“At the end of the summer, Thoreau noticed he had formed a path in the weeds from the cabin to the pond,” Van Hoy says. “And he knew, at that moment, it was time to leave. In my life, I’ve formed deer paths every which way instead of the same rut every day. I love that.”
Van Hoy’s paths lead all over the Front Range. He lends his talent to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Boulder Philharmonic and The Denver Brass, where he has both played and been a staff arranger since 1996. He is the band director on faculty at Colorado College, conducting and programming for the college since 2008, and he teaches private lessons.
Whether preparing the week’s music, teaching privately to high school students and adults revisiting their instruments, transcribing Vampire Weekend or Beirut songs for the Colorado College band, or condensing 15 hours of Wagner opera into one hour of brass highlights, Van Hoy loves the variety. “I’m thankful every day to make my living as a musician,” he says.
Raised in Detroit, Van Hoy began his career in fourth grade playing the euphonium, commonly referred to as the baritone. “I’m very thankful for my mom, who put me in lessons when I was in sixth grade,” Van Hoy says. “That was a real turning point. There’s no substitute for half an hour with your teacher one-on-one.”
It wasn’t until a desire to play in his high school jazz band struck that he began learning the trombone. Though the euphonium earned Van Hoy scholarships to the University of Michigan, where he majored in euphonium performance, his love for the bass trombone grew throughout college.
“Orchestral playing was really exciting,” Van Hoy says. “I enjoyed the repertoire. I realized euphonium had no position in orchestra.
“And I’ll never forget my first lesson in college,” he says. “My professor asked, ‘What are you going to do with a euphonium performance degree?’ ”
He would go on to finish his degree in euphonium, but Van Hoy remained in practice with both instruments. He got a paid job in a community orchestra playing bass trombone and even began playing as a bass trombone substitute with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra his sophomore year.
After college, he was accepted to play as the only bass trombone for an eight-week festival program at Tanglewood in the Berkshires, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
“At that point, I could set the euphonium aside,” Van Hoy says.
After graduating in 1994 from a one-year master’s program in bass trombone performance at Northwestern University, Van Hoy auditioned for the Colorado Springs Symphony (now the Philharmonic). He was 22.
“This was literally the only position in the country I could apply for,” Van Hoy says. “It was the only bass trombone audition for that whole year.”
Over 20 bass trombonists auditioned for the part. Van Hoy got the job. He remembers his father, typically stoic, crying upon receiving the news. His parents, always supportive of their son’s musicianship, have since relocated from Detroit to Colorado Springs.
Van Hoy thought he’d live in Colorado for a few years, then graduate to a full-time orchestra in a larger city. Now, at 44, he has made the Springs his home.
“You can’t help falling in love with this town,” he says. “There are so many great people, and so many trails for hiking and biking.” When he’s not working, he is outside, camping and traveling with his wife, Barb, and their 7-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Van Hoy plays six or seven concerts a month while maintaining a practice schedule of two to three hours per day. Largely due to his involvement with The Denver Brass, he has a catalog of over 100 arrangements; about 20 are published. He also records, plays shows and tours with locally loved indie-folk band Edith Makes A Paper Chain.
For Van Hoy, it’s all just another way to the pond.