Rob & Sam Calhoon: Two Generations of Bass


Rob Calhoon and his son Sam are both bass players. Not only that, they’re both part of the CYSO family: Sam is a current student in Debut Orchestra and Rob is a 1986 alumnus of Symphony Orchestra. We recently sat down with Rob and Sam to to talk about their shared CYSO experience, what’s the same 30 years later, and what has changed.

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While both Sam and Rob now play the bass, the instrument wasn’t Sam’s first choice. He initially selected the cello, but switched after a few years. Sam said that he chose the new instrument because “it’s a lot easier to express myself” and he liked that “the bass can [play] all different styles.”

Rob remembered that when Sam was selecting an instrument, he didn’t want his own preferences to effect his son’s choice, though he couldn’t help but think that Sam might be a great match for bass.

“I didn’t want to push bass on you because I didn’t want to be that parent who pushed [their child] into doing what I was doing. I really wanted you to play bass because it seemed like a natural fit. And then I started picturing that if he plays bass, he could go and play in this orchestra and the Chicago Youth Symphony one day. And here we are.

Rob remembered that when he first heard about CYSO, the Orchestra was singular– Symphony Orchestra was the only program at the time. He auditioned his senior year of high school, though, he says, “I didn’t really appreciate what it meant back then to be in such a fantastic group or to be going to England [on tour] with this orchestra that would be playing Walter Piston and Shostakovich and all this great literature.”

CYSO was a formative musical experience for Rob, who now works as Director of Instrumental Music at South Suburban College.  But just like he didn’t want to push Sam into playing bass, Rob also wanted his son’s decision to come to CYSO to be Sam’s own choice.  “I didn’t want to be that music director that pushes their son or daughter into performance,” Rob said.

For Sam, CYSO was something he felt compelled to strive for, just like his dad. “I know that CYSO is one of the best programs in the state and even the country,” he said. “I just really like coming here to play with others who respect and enjoy music as much as I do. I’m learning all these different styles and these different pieces… It it a privilege for me.

Sam had the opportunity to join CYSO at a younger age that his father, as the programs have expanded significantly over the past three decades. Rob said, “When I was it in, it it was just the one orchestra. And I think what I respect the most about the youth symphony program is that it responded to the needs of the city. It does my heart good to know that there’s an organization working so hard to meet the needs of so many individuals while still having the [Symphony Orchestra] as its cornerstone as such a successful and powerful group.”

We asked Rob and Sam to reflect on where they saw Sam’s bass playing going in the next five years, as he graduates from high school. Sam said, “I don’t necessarily see myself in a certain program, but I see challenging myself more. I know I’m going to continue with bass definitely.” Rob said, “I hope you continue the bass, but whatever you do I know that you’re going to be really successful at it.

After a formative year in CYSO, music is still at the center of Rob’s life 30 years later. Though he loves the connection he shares with Sam now that his son is a current CYSO musician, he’s quick to point out that Sam’s future is fully his own decision. Rob said, “It’s great for me to know that you have these choices,” he told Sam during the interview.  “I get so much fulfillment out of being a musician and playing music, and as a father, I’m thrilled that you’re having these kinds of experiences as well.”


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