To meet the professional French horn player and classical composer Stewart Schuele, all you have to do is stand somewhere between the yogurt and wrapped cheeses in the deli department of the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop, and look quizzical. Before you can rub your chin, Mr. Schuele, manager of the department since 2007, will appear at your elbow offering assistance.
“As a performer my job is to please the audience, and when I’m working at the deli, the customers are my audience,” the soft-spoken 54-year-old Mr. Schuele says. “I have to work to please them.”
Explaining the investment he makes in his job and the dignity he brings to it, he simply says, “I try to keep my customers happy.”
On Thursday, Nov. 4, Islanders can hear Mr. Schuele perform the seldom-heard Haydn’s Horn Concerto no. 2 in D major at Grace Episcopal Church, in a concert featuring Peter Lea-Cox, the famed British organist, composer and choirmaster, founder and director of the London-based Lecosaldi Ensemble. Mr. Peter Lea-Cox conducted the London-based Camden Chamber Choir and the Lutheran Church of St. Anne & St. Agnes in London for more than 20 years, where he worked with the Rev. Ronald T. Englund, now of Christ Lutheran Church in Falmouth.
For Mr. Schuele, the concert is an opportunity to exercise the calling he recognized and worked toward since he was a student in Vermont at South Burlington High School.
In the 1970s, Mr. Schuele, who earned a degree from University of Vermont in French Horn, music theory, and composition, and a master’s degree in performance at Manhattan School of Music in New York, also spent a year at Julliard School’s professional studies program, which he describes as, “the most challenging year of my life.”
While he was studying at Julliard, he was playing with Connecticut Grand Opera Orchestra, Greater Bridgeport Symphony, Vermont Symphony, substituting with Greenwich Symphony, and working as a plagiarism sleuth in the copyright department of a music publishing company in Manhattan.
From 1988 and continuing for 15 years, Mr. Schuele was the substitute French horn player for the Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera,” with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.
However it may sound, it was not a glamorous job: “Honestly, playing with a Broadway show is like working on an automobile assembly line. When the assembly belt goes by you put your part on, tighten the bolts correctly, and wait for the next part. The people who appeared on stage had very little to do with the musicians. They were consumed with technical difficulties. It was a very complicated production.”
It is rather quiet in the Stop & Shop. As Mr. Schuele straightens the shelves in the deli case he describes the challenge of the two-octave leaps in Haydn’s Horn Concerto and mentions the controversy about whether it was actually Franz Joseph Haydn who composed the concerto no. 2 in D.
Mr. Schuele spent his professional life studying under noted orchestral musicians, composing music, arranging sacred music, mastering the French horn, and developing a network of professional friendships across the country. “As a musician, you have intense friendships with people who are fighting the same battles and trying to master their instruments,” he says.
Jobs became scarce in 2003 — there was a generational shift in orchestras — and his publishing company relocated to Los Angeles. Mr. Schuele, his wife Katherine Van Aken, and their children (they now have three: Kirsten, 12; Leo, 7; and Johanna, 3; moved to the Vineyard. His wife was a private tutor for a family on the Island. (His first impression of the Vineyard: “Like falling off the edge of the earth.”)
Ms. Van Aken became a teaching assistant at the Tisbury School, an active leader with the Girl Scouts, and a seasonal guide for The Trustees of Reservations. Mr. Schuele joined the staff of Stop & Shop, and commuted off-Island to play with symphonies.
As casually as one might share a recipe, Mr. Schuele talks about classical music, inserting historic particulars, little known facts about composers, and details about harmonic variations. He tells his listener when valves were introduced to horns, the tones they produce, and explains the Central European influence on music.
“The horn is a very treacherous instrument,” he says, and quotes Martin Smith, a principal with Pittsburgh Symphony: “Playing French Horn in public is like walking into a lion’s den with no clothes on and a sprig of parsley behind your ear.” (In other words, prepare yourself to be devoured, garnish and all.)
Mr. Schuele, whose retiring demeanor gives him a serious air, seems to enjoy sharing the information: “Trumpets at the end of Haydn’s time were twice as long as the trumpets we use now.”
It is reasonable to suspect that many who moved to the Vineyard have Then and Now sections of their lives. Stewart Schuele finds the continuity. “I’ve always tried to do a job well,” he says. “I don’t like to do anything halfway.”
Concert: Stewart Schuele and Peter Lea-Cox, Thursday, Nov. 4, 7 pm, Grace Episcopal Church, Vineyard Haven. Donations accepted. Reception follows concert.