Music Was the Road Chosen, Bumps and All

The third time was the charm
Dylan Greene, East Hampton High School’s choral director, in the school’s chorus room Mark Segal

Dylan Greene faced a crossroads 10 years ago. He was a junior at East Hampton High School and uncertain whether to pursue lacrosse or music in college. “I remember as a freshman on the lacrosse team matching up against Zach Brenneman, who went on to Notre Dame on a full ride and became an All-American. He kicked my butt every day in practice but it made me a much better player. We had a great program, and I was really torn.”

Mr. Greene had also been involved with music since fourth grade at the Springs School, where he focused on chorus. While not established musicians, both his parents loved music, and he recently learned that his late maternal grandmother had studied piano at a conservatory. His family supported his musical activities, ferrying him to rehearsals, concerts, and music festivals.

At the end of his junior year his experience with David Douglas, the high school’s choral director, led to an epiphany. “I realized how special was the impact Mr. Douglas had on these kids, who were all from different backgrounds, with all kinds of stressful things going on outside the chorus room, and yet they put all that aside temporarily to be focused on one common goal: to make this beautiful art form that is choral singing. I decided I wanted to do that for a group of kids one day.”

In June 2016, at Mr. Douglas’s final choral concert before retiring, he literally passed the baton to Mr. Greene during the concluding chorus of “The Weight,” the iconic song from Robbie Robertson and the Band:

I want you to take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And you put the load right on me

“Although it was a bit surreal at first, it felt wonderful to return to the school and to be on the other side of the classroom. The students have been a joy to work with, and I’m privileged to be able to make music with them every day.” 

The road from student to teacher was not without its bumps. Once he decided to pursue a career in music, he applied to several schools, among them the State University at Fredonia, which had a highly regarded school of music within its college of visual and performing arts. “When I stepped onto the campus it had this great small-town feel to it, and I felt so comfortable. The music program was great, and I was excited to go there.”

Mr. Greene prepared an audition with all the solos he had performed over the years for his annual New York State School Music Association assessments. He sang three different songs and did some sight-reading. He later learned that while the university accepted him academically, he had not been admitted into the music school.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I felt like I was a strong musician and had all this knowledge and all this skill, and then to not be accepted I felt like I had failed.” He decided to attend Fredonia anyway, as did his girlfriend of three years, Meghan Lydon, who also attended East Hampton High School and is now his wife.

He took all his core courses during the first three semesters at Fredonia and, with a scholarship he had earned from the Choral Society of the Hamptons, hired a Fredonia professor to give him voice lessons. “It turned out I really needed to step up the intensity of my classical technique. I didn’t have the vocal chops they were looking for.” After preparing some new music, he auditioned for the music school a second time and was again rejected.

“I wanted so strongly to be involved in teaching music in some way, and the only way I could do that would be with a degree from a music school.” He was a member of the college choir, which performed “Loch Lomond,” a traditional Scottish song, in a concert with the university chorus. Mr. Greene sang the opening solo, and after the concert he received an email from one of the other choir directors inviting him to audition for the chamber choir.

“I was taken aback, because the professor had been one of the judges at my two previous unsuccessful auditions, and the chamber choir consisted of about 25 singers, the cream of the crop of the music school’s roughly 1,000 students. Once accepted, I wondered how I had earned this spot with 24 of the best singers in the school.”

The third time was a charm. After three semesters, during which he completed all his core liberal arts courses, he was accepted into the music school. For the next three and a half years it was all music, all the time: music history, music theory, piano training, elemental rehearsal technique, and much more. 

“Because your teaching certification is for K through 12, you could wind up teaching elementary school music or high school orchestra. So they teach you instruments as well, a little bit of brass, a little woodwind, percussion, strings, and all the while there’s a standard that you have to perform in an ensemble, so you’re in the choir, and you have to attend a certain number of other performances and write reviews of them. It was a mammoth undertaking, but it was so much fun.”

After finishing his degree in December 2015, he returned to East Hampton and worked as a substitute teacher in Springs before interviewing for the position of choral director in East Hampton. Mr. Douglas recommended him for the job. “David is a really great guy and I was really thrilled while at the same time a little bit nervous to follow in his footsteps because they were very big shoes to fill.”

In addition to teaching two classes, the concert chorus and the symphonic chorus, Mr. Greene directs three after-school vocal ensembles, the Bella Voci, the Manly Men, and Camerata, and is the vocal director for the school’s musicals. He is also working on a master’s degree in music and choral conducting from Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

While he grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, his own taste runs to such alternative rock groups as the Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam. “I’m all over the map musically,” he said, “but I don’t listen to a lot of classical music on my own time, since it’s such a part of my work with the kids and in my graduate program.” 

A former member of the Choral Society of the Hamptons, once he took the job at the high school he decided he could no longer give the society the time and effort it deserved. “But I hope to return to the group in the future,” he said, “because I had a blast singing with them.”

Mr. Greene and Ms. Lydon live in Springs, where she teaches fifth grade. “We are constantly pinching ourselves to be back home and to have a home and to be here in the community and to be able to give back and watch the kids grow up,” he said.