For The Observer
He grew up in La Grande, and now Cal Scott's name is known and respected nation-wide for his musical performances, composition and production of film scores.
How did it happen?
Cal Scott's early years were spent in the relative peace and security of the 1950s. Home, family and neighborhood all figured prominently in his life.
"It was a pretty ideal place to grow up in that era particularly,'' Scott said.
Both his parents were musical. His father, Don, was the high school band teacher and superintendent of music for the La Grande schools from 1952 through 1965. His mother, Polly, had been classically trained on piano, and though she did not focus on performance as an adult, Scott grew up in a home surrounded by music.
"From the time we were little we would sing along with the family,'' he said. "There was Beethoven or Bach or Mozart on the hi-fi every morning. As far back as I can remember, that's how we woke up."
This early exposure to the masters played a big part in Scott's musical education.
Music wasn't the only thing in his life. "I liked Scouts and church youth group and playing baseball, but really, music was the main thing. It was what I really wanted to do," he said.
Scott's formal musical education began at age 7 with piano lessons. He soon added trumpet and clarinet. He bought his first guitar from The Fix It Shop in La Grande.
"It was ancient Â– a 1915 Gibson L1 arch-top with an oval sound hole,'' he said. "It wasn't a great sounding guitar, but it was a real guitar. My dad helped me glue it back together and it was very cool."
By junior high age, Scott became involved in his first band outside of school.
"I traded that old Gibson for a horrible imported electric guitar. Seems really dumb now, but hey, I was a kid."
This band, The Sceptres, "did pretty well for 14-year-olds. We played for a high school dance, but they were kind of embarrassed to have a bunch of junior high kids, so they put us on the upper level of the gym Â— with no lights, so we wouldn't be seen," he said.
A major turning point in his musical enlightenment came when Scott was "practicing a simple version of the Chorale from Beethoven's 9th Symphony on piano. Somehow I discovered that I could play it in a different key. That's when the door opened. I spent the rest of the week playing that one tune in different keys. It was a really big deal for me. But my piano teacher wasn't impressed. She just wanted to know why I had not practiced my other pieces."
Playing music is just one part of what Scott does now. He is also a well known composer and owns his own recording and production studio. He has done over 30 specials and documentaries for PBS. Recent projects include "Great Lodges of the National Parks,'' and the themes for "Oregon Art Beat'' and "Oregon Field Guide.''
"This is a dream job for me,'' he said. "The reason I'm making a living is because I'm the composer and musician and recording engineer Â— all in one person. I've made a living at this for 20 years. I feel so blessed, so lucky."
The Trail Band, a big part of Scott's life, came together in the early 1990s for just one performance Â— a stage play in Cleveland. But the band just couldn't be stopped.
"It's the only band I've ever been in that took off on its own,'' Scott said. "We've kept playing because we enjoy playing together, and enjoy each other. I think that still shows."
Audiences all over the Northwest seem to agree.
The Trail Band is one of the most powerful and sought after musical groups in the Northwest. The band's music, some of it composed by Scott, is varied, widely acclaimed and irrepressible.
Marv Ross, the founder of the band, said "Cal is the most versatile member of The Trail Band, and that's saying a lot. He moves from trumpet to piano to guitar to mandolin while missing nary a beat."
And Scott, who is the band musical director, moves just as freely among musical styles from classical to jazz, Celtic, ragtime, blues and reggae.
Scott, who lives near Tigard with his wife Sue, seems to have inherited his father's desire to help youngsters find and enjoy music. Going out of his way to encourage young musicians, Scott's advice is "Practice. You've got to love it."
What instrument should an aspiring musician learn?
"I like to see kids play a linear instrument like a horn or a fiddle, and a chordal instrument like piano, and the guitar. I really think it's best if they can do all three,'' he said. "You get different things from each of them."
Scott has advice for aspiring composers.
"First of all, copy your hero's style,'' he said. "Write something in exactly the same form. And finish it, no matter how bad you may think it is. You can't start your second song till you've finished your first."
Of the many facets of his profession, Scott said the thing he enjoys most is the composing for film.
"I'm always looking at a visual image thinking, Â‘What kind of music's going to go here?' It's the emotional link to the viewer. I sit down with the director and we go over where there's going to be music. We develop what's called a cue list, where the music goes. And we'll talk about the nature of the music they want, orchestral or small, jazz or whatever. I go write it."
Scott's personality may be as much a factor in his success as his musical ability.
"He's a consummate pro, a gentleman and an artist,'' Ross said about Scott. "I consider myself lucky to work and play with him."
What's up next for Cal Scott?
He's currently performing and recording with Kevin Burke, renowned Irish fiddler. And of course, there's the Trail Band. And new film offers come regularly. There's not much chance of an early retirement for this gifted musician.
And it all started in La Grande.