May 23, 2024
Annapolis, US 73 F

Stuck on the Tarmac? Ask Your Pilot to Whip Out His Violin!

This month, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Netanel Draiblate will take off as First Officer with Endeavor Air, becoming the only known orchestra concertmaster to assume this position in a commercial flight deck.

When First Officer Netanel Draiblate heads for his next trip on the flight deck of an Endeavor Air (wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines) CRJ 900, he has a problem no other airline pilots face: how to carry his violin.

Draiblate is the longtime concertmaster for the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the violinist who leads the musicians in rehearsals and works closely with Artistic Director and Conductor José-Luis Novo.

He’s also a newly commissioned airline pilot – perhaps the only person in a symphony or the flight deck to hold down both jobs at once. At first glance, the two roles may seem wildly dissimilar. One occurs sitting in a chair on a stage, while the other is a more complex job performed thousands of feet high in the sky. 

Interestingly though, there are many similarities. Communication is a crucial skill, whether with other musicians on the stage or with ground and air crews from the flight deck. Concentration is another. Both jobs involve mastering a technical skill so well that it becomes automatic, acting with absolute confidence before, during, and after the performance or flight, even in moments of crisis.

Both jobs require intense focus, connection with instrumentation, and practice. “There is an art to landing a plane,” Draiblate said. “You have to feel the airplane innately, to have a touch for it and a connection to it. If you don’t have the right touch, you’ll hit the runway hard, and passengers won’t be happy.” That touch is integral to performing at Draiblate’s level on the violin: “if you don’t focus and connect with the instrument, it simply won’t sound good,” he said. 

Both jobs also require a strict hierarchy of leadership and the necessity for teamwork. “In a symphony, the conductor is the ultimate decision maker about how a performance will unfold, the level of expertise and artistry demanded, and the production schedule. “The final authority over the orchestra is the conductor, the same way that the captain is the final authority over the plane. In both roles, I am expected to be highly skilled at what I do and to support the captain.” 

In the orchestra, the relationship between the concertmaster and conductor is the same as between the first officer and the captain of an airplane. “You both have the same goal. You have to work together to arrive at the same place,” Draiblate said from New York, where he was waiting to catch his next flight.

Draiblate has been playing the violin since he was a 6-year-old, learning from his mother, a noted violinist for the Israel Philharmonic, and his father, who played for the Israel Chamber. His studies brought him to America, first for an undergraduate degree in Chicago, then for post-graduate training at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Eventually, he found the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, where his talent and notable working relationship with the conductor and fellow musicians resulted in his job as concertmaster.  

Piloting an airplane started with a birthday gift from a girlfriend. She bought him a one-hour lesson from Navy Annapolis Flight Center at Lee Airport in Edgewater, Maryland. When he landed, he was hooked and immediately started flight lessons.

He can trace his first ambition for a second career in flight to his chief flight instructor on the final practice before the FAA pilot’s exam.

“At that time, I played for the ASO and other orchestras as concertmaster, founded the Annapolis Symphony Academy, taught at Georgetown University, and performed in chamber music concerts,” Dariblate said. The instructor explained that being a pilot, concertmaster, and music school director simultaneously might be a perfect fit for someone as ambitious and talented as Nati. “I became aware of how my schedule with the symphony is perfect because I can integrate my passion for flying seamlessly into the performance schedule.”

As Draiblate began logging hours and additional certifications, he began to think being a commercial pilot and a concertmaster was possible. He became a flight instructor and eventually went to the airlines for further training.

He’s long been open with Novo about his second career, who says he’s heard of conductors who were pilots, flying between concerts or commuting between orchestras. But musicians put hours and hours into a strict practice regime to reach the level of play needed in a professional orchestra.

“In the case of Nati, I think that he’s such a strong player, and he had so much intensive work in the violin when he was very young,” Novo said. “When you do that, you are a little freer later in life because all the basics are in your system. And that never goes away as long as you find time to practice. I think this is a very smart move for Nati, and I’ve been very supportive because he has always been very forthcoming and honest about it,” Novo said

And yet, there was some convincing for members of the board of trustees. They wanted assurance that he wasn’t getting ready to take wing in more ways than one.

“Netanel is a phenomenal violinist and Concertmaster, making even the most complicated compositions look disarmingly easy,” said Jill Kidwell, who sponsors Draiblate as Concertmaster. “He envisioned an academy for disadvantaged students that has exceeded everyone’s wildest imaginations. Nati is brilliant. Simply brilliant. When I learned of his plans to become a pilot, I knew, based on my experience with him, that he would be successful and a stellar pilot.” 

In the summer of 2022, Draiblate presented his entire schedule to the ASO Board of Trustees. “Frankly, they were nervous I might take an airline job and leave the symphony,” he said. He explained that, like other orchestra members, he split his time in many ways. He was an assistant professor of music at Georgetown University and performed for a Chicago based orchestra, as well as with PostClassical, a classical music ensemble in Washington, DC. At the same time, he served as the full-time Director of the Annapolis Symphony Academy, an education program for school-age musicians, while teaching private lessons for elite-level students and performing regularly nationwide.

“That presentation revealed the intensity of what I was doing: when you look at all these things together, I was working far more than one full-time job,” Draiblate said. Not anymore. 

Endeavor Air, a subsidiary of Delta that operates as the regional carrier Delta Connection, hired him last fall. His training started two days after Thanksgiving and in February he passed his FAA exams. 

With his acceptance as a first officer at Endeavor Air, he dropped all his other roles except with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Symphony Academy, and The PostClassical Ensemble. “When I joined Endeavor Air, I stopped my freelance work and committed to the ASO, the Academy, and occasional chamber performances,” he said. “I’ll continue working with PostClassical and dedicate the rest of my time to flying. I’ve consolidated my work, but the schedule hasn’t changed much.” 

“When I learned of his plans to become a pilot, his logic was compelling”, said Kidwell. He wanted to focus on three things he is most passionate about: being a musician, being a teacher, and being a pilot. The big winners here are the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and his students.. Nati’s focus and dedication makes him an asset to any organization or project he serves.” 

Musicians like Draiblate don’t rehearse or perform daily. Major symphony concerts, chamber performances, and special events dictate their schedule. Pilots are prevented from flying every day because of federal safety rules designed to prevent fatigue. This similarity will offer a familiar feeling, rhythm, and flow to Draiblate’s flight schedule. 

As for his violin, well, that’s ready to fly as well. Draiblate has long brought it with him on trips because even a professional violinist stays in top form by practicing daily. Draiblate plays on a Lukas Wronski violin and recently found a convenient way to carry his instrument through the airport with his suitcase and flight bag. “I bought a 77-cent hook that attaches the violin to my suitcase. You might see me in the airport and notice me because I’ll have my flight uniform and a traveling violin.” 

We spoke with Netanel a while back, have a listen!

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