Never did three new Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra members lack for an answer to the question, "What do you want to be?"
Always, each has wanted to be a professional musician. That they play with their hometown orchestra comes as a bonus.
Center stage -- the Philharmonic's freshest faces.
There's Hamburg native Christine Bailey, who became principal flutist two years ago, hired just after she turned 21.
There's Kathleen Gardiner, 27, who grew up in the Tonawandas and who started in her father's musical footsteps, then went beyond them, by playing the clarinet.
And violist Matthew Phillips, 28, who just moved back to his hometown Kenmore from Boston.
"Usually one thinks that anything of good quality must come from another town or another city, but that's a myth," said Bernard Fleshler, who has played viola with the orchestra for 39 years.
"I'm delighted we have Matthew Phillips in the orchestra," said Fleshler, referring to his new stand partner. "He is young, eager, an excellent viola player, well-prepared.
"It took him a while to stop calling me 'Mr. Fleshler,' but I've got him calling me Bernie now and we get along fine."
The interview with this trio started in the performance hall, but was interrupted by the noise of a power saw. It moved to the Mary Seaton Room, but that became too chilly when autumn winds blew through an open door. It ended, finally, on the back steps that lead to the downstairs bar, where it was dark, but at least quiet and warm.
The young musicians took the inconveniences in stride. Maybe it's a metaphor for life with a symphony orchestra -- the hassles are part of doing business.
Coincidentally, these three all started making music in fourth grade, and they all graduated from colleges in Ohio.
As with any undertaking, it's not always harmonious.
Ms. Bailey was ready to quit college after three years. For two years, Ms. Gardiner must have felt as much like a truck driver as a musician. And Matthew Phillips may have wondered how long he'd be serenading brides and grooms with Beethoven and the Beatles.
An older friend who lived down the street played the flute, so Christine Bailey decided she had to do the same while she was attending Blasdell Elementary School.
"I used to listen to James Galway, and I knew by the time I was 11 that this was what I wanted," said Ms. Bailey, who answers in a direct, no-nonsense fashion.
Reviews of her work say that she has chosen well, and so has the orchestra.
Buffalo News Music Critic Herman Trotter said this in February: "Truly remarkable, immaculately accurate, but with a winning, casual, often jaunty approach to phrasing."
Though Ms. Bailey knew what she wanted, her confidence was shaken while she was in college.
"That's what conservatories do to you," said the flutist, who decided to leave the Cleveland Institute of Music after her third year. "You get a little idea of how much competition there is and the negative side of being in the business.
"I ended up switching teachers four times. Then I started studying with someone in New York, and I felt halfway decent about my playing."
There was no question of her talent -- she made it to the semi-finals of tryouts for the Erie and Charleston orchestras.
An audition is a moment -- well, maybe five or 10 minutes -- of specialized terror that pits one musician against dozens, or hundreds, of others who want to sit in that chair on that stage.
"I was more nervous for this audition because it was a place I knew," said Ms. Bailey, who won several prestigious awards at Frontier Central High School.
"I knew the conductor and knew what he liked. There were probably about 200 applicants for the job. Whenever there's a principal flute opening, every college student in America applies. It was a blind stab that I'd get this."
During auditions, six or eight committee members sit behind a screen so that the decision is based solely on the music.
"I think the committee was fairly surprised, because they knew me," said Ms. Bailey, who had subbed for the BPO.
As principal flutist, she'sresponsible for making sure her section "sounds decent together," said Ms. Bailey, who last year finished her undergraduate degree with the Cleveland Institute.
"They are great, so that's not really a problem," she said. "But if something goes wrong with my section, it's my fault, even if it's not my fault."
After seeing harpist Deborah Henson-Conant, who electrified the audience with her unconventional performance in the first Pops concert, Ms. Bailey says she has a new idol.
"I really admire women who take charge of their lives and don't apologize for themselves," she said.
She likes to sew and read. "I'll read anything that someone recommends," she said. "I'm not a very adventuresome reader."
And when she listens to music for fun, it's anything but classical music.
"That's one of my ironclad rules," she said.
Shortly after she was hired, the orchestra was laid off in a budget crisis.
"Lately things seem more stable and the whole organization seems to be moving forward," she said. "I was really, really happy to be hired. I like being in a place I know and that I like, but when the orchestra is having money problems, I wish I was anywhere else."
What makes her nervous now that she's a full-fledged orchestra member?
The top line of Matthew Phillips' newly revised resume starkly states: "Member, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, viola section, May 1997 -- ."
