Greenville, South Carolina, is a vibrant,
thriving city—and the arts community, including the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities—can take part of the credit.
“Greenville’s arts community is strong. A lot of people are making
their living in the arts here,” said David Hamilton ’79, chairman of the music
department at the Governor’s School. “More than that, the arts make Greenville
a better place to be, to live, to raise kids. A city without the arts is too
cold, barren. The arts are an important measure of a community.”
Hamilton, who grew up in Clemson, majored in music at Furman.
“I grew up in the band program at Daniel High
School. I was very interested in the trombone, but I wasn’t interested in
anything else,” he said. While in high school, he took trombone lessons from
Dan Ellis, then the University’s band director and trombone teacher.
Before Furman, “I never had met a person who made his living
playing trombone. I didn’t have much idea of what college was like, what music
was like, he said. “Furman gave me a perspective on the world and on the music
He then attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he
earned a master’s in trombone in 1982. While in Boston, he was a freelance
performer and taught private lessons. Eventually, he decided to return to South
Carolina with his wife, whom he met at Furman, and played with the Greenville
Symphony as principal trombone and began teaching at North Greenville
University. He also founded the Aurora Brass Quintet in 1991 and was
instrumental in creating the Mostly Modern Chamber Players. He directed
commissioning projects leading to six large-scale brass quintet works from
various composers across the country.
Hamilton decided to earn his doctorate because “there was a lot I
wanted to learn and study,” and he thought a doctoral degree was key to moving
forward in a collegiate career. He graduated from the State University of New
York at Stony Brook with a Doctor of Musical Arts in 1991.
He became a full-time professor at North Greenville, serving as
coordinator of instrumental music.
Then came his opportunity with the Governor’s School. He taught
there part-time in 1999 and became a full-time faculty member in January of
“It was an exciting opportunity—the ability to work with
talented students at this age before they go to college is rare, and I was in
on the ground level for a school going in a new direction.”
“There aren’t many schools like ours that are
supported by the state. We are a public school. No one is turned away because
they can’t afford it. Students, primarily juniors and seniors, spend half a day
in academic courses and the remainder in arts programs.”
While the Governor’s School leans toward traditional musical
training, it creates the base for students to go in any direction they want.
“We send a lot of kids to study jazz in a serious way, and we send
more to study classical music seriously,” he said. “In addition to the
intensive arts emphasis, the Governor’s School has a strong academic faculty. The
kids leave here with an exceptional background academically and
While some students will make a career in the arts, others decide
a career lies elsewhere. “In the arts you don’t always measure success
numerically. Success may be much more personal,” he said, citing a cellist who
eventually became a physician. “We feel what we give them here will enrich
Hamilton began his Governor’s School career
by teaching trombone and music history, but “my job sort of morphed,” he said. He
conducts a wind ensemble and is one of two orchestra conductors. In 2007, he
was named head of the music department with seven full-time teachers and 12
Music students travel to Europe every other
year to perform at various locations, with the sixth trip planned for spring.
In addition, students tour South Carolina, performing at school and community
concerts. “We think it’s important to go out and perform and to give back to
the community,” Hamilton said.
The Upstate’s art scene
“is more indigenous” than that in many cities known for the arts. “I think we
contribute to that. We support artists who are teaching and working here.”