News Column

Hitting a high note

May 29, 2014

By Lisa R. Rhodes, Soundoff! Laurel, Md.

May 29--When Bethann Dixon's junior high school band director told her that girls do not play brass instruments, she took on the challenge.

"Wanna bet?" Dixon, 44, recalled telling her teacher. "If you teach me, I can play it."

Her determination paid off. Dixon, who has chaired the music department at Meade Middle School for the past 17 years, plays the trumpet, trombone, herald trumpet and baritone horn.

Most recently, Dixon made an historic achievement. On May 17, she became the first woman bugler to play at the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

The Preakness is the second leg in American thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown, which begins with the Kentucky Derby, in Louisville, Ky., and ends with the Belmont Stakes in Belmont, N.Y.

Dixon performed the "Call to Post" at the Preakness, together with Sam Grossman, the New York Racing Association's official bugler for the Belmont Stakes, and Ryan Resky, the assistant bugler at Belmont.

The buglers perform "Call to Post" on the herald trumpet. "Call to Post" signals the entrance of the horses onto the track before the race.

"Being the first female bugler was quite an honor," said Dixon, who teaches band and orchestra classes at Meade Middle School. "I didn't know I was the first until a Baltimore Sun reporter told me. I had no idea."

Dixon's opportunity to make history started at last year's Preakness.

An avid spectator of the sport, Dixon happened to meet Grossman at the clubhouse. She asked him if he would be willing to speak to her class.

"I want my students to see that music is lifelong learning and lifelong musicianship," she said.

Grossman and Dixon stayed in touch via email after the event. He discovered on Dixon's Facebook page that she is an equestrian and member of a fox hunting club.

Grossman saw Dixon wearing her equestrian outfit and said she looked like a bugler. He sent her the music to "America the Beautiful" and invited her to play at the Belmont Stakes during musical interludes between races.

Dixon traveled to New York with her trumpet and played at Belmont. The leadership of NYRA was so impressed, they asked her to join Grossman and Resky in playing the "Call to Post" for the race.

In an instant, Dixon became the first woman bugler to perform at Belmont.

"I thought I was just playing for the experience," Dixon said. "It was a shock, a surprise to be the first woman."

Dixon said although horseracing is a male-dominated sport, she was unaware that no other female bugler had performed at Belmont.

After Belmont, NYRA asked Dixon to play at the Whitney Handicap and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and at the Maryland Million in Laurel Park in late October.

For the Preakness, Dixon purchased a scarlet coat from Horse Country Saddlery, an exclusive shop for fox hunters in Warrenton, Va.

"It's an investment in my future," she said.

Dixon will play at the Belmont Stakes again on June 7, followed by the Whitney Handicap and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga and this year's Maryland Million.

"I'm having a wonderful time," Dixon said. "I'm absolutely over the moon. It's surreal."

A native of Allport, Pa., Dixon began playing piano in third grade. By fourth grade, she was playing the flute.

In junior high, Dixon took on her band teacher's challenge and started playing the trombone. By the time she graduated from high school, she was playing the trumpet.

After completing her undergraduate degree in music education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1992, Dixon began working as a music teacher in Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

In 1997, she joined the faculty of Meade Middle School as chairperson of the music department.

Dixon said she encourages her students to play all instruments, regardless of their gender.

"Females can play anything," she said. "It's not that any instrument is masculine or feminine."

A resident of Stony Beach, Dixon is grateful to Grossman and Resky.

"I guess, maybe, they saw something in me that I didn't see myself," she said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Something really good has happened."


(c)2014 the Soundoff! (Laurel, Md.)

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Source: Soundoff! (Laurel, MD)

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