Philip Dowdell: the man, the myth, the legend


Philip Dowdell stands in the FM Symphony

Philip Dowdell is well known for numerous things, such as being active in Science Olympiad, Knowledge Bowl, Student Council, Cross Country, Track, Key Club, Tri-M, and JCL, and for being an amazing musician. However, few may know that he is also in the Fargo Moorhead Symphony as a violin substitute.
“Getting paid to play my violin is always very cool… and ultimately it’s just fun to play music as part of a good orchestra.” said Philip Dowdell, a Fargo North High senior, who has performed in three of the Fargo Moorhead Symphony’s main masterworks concerts along with their Symphony Rocks concert, which happened back in August.
The FM Symphony is a professional musical group that consists of string, wind, brass, and percussion instruments. Their mission is to “Enrich our community through the power of live music that educates, entertains and inspires.” They perform live music in the masterworks concerts that are performed throughout the year. The general public pays between $32 to $50 per ticket to listen to the symphony, which consists of excellent musicians who are directed by the conductor, Christopher Zimmerman.
Dowdell was encouraged to audition for the FM Symphony by his teacher Sonja Harasim. He had to prepare multiple excerpts, which are predetermined sections of music, for the audition. At the audition he played in front of judges, who were behind a screen that prevented them from seeing the auditioners, in order to prevent biases. They could only judge based on what they heard.
“I expected that I could get in. I didn’t bother worrying about it too much. I just wanted to play my best,” said Dowdell.
Dowdell’s audition earned him a spot on the FM Symphony’s substitute list, causing him to be the current youngest and only high school member.
“Being a violin substitute is nice, because as at least one violin substitute has been needed for every Symphony concert since I’ve been on the sub list, so I’m always asked to play. Also, the person in charge of the roster for each concert seems to like my playing. After the first concert that I played in with the symphony, she has specifically asked me whether I could sub for a concert before asking the general sub list as a whole.” said Dowdell.
The FM Symphony has opened up opportunities for Dowdell to play in some other gigs in the area as well, since he’s on the sub list.
Being part of the Symphony is a fairly large time commitment. The members must prepare the music before the first practice, which happens the week before the concert. During concert week, there are five rehearsals, each lasting two and a half hours.
“On the week of the concert, I don’t have fun getting home at 10:00 p.m. multiple nights of the week,” said Dowdell.
Then there are the concerts themselves, which take place on Saturday and Sunday. Each last for about two hours. This adds up to about twenty hours, and this doesn’t take into account the hours spent preparing the music. Therefore, Dowdell is not always able to play for every concert.
Dowdell is surrounded by influential and inspiring musicians at the Symphony.
“I definitely look up to the concertmaster, Dr. Sonja Harasim, who is also my violin teacher,” Dowdell said.
Dowdell has been excelling at the violin long before he auditioned for the FM Symphony. He has been playing ever since he was in kindergarten, which now adds up to about twelve years.
Dowdell said, “I don’t really remember this myself, but my parents tell me, and I have no reason to disbelieve them, at some point when I was really little they took me to an orchestra concert and I was like, ‘I want to play violin.’ They waited a couple months before asking me again. I still said, ‘I want to play the violin.” So they went and found me a violin teacher, and the rest is history.
Dowdell has achieved numerous awards and opportunities. Some of these include winning the State Outstanding Performance for the past two years in the violin solo category and winning state OP for a viola solo.
“One person was mad when I got the outstanding performance in viola solo, because they were like, ‘Don’t steal it from the violists,’ but I really didn’t mean to. I was just like, ‘I’ll do a viola solo this year, won’t that be fun!’ And then I won the OP.” said Dowdell.
Dowdell also won the Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphony Concerto Competition as a freshman, which enabled him to play a concerto, a musical work for a solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra, with the FM Symphony.
Dowdell said, “Freshman year when I won the founders concerto competition I was like “Gee I’m actually good at the violin, even compared to people who are older than me by some amount.”
“Students like Philip are rare,” said Fargo North Orchestra Director Gregory Schultz.
Given Dowdell’s success, it’s no surprise that the violin takes up a large portion of his time.
“Music is a pretty big time commitment. Probably an average of just under twenty hours a week,” Dowdell replied. Practicing is not always fun nor interesting. Even Dowdell does sometimes get tired of practicing\; however, some days stand out.
Dowdell said, “At a summer camp I was at, there was a turtle that was hanging out by the practice huts. The turtle wasn’t really having it. It was indifferent. Also, at that same summer camp, I was in a practice hut while it was raining so I was like, ‘I’ll just practice until it stops,’ but then it kept raining for at least two or more hours.”
Dowdell is not limited to playing the violin. He also plays the piano, which he plays in jazz band, and the viola. Playing one instrument helps Dowdell play the other.
Dowdell enjoys playing the violin, as long as he’s not watching the violin prodigies on YouTube.
“I’ve been playing the violin since I was five and now I’m good, which makes sense, but these people are like 8 and playing better than I am right now and I’m like, ‘bruh.’” Dowdell complained.
Dowdell said, “Music is always fun to play, and with all the time I’ve spent playing violin, I’m good at it. So I can play some very good music. Also, I can sometimes make money from playing my violin and, while we continue to labor in this capitalist system, money is a good thing to have.”