Ann Crews Melton
Beverly Everett conducts the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra at the Capitol on July 4, 2008. (Tribune file photo)

Dr. Beverly Everett, music director of the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra. (Submitted photo)

If you hear the name Leonard Bernstein, you might think of "West Side Story" or the New York Philharmonic, but you probably don't think about his shoes. Yet behind the "glass curtain" of the performing arts, shoes are one of many considerations a female conductor must address. Be Magazine sat down with Dr. Beverly Everett, music director and conductor of the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra, to discuss everything from footwear to triathlons to being a creative woman in the arts.

Q: Tell me a bit about your musical background.

A: I (have) studied piano since I was six. We had a new organist at our church (in Waxahachie, Texas), and a bunch of my friends were getting to study piano with him and I wanted to too, but neither he nor my mom would let me stop piano lessons with my other teacher. And so I got the brilliant idea that I could take organ instead, and I really took to that. I did serious recitals all four years of high school. My mom was a single mom, and I knew that I had to do something in addition to academic success to get scholarships for college, so I worked really hard and was lucky to have a good teacher.

When I went to college (at Baylor University), I went to study organ with the intent of being a full-time church musician. I took a conducting class because I thought that as a church musician I would probably have to conduct at some point, and I just really took to it. My teacher at Baylor, Stephen Heyde, is still a great mentor of mine. So when I told him I wanted to conduct, I studied privately with him -- not just conducting, but also violin. Then I got my doctorate from the University of Iowa, and became music director of Bemidji (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra in 2005 and Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra in 2008.

Q: I spent more than three years at Lincoln Center in New York, and I had to move to North Dakota to interview a female conductor. Was it challenging for you to decide to enter this profession?

A: I would say I was encouraged. But I think that because mentoring women was something totally new to my teachers, sometimes things happened that I don't think they meant to happen. For instance, sometimes a male mentor will tend to say things to you like, "Oh, you're so nurturing and sweet, you'd be great conducting a youth orchestra." That isn't necessarily a negative thing, but it isn't what you want to hear.

A few years ago, I got a career development fellowship to study with JoAnn Falletta (music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and Virginia Symphony Orchestras). She's the first female mentor I've had, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. She became a constant mentor and friend, and that just opened up a whole new world to me.

Q: Here's a question that would never be asked of a man: What do you wear on the podium?

A: Black slacks and a black jacket -- it's pretty tailored but has a little bit of femininity to it. I do wear sensible shoes. I started out wearing heels but I think what you're doing up there is really athletic, and you wouldn't play basketball in dress shoes.

Q: Most people don't think of conducting as an athletic feat, but I've seen conductors leave the stage cloaked in sweat, totally exhausted. What is your exercise regimen?

A: In January of 2013, I really started running seriously, and part of it was a coping mechanism because my mom was very ill. I've since run four half marathons and few other smaller races, and this spring I began training for my first triathlon. I bought a Ferrari of a bike to start out with, so I was kind of diving in head first. But in Bismarck there is this community of incredibly talented and experienced athletes, and they are some of the most generous people I've ever met. So when I decided to do this, they all kind of jumped in and embraced me. And I love the way I feel.

I'm eager to start the symphony season and see how this all feeds into my music. Because I think when you're doing something physical like that, you're able to shut off your brain a little bit and really be in the moment. I've found that then translates even more into my music in terms of just being able to let go.

Q: Running triathlons is certainly a creative approach to preparing for concerts. How else do you use creativity in your role as music director?

A: As music director you are basically in charge of planning the pieces of music that are going to be performed and the guest artists that are going to come in. Since I've been in Bismarck we've created a pop series, and I try to feature a variety of artists. This July Fourth we featured (Bismarck native) Richard Torrance, a Capitol Records guitarist. Last year we featured Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome out of Fargo. In general people just love live music, and it really warms my heart that that many people want to give of their extra income to come see the orchestra. My triathlon group comes, too!

Q: What are you looking forward to?

A: Next season (2015-2016) is the 40th anniversary of this orchestra, and the first guest artist will be Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony. My mom had myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a blood cancer, and she passed away last year. She went through a bone marrow transplant and so did Ryan, with the same transplant doctor. I have other musical connections to him too, but that just makes it extra special. He survived and has done well with his recovery.

Q: What's the best piece of advice you have received?

A: Give them something they can go out humming.

The Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra's first concert of the 2014 season is September 20. Learn more at

Editor's note: This transcript was condensed and rearranged for readability.

Ann Crews Melton is a writer and editor who lives in Bismarck. She is a direct descendant of Pocahontas, Clan Mackay of Scotland and a bunch of debtors and scalawags who came through Georgia to Texas.