Amanda Hancock, For The Miami Student

For Steven Reineke, attending Miami University was never the dream. The summer before his first year on campus, his plan was to re-audition for a spot at a prestigious conservatory on which he had set his heart.

“As a young trumpet player, I wanted to go to the east and study music,” Reineke said. “But I didn’t make the cut. I didn’t get in.”

So he accepted a scholarship from Miami with no expectation of staying four years. But after that first semester as a trumpet performance major in Oxford, something changed for Reineke.

“I fell in love with Miami,” he said. “It turned out to be the exactly right place at the right time.”

As the current music director of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, Reineke looks back at his time at Miami and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“In hindsight, it’s definitely what I needed: to not be in a conservatory-type setting, it just allowed me so much more freedom,” Reineke said.

That freedom included being involved in virtually every music group Reineke could fit into his schedule, from orchestra to wind ensemble and marching band. It also gave him unique opportunities that wouldn’t necessarily be possible at a conservatory.

“Every single piece of music I wrote I actually heard played live and some of those were great big orchestra pieces,” Reineke said.

“It’s so vitally important to learn how to be a composer. You’re able to see what works and what doesn’t work. That’s how you learn, a lot by trial and error,” he said. “You got to hear it come to life.”

Reineke will return to the Ohio area on March 8 to conduct the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Along with the chance to grab a bite at Skyline Chili and a scoop of Graeter’s ice cream, he says he can’t wait to be so close to home.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s always great to be with the Cincinnati Pops because I started out there, I have so many great friends and they are incredible musicians,” he said.

As a native of Tipp City, OH, a Miami alumnus with a former conducting role at the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Reineke has strong ties to the area.

Along with other mentors, Reineke sparked a relationship with Gary Speck, director of bands during his first year at Miami.

Reineke was in Speck’s inaugural wind ensemble in 1988.

“We were freshmen together,” Reineke said. “That gave us a very special bond and connection. He has been there quite awhile now, but those early years were so much fun.”

Speck, who still directs Miami’s Wind Ensemble, said he is not at all surprised by Reineke’s success.

“Steve was one of those people that was going to succeed no matter what, no matter where he was,” Speck said. “He was smart, he was just a humble Midwestern kid and yet he wanted to be pushed and he was so tenacious.”

Reineke said he and Speck were able to go beyond the traditional professor-student role and build a genuine friendship.

“He was new and younger and there wasn’t this huge age gap between him and us,” Reineke said.

Speck shared that sentiment, saying his first group of students was especially tight-knit.

“All those guys from that time believed there was something special about that time and I think they were right,” Speck said.

Upon graduating, Reineke was the first-ever recipient of the Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Prize at Miami.

“That was a wonderful start for me. I used that grant money to move out West and study film music,” he said.

It was in Los Angeles that Reineke made a connection that catapulted his career. He was offered an internship with Carmon DeLeone, who served as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at the time.

After four months working on music for the Peter Pan concert, Reineke was offered a permanent job. And in 2009, he made the move to lead the New York Pops.

Today, Reineke said his conducting style comes from a compilation of his many influences and teachers.

“My style is full of energy,” he said. “In everything I approach, I do in the mindset of the audience. I’m trying to put on a really good show.”

Reineke said he has finally found his niche as a pops conductor.

“This is really where it’s at for me I’m doing what I really love,” he said.

Along with the thrill of being in New York, Reineke said he loves the flexibility of his music and its accessibility to masses.

“We really can do everything from Beethoven to Beyonce and I don’t treat any of it differently,” Reineke said.

As one of Reineke’s early teachers, Speck can see he is not done dreaming.

“Steve’s on the mission to transform the way Americans listen to music,” Speck said. “I think he wants to change the way culture looks at music so there’s less of a distinction between art music and other kinds of music.”