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It’s a string thing: Salisbury Symphony’s Daniel Skidmore followed unexpected path to professional music

SALISBURY — Daniel Skidmore never planned for his passion for violin to turn into a professional career.

Although the Morgantown, West Virginia, native earned a bachelor of music from his hometown university, he expected to find a different career path after he graduated.

Then, the violinist was given an opportunity to take his musical pursuits a step further and earn a master of music from Northwestern University. Still, Skidmore thought, that was the end of the road.

“When I finished my master’s degree I really thought I needed to figure out what I’m actually going to do,” Skidmore said.

It wasn’t that Skidmore didn’t love his instrument, it was that being a professional musician was such a daunting career field to enter.

“You come out of college and there’s a culture shock because there isn’t a job waiting for you,” Skidmore said. “There’s oftentimes one position in a symphony and 100 people showing up for the job.”

Despite telling himself he needed to find an alternate route, Skidmore continued to follow his musical dreams even after he graduated from Northwestern. The 45-year-old now been a professional musician, both teaching and performing, for over two decades. 

On Sept. 11, he’ll be playing his violin in front of hundreds gathered around the Salisbury Post loading dock for Pops at the Post. The event is back where it began after a two-year hiatus, the first due to construction of Bell Tower Green and the second due to the pandemic.

Skidmore picked up the violin at the age of 5, following the lead of his older brother. Through a local Suzuki method program, Skidmore learned the language of the stringed instrument and fell in love with its sound.

“Sometimes music speaks the way words don’t,” Skidmore said.

Through his teens, Skidmore continued to master the “endless supply” of music he could play on the instrument. Even when he thought he would have to find a regular job after graduating from Northwestern, Skidmore was offered a part-time position with the orchestra in his hometown and started a teaching gig at a local college. It was an opportunity to earn a doctorate at the University of North Carolina Greensboro brought him to the Tar Heel State around 2000.

Although he wasn’t excited about writing dissertations or shouldering the workload of a doctoral student, Skidmore was looking forward to continuing his musical journey. That didn’t mean it came easy.

“There were several times I was ready to throw in the towel and said, ‘This is not worth it,’” Skidmore said.

Relying on his faith, Skidmore persisted through those frustrating moments and continued down his unexpected path. Eventually, Skidmore said, he stopped resisting and realized he was meant to be a musician.

“I felt like I was being called into this line of work,” Skidmore said.

After finishing his doctorate, Skidmore decided to stay in North Carolina due to the area’s plentiful supply of job opportunities.

Skidmore is currently the violin instructor at Elon University and has served on the violin faculties of Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Appalachian State University and Catawba College. He’s the associate concertmaster for the Winston-Salem Symphony and joined the Salisbury Symphony in 2003, which is where he met his wife, Elizabeth, also a violinist. 

The couple has rooted their family in High Point, which is a central location to several of the cities where Skidmore regularly performs or instructs. Although Elizabeth still plays with the Salisbury Symphony from time to time, she’s gone on to become a medical physician and works part time at a clinic in Thomasville.

“I’m a musical doctor and she’s a real doctor,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore’s various musical postings throughout the Piedmont have led to lots of time in the car, driving to and from lessons and practices. He logged over 400,000 miles on the trusty, forest green 1996 Toyota Camry that his parents bought him after he finished his master’s. The car was nicknamed “Sforzi” (short for Sforzando) after Salisbury Symphony Maestro David Hagy painted the musical symbol on one of its windows when the car was decorated for Skidmore’s wedding.

“Even through the rainstorms or whatever, nothing was washing it off,” said Skidmore, who Hagy has nicknamed “smiley” for his constant grin. “They must have used some sort of window marker that didn’t erase. The others we washed off with soap and water but that one stayed on for three or four years.”

The Camry finally went kaput about a half decade ago, but was quickly replaced with a newer model that Skidmore has already logged more than 100,000 miles on.

The pandemic has meant less driving Skidmore, since many symphony seasons and live performances were put on pause as COVID-19 case numbers climbed. 

“Performing was very much a challenge for quite a while there,” Skidmore said.

The Salisbury Symphony hasn’t had a live full orchestra performance since early 2020, but that will change on Sept. 11. As concertmaster for the Salisbury Symphony, Skidmore will be leading the way for the rest of the strings during the performance, playing the instrument he’s loved since he was a child.

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