For Emelyne Bingham, the joy of being a musician isn’t about prestige or achievement; it’s the richness of each moment she experiences as a musician, conductor and educator.
“It’s not about the product for me; it’s about the process,” said Bingham, artistic director of Young Texas Artists Music Competition (YTA) and senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.
“I just look for things I think are going to be rewarding. That, to me, equals fun, and that’s where I spend my energy.”
Bingham inherited her passion for music from her mother, who practiced piano for hours every day. Some of Bingham’s earliest memories involve lying under the piano listening to her mother play.
“At the time we didn’t know it, but I was developing perfect pitch,” Bingham said. “One night Mom was making supper and heard music coming from the living room. I was playing with my small hands, picking up the melodic line—in the correct key—of the Beethoven she’d just been playing.”
Bingham also enjoyed her mother’s music collection, including the complete Beethoven symphonies performed by Conductor Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. By age 4, Bingham had memorized all nine symphonies, singing them with the repertoire stored in her brain.
She started taking piano lessons at age 6, but didn’t especially enjoy them so they didn’t last long. “The piano was not my instrument,” she said.
Bingham’s father, tired of Chicago’s commute, decided it was time to move. A dart thrown at a map of the U.S. directed the family to Franklin, Tennessee, about 21 miles south of Nashville.
“We lived in an impoverished community outside of Franklin,” Bingham said. “I had classmates without running water in their homes, so you can imagine the resources we had for me to study music; none. It was kind of a rough patch for me.”
There was a bright spot. Bingham discovered the instrument she wanted to play.
“I was fascinated with the sound of one of the instruments in the Beethoven symphonies, but didn’t know what it was until one day I turned on the television, wiggled the rabbit ears and found Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops,” she said.
With this chance to see the instruments, she discovered the bass made the sounds she loved. Determined to learn that instrument she quickly figured out how the bass was tuned and how the fingering systems worked.
Aside from a stint playing tuba with her school band, that was the extent of Bingham’s musical experiences when she enrolled in engineering school at Tennessee Technological University. Her parents, both engineers, encouraged her to follow in their footsteps. Bingham did her best to comply.
“One day I left physics class after doing really poorly on a test,” she said. “As I walked across campus thinking about my future and contemplating my life choices I heard music.”
What she heard was a chamber orchestra rehearsing and couldn’t resist stopping by to listen. After rehearsal she started walking away but heard someone running up to her. It was the conductor of the chamber orchestra, who asked who she was and why she was listening to the rehearsal, to which she replied; “My name is Lyn. I sort of play the bass.”
That led to an audition and scholarship offer, which an elated Bingham accepted. After earning her bachelor’s degree in music education, she pursued a graduate degree in bass at Indiana University Bloomington. Her instructor, it turned out, had played in the NBC Symphony under Toscanini and in those recordings Bingham loved. Everything about her life’s new direction felt right.
Although she had no trouble getting symphony work—playing the double bass with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra—she found her interest drifting and turned her focus to conducting. That change led to stints as the assistant conductor of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, music director and conductor of both the Columbus Women’s Orchestra in Ohio and the Nashville Youth Orchestra Program. She also has been a guest conductor for orchestras and symphonies across the U.S. and around the world.
“I really love young people and teaching,” said Bingham, who went on to earn a Doctor of Music Arts degree from Boston University. “That’s where I really get my satisfaction: helping young people.”
Bingham said her passion for helping young musicians drew her to YTA.
“It’s really daunting to figure out what to do and how to do it when you’re a young artist,” she said. “No two career paths are the same. There are so many choices, and those choices can be critical. Guidance is extremely important.”
Providing opportunities for young artists to learn how to be professionals through the experience of performing and the invaluable feedback from an expert panel of judges is something she believes YTA does very well. “And of course, we provide funds to help these young people get to the next step,” she said.
Bingham got her start with YTA over a decade ago as a competition judge. In 2008, she offered to work more closely with the nonprofit to share her musical knowledge, and she became YTA’s artistic director.
“I really enjoy the career mentoring and artistic pieces of the program and was struck by the support of the community,” she said. “They are very generous, especially in their willingness to open their homes to these young people and cheer them on. It’s such an unusual and beautiful thing.”
Bingham envisions a bright future for the organization. “My hope for YTA is that we have steady, sustainable growth, and that we are able help an even greater number of young artists,” she said.
Hockey and Other Adventures
About five years ago, Bingham was diagnosed with early stage pancreatic cancer, which required a Whipple Procedure, a surgery with a challenging recovery. Some friends decided she needed something to look forward to and started her bucket list.
“I had gone to watch the NHL’s Predators play, and it fascinated me,” Bingham said. “I told a friend I want to put on skates and see what it feels like to skate around and maybe even try to shoot a puck.”
After some recovery time, Bingham attended a Predators “try hockey for free for women” event. It was so much fun she selected hockey as her new form of rehab.
Once she completed a few weeks of classes and practice, the director encouraged her to play in a league. She eventually agreed, even winning a trophy at hockey camp in Canada.
“I’ve kind of become Vandy’s poster child: If you have a Whipple it’s not the end of your life. There are things you can do. But I’m just that tenacious a person,” she said. “No one’s going to stand in my way. If I want to have fun, if I want to do something that’s rewarding, I’m going to find a way to do it.”