Below that are numerous positions and prestigious awards: a Buffalo Chromatic Club college scholarship; finalist in a competition at a Viola Congress; first and second prizes at Fredonia State College's 20th Century Symposium.
Phillips chose the viola, he said, because he was trying to emulate his older brother.
"He played the violin and I wanted to be just like him," said Phillips, who was teasingly interrupted by Kathleen Gardiner saying, "Oh, that's beautiful."
"Actually, when my class went down to get instruments, all that was left was French horns and a viola," said Phillips.
"I think I enjoyed it, but I probably sounded terrible. Then I started reading how famous musicians practiced a lot, so I thought I'd better do the same thing. My mom and dad didn't even have to prod me. I was a true geek.
"I always thought it would be great if I could play in the orchestra," said Phillips, who graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. "I didn't think it was incredibly difficult until I started auditioning. Then I knew what hell it is."
In Boston, he free-lanced, playing for weddings and "in some orchestras that weren't so hot."
He went to nine or 10 auditions and was a finalist in Cincinnati and Dallas.
"I wasn't really thinking about getting a job here," said Phillips, who is engaged to Feng Hew, a Taiwanese cellist. "I just wanted a job with an orchestra, with health insurance.
"It was a big surprise to get into Buffalo. Ten years ago I never would have thought this could happen."
Phillips is particularly thrilled to play in a hall as "friendly" as Kleinhans Music Hall.
"The hall itself is amazing," he said. "The sound of the violas is not swallowed up. You can hear everything.
"I've been a little nervous, just trying not to screw up. I don't want to make any wrong entrances. You don't want to be a soloist unless you are meant to be."
So new that he's still filling out forms and finding out what he's expected to wear for different occasions, Phillips feels a kinship to the orchestra, from the days when he sat on the opposite side of the stage.
During a recent Pops concert, he appeared to fit right in, glancing up to take his cues from Doc Severinsen, who was resplendent in his purple "Mood Indigo" outfit.
His passion lies with classical music, both to listen to and to play. But Phillips adds, "When I started playing with Doc, I liked a lot of that music, though I don't even own any jazz CDs."
Asked where he thinks the BPO is headed, Phillips replied: "Well, I'm newly back in Buffalo and the newest in the orchestra, so I'm not sure that I'm the one to answer. I don't know where it's going, but I'd like it to go to Carnegie Hall."
To escape her clarinet, Kathleen Gardiner, 27, hikes, Rollerblades and rambles about in the great outdoors.
"I try to keep some balance in my life," said Ms. Gardiner, a pleasant woman with an easy manner.
Obviously, though, this young woman, a graduate of North Tonawanda High School, and her instrument have spent many hours together.
"She was clearly and easily the winner," said BPO principal clarinetist John Fullam, who sat on her auditioning committee. "It was pretty unanimous. The playing was on a level that was higher than the other candidates. She showed an understanding of the music that practically no one else had.
"Since she's been playing in the orchestra, she has fit in just like a glove. She has a very affable personality and quite a bit of class."
As a youngster, her father encouraged her to try the clarinet, an instrument he played up through his college years, she said.
As she progressed, she started taking lessons from Jim Pyne, who was then the BPO's principal clarinetist. "He was a very big influence on my sound and musicality," she said. "He's had a major influence on my playing."
She attended Kleinhans concerts to hear him and even followed him to Ohio State when he started teaching there.
In 1993, after she got her master's degree, Ms. Gardiner moved back to the area. That's when she started patching together ways to make music and money, while working on her doctorate at Ohio State University.
For one, she subbed with the BPO, as well as giving private lessons and playing in orchestras throughout New York State.
"I drove 20,000 miles a year for two years," she said. "I really got tired of driving."
Ms. Gardiner said she likes to play all types of music.
"I've got to tell you, I like all periods, just about every kind and especially whatever I'm playing at the time."
"Mostly rock and pop. I like to get away from classical."
She said she plays to please herself.
"I like to do the best job I can, to fulfill my expectations," she said.
Now she's getting into the rhythm of rehearsals for the regular classical season, for Pops and youth concerts, along with learning children's songs.
"People in the orchestra a long time have played these a million times, but the first year it's all brand-new and you want to be able to do it right," she said.
"I used to hear my teacher play here, and that was a big deal. I never knew if I'd be good enough to do it. I'm second clarinet and he was principal, so it's not exactly the same. But I'm sitting here now, and it's kind of a neat feeling.
"It's great. I play my clarinet and get paid to do it. It's what I've wanted to do from the time I was little."