vidual players. That’s the hard part.”

The quintet will perform  April 10 at 7 p.m in Howard Music Hall.