Why a professionally-trained musician from California is making Fort Wayne home

Orion Rapp grew up on the West Coast, studied on the East Coast, and ended up somewhere in the middle, geographically speaking.

As the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Principal Oboist, he moved to the Summit City about seven years ago and has since made it his home. So what’s a classically trained oboist doing in Fort Wayne, and what inspires him to keep investing here? 

To understand Rapp's professional arc, you have to start in his parent’s living room in San Diego, Calif.

“My parents remember me singing along to songs on Disney movies and stuff like that,” he says. 

Middle school provided more fodder for Rapp's musical inclinations, albeit it was an indirect path. He began pursuing computer science as a potential career. He and his father had tinkered with computers at home, so it seemed like a natural choice.

But Rapp quickly grew bored and felt unchallenged by the classroom work, so he spoke up.

“I was miserable,” he says. “I gave it about three days, and then I went to the guidance counselor, and I was like, 'I need to get out of here.'"
Rapp enjoys a fall maze in northeast Indiana.
Since his guidance counselor happened to be married to the school's band director, she started recruiting him for her husband’s band program, and Rapp agreed to give it a go.

The first order of business was choosing which instrument to play. He initially picked up the alto saxophone, and it wasn’t long before his teachers noticed his natural musical ability. He was given the go-ahead to move to advanced band.

“That's when I discovered, if I applied myself in this, I can succeed, and it could be a lot of fun,” Rapp says.

In high school, he turned his attention to jazz music, specifically. Through the local jazz scene, he made a connection that would change his life. His name was Charles Hansen, and he was a conductor who ran an after-school music education program with the Salvation Army in San Diego.

Rapp’s final project in his AP music theory class was to write a composition in the form of a fugue, and that’s how he first crossed paths with Hansen.

“We had our compositions performed, and that attracted the attention of someone who became a very influential musical mentor of mine,” Rapp says. “ (Hansen) was all about music education, and he came up to me and my friend and said, 'You guys did very well, but I think you could be better if you came over to this after-school program across the street.'"

Rapp took Hansen up on the offer, and before long, it was evident that he had a lot to learn. The times spent with Hansen after school were an informal education he would not have experienced in the classroom, Rapp says. It prepared him for college, and more importantly, it helped him come to a key realization: the saxophone was not his destiny.

Instead, under Hansen’s tutelage and encouragement, he picked up the oboe, and it stuck. 

One of the oldest instruments in the orchestra, the oboe is also one of the most difficult instruments to play. It's a long, double-reed woodwind in the alto register of the woodwind section with its resonant, melancholy tone.

Rapp appreciates the artistry of it.

“The oboe is one of those instruments that you can play without needing to breathe for a while,” he says.

Being in the front row of the orchestra's wind instruments allows oboists to lead, listen, and help their colleagues come together as a cohesive unit, he explains.

"That's really attractive because I was learning all of my classical triggers from a conductor,” Rapp says. 

Once he found his instrument, his collegiate pursuits took him to San Diego State University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Rutgers University which afforded him the chance to take some classes at the Juilliard School. After completing his doctorateRapp started aggressively auditioning all over the country. In 2013, he saw a position posted with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and decided to go for it. He was called for an interview and made the 10-hour drive to northeast Indiana. 

So why did he choose Fort Wayne among other opportunities?

One of his first encounters in the city made a strong impression on him. He went to Cindy’s Diner downtown for brunch the day before his audition where he witnessed an act of kindness. 

“I saw some guy come in who looked like he had a real rough night partying,” Rapp explains. “He made a confession to the person running the shop that he didn't know where his wallet was.... He just wanted to get a little bit of food in his system, and he point-blank asked, 'How would you feel about a very, very short-term loan?'

"Without batting an eye, the server agreed," Rapp says. He says the man came back later that day, paid his meal in full after he found his wallet, and even gave the server a huge tip as a token of appreciation for her kindness.

Rapp thinks this exemplifies the spirit he's experienced in Fort Wayne—an understanding and supportive community. Call it a good omen or pure coincidence, but he ultimately secured the job as the Fort Wayne Philharmonic's principal oboist. 

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic performs at the Embassy Theatre in downtown Fort Wayne.

When he’s not playing with the Phil in the summer months, he spends his time playing with other orchestras and at music festivals. In his downtime, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, biking the Fort Wayne Trails, cooking, and reading, he says. 

While Rapp says he enjoys living and working in Fort Wayne in many ways, he sees room for filing what he refers to as “artistic holes” in the city's offerings.

“The Philharmonic offers fantastic music, but in addition to the Phil, I would love an opera company that could mount one or two operas a year over multiple performances,” he says. “I would love to see more museums and art galleries go up. I would love to see some more professional theaters go up that could support full-time actors.”

He also thinks Fort Wayne is too modest at times, and it works against the city's national reputation. Young talent needs to see the value in sticking around northeast Indiana instead of relocating to larger cities for perceived opportunity, he explains.

That's what the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership had in mind when it launched its "Make It Your Own" campaign early last year. The goal of the campaign is to attract and retain individuals ages 21-45, who are most likely to make a move for their careers.

In Rapp's estimation, the Fort Wayne region needs to do more to elevate and promote its creative class, specifically.

"There's a great variety of art and artists in Fort Wayne already," he says. "I would recommend we super-power this unique and attractive characteristic about our town."

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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