Orchestrating A Career

This professional musician and power weightlifter has orchestrated a creative life. Luckily for area music lovers, she landed at Ocala’s Reilly Arts Center.

Margaret Dixon has an extremely busy life as a performing professional musician and teacher in Central Florida. She plays with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra (OSO), based at the Reilly Arts Center. She also is personnel manager and librarian for the orchestra and manages the organization’s Symphony for Schools program.

Dixon has a small private studio in Ocala; she also teaches at the College of Central 

Florida and Trinity Catholic High School. She lives in Gainesville, has a larger private studio there, and teaches at some schools and performs with the Gainesville Orchestra. She also teaches at a school in Bradford County and performs “gigs at churches, graduations, a little bit of everything,” she says. “I’m all over the place.

“In my studio in Gainesville, I have about 30 students, on French horn and trumpet mostly. French horn is my primary instrument, but I can play or teach pretty much anything.

“I’m a musician, teacher, jack of all trades,” she explains, her arm sweeping the room like a maestro. “I was going to do this and this…get a job and travel the world. I got through my master’s and I wanted to take a year off, which turned into five. My career here was taking off and I could drop everything and move to New York or stay and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities before me. It was a complete change in what I had planned. I’m much happier doing this than living in New York, in a closet, for $1,000 a month.”

Dixon, 32, says she didn’t want to play the French horn.

“In the ninth grade, I moved to Alabama. I played cello in middle school and elementary up north, where they had orchestra. In the south they have football, so they have band,” she explains. “I wanted to play saxophone, but there were eight saxophone players and no French horn players. So it kind of chose me, and then I ended up being really good at it.”

For the OSO, Dixon is contracted as second horn but plays principal horn “pretty regularly because the guy who plays principal is from D.C. He can’t make every concert because he’s got to play with groups like the Washington Ballet.”

As OSO’s personnel manager, Dixon contracts the musicians who play each concert. For the current season, there are 10 concerts scheduled. “I get the musicians together and I send out all the music and make sure everyone has what they need and knows where they need to be and make sure they get paid,” she explains. In managing the library, she organizes the materials on hand and directs rentals or purchases.

Through the Symphony for Schools program, musicians visit local elementary schools.

“My partner and I go out and show them a number of instruments to encourage them to get into music, to join band,” Dixon explains. “It’s a really cool program.”

“Margaret is so gracious with her passion for music and for teaching the next generation of musicians,” offers Pamela Calero Wardell, Executive Director, Development and Organizational Advancement, for the Reilly. “She is instrumental in helping the OSO achieve our mission of youth outreach, and brings so much talent, enthusiasm and heart to our organization. We are lucky to have her in so many different capacities here at the Reilly.”

In her spare time, Dixon pursues quite a different path—power weightlifting.

“I want to be able to squat lift 300 pounds,” she shares. “I’ve done all kinds of fitness things but couldn’t find anything I could stick with. I started working with a trainer and she created a plan and helped me a lot.”

Dixon admits with a hearty laugh that she is a “little competitive.”

“So I was going to the gym and seeing big dudes there and I was like I’m gonna pick up something heavier than him,” she declares. “That didn’t always happen, but every now and then I got to say ‘I’m stronger than you.’”

Dixon enjoys going to the beach, along with checking out farmer’s markets.

“I like to cook. I like to experiment, but I don’t like the rules,” she remarks with a grin. “I usually look up a recipe and then don’t follow it.” She also likes doing “crafty stuff” and tends to “get obsessed. Right now, I’m crocheting…whatever my brain is into. It’s the creative impulses.”

In the future, Dixon hopes to start a community music school, perhaps in partnership with the Reilly, in Ocala. She says that would address a need for children in low-income families and for adults who may have played an instrument years ago and want to pick it back up, or those who always wanted to learn to play but never did.

“I was a kid like that. I didn’t take lessons until the end of high school,” she explains. “I have a few students from lower income families that are phenomenal. It would be about creating a place to serve the community, to make it accessible for everybody.”

When asked if she is known for a signature piece of music, Dixon says with a laugh, “Well, it’s kind of a silly thing. At the end of concerts I do a warm down because the muscles in my face get really taxed. I always play ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ and I play it in minor so it sounds really scary,” she offers with a giggle. “That might be my theme song—scary, scary teapots.”

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