Trey Devey will always remember how he felt when he found out he had been chosen to be the eighth president of Interlochen Center for the Arts.
“To say that I was incredibly excited is an understatement,” Devey said in a recent interview. “I was overjoyed. This was the only job that could have pulled me away from Cincinnati.”
Devey has spent the past eight years as president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra--a position that, for many, would be a dream job in itself. “I went through an exercise when I got the job at the Cincinnati Symphony,” Devey explained. “Before I started, I thought to myself, ‘Having gotten to what many would consider a destination orchestra, a top-ten orchestra, where could I envision my career advancing beyond Cincinnati?’”
The result of the exercise was a shortlist of three institutions that Devey would consider if suitable positions became available, one of which was Interlochen. “Over these past eight years it just became increasingly clear that the other two were less compelling,” he said. “It was really a moment of ‘do I pursue this Interlochen role, or spend the rest of my career in Cincinnati?’ This was it for me. This was the dream job.”
Devey was unanimously selected by the board of trustees after a rigorous search process that began in the summer of 2015. The position of President of Interlochen produced what search committee co-chair Keith Baum described as a “flood of interested parties.” Devey rose to the top.
“Here was a person who wasn’t looking for a job, but for years had said, ‘This is my dream job,’” said Baum of Devey.
Co-chair Don Cogman agreed. “In his own words, he said it would complete his life’s work in the arts,” Cogman said. “We wanted someone who came with a passion for the arts but also really wanted to do the job.”
Devey is no stranger to Interlochen and northern Michigan. His late grandfather, a Cleveland-based physics teacher, spent his summers at his cottage on Long Lake. Devey’s parents visited that Long Lake cottage every summer--and not even a newborn baby could keep them away. “I was born in July and was there in August,” recalls Devey. Devey would return to Long Lake each summer throughout his childhood. “I’ve really loved coming up to northern Michigan,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories as a young person were made here.”
It was during these years that Devey first became acquainted with Interlochen. Although he never attended the institution, it nevertheless left a strong impression on the young musician. “I’ve always admired Interlochen,” he said. “I felt it was unique in many respects.”
Devey’s familiarity with Interlochen and northern Michigan was a major plus for Baum and the search committee. “This is a person who knows Interlochen, who’s been coming to the area for his whole life,” said Baum. “His kids have attended the Camp. He’s not at all an outsider. He gets Interlochen.”
From artist to administrator
Devey went on to study trombone at Northern Illinois University. After graduating, he joined the orchestral community not as a musician, but as an administrator. “When I started working in orchestra, I could see the strengths in many of the leaders,” he said. “I could also see some of the gaps.”
In an effort to alleviate some of the shortcomings he saw in other leaders in his own leadership, Devey enrolled in the MBA program at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated at the top of his class. “I didn’t see many leaders who had pursued an MBA,” he explained. “I saw it as an opportunity to be differentiated, to take a different path, and to gather a unique set of skills and see how that would apply in an artistic field.”
Although he was still targeting a career in the arts, Devey spent several years working outside of the arts as a strategy consultant after completing his MBA. However, his interest in arts and education never waned. “Two of my consulting projects involved working in a very large school system,” he said. “That was really driven by me. I asked to be involved because I was passionate about education.”
Devey’s background in business and passion for arts education are two of the qualities that impressed Baum and Don Cogman the most about Devey. “Trey is a strategic, analytical thinker,” said Cogman. “He has a leadership style that is one of a listener and a self-described bridge builder. He has a great passion about him both for education and the arts.”
Devey’s passions and skills eventually led him back to music when he accepted the presidency of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In his eight years of leadership, he has transformed the cash-strapped orchestra into a vibrant community player, launching diversity initiatives such as Classical Roots and educational programs such as the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program, a joint initiative with the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).
Preparing for the presidency
Devey believes his role at the CSO has prepared him well for his future position at Interlochen. “The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is a large-budget, complex, multi-stakeholder organization,” he said. “Similarly, Interlochen is large and complex and has many stakeholders. I was really struck when I saw the job description for Interlochen that it really aligned with what I do at the Cincinnati Symphony. Working with a board, engaging with many stakeholders who are passionate about where the institution is going, addressing financial matters, or getting things done with vision and strategic direction, all those things are areas I’ve worked on in Cincinnati.”
Baum agrees with Devey’s self-evaluation. “Hearing from the community about what we all as people who know and love Interlochen are looking for, [Devey] checks all those boxes,” he said. “He’s passionate about education, has run a large organization with a big budget, has dealt with new buildings, he’s raised funds, most importantly, he’s very passionate about his job.”
Another similarity between the Cincinnati Symphony and Interlochen is the wide variety of roles both organizations play. Presentations, radio and education are regular aspects of daily life at both institutions, although the weight on each area is slightly different.
“Presentations is pretty core to our work here, so that’s quite familiar to me,” Devey said. He also explained that the CSO’s strong radio presence has helped him understand the process of public broadcasting. “We have a partnership with WGUC, which is a public station. We’re on the airwaves every Sunday and through Performance Today and SymphonyCast. We’ve really expanded our reach through those programs and we’re more regularly on the national airwaves.”
Devey does acknowledge that the educational goals of Interlochen and the Cincinnati Symphony are probably the most divergent. “The educational work that we do as an orchestra is different from an institution like Interlochen,” he explained. The CSO’s current educational outreaches include youth orchestra programs and individual efforts by CSO musicians. One of Devey’s proudest educational achievements, however, is the fellowship program with CCM that pairs a fellow with a CSO mentor. The fellowship program provides performance opportunities with the CSO and helps bridge the gap between pre-professional and professional performance.
Creating a destination for artists
Ultimately, education of young artists--such as his high school self--is what attracted Devey to Interlochen. “The value of Interlochen is that it has a unique perspective and a different set of opportunities for young people to grow both as artists and as human beings,” he said. “On a personal level, I have always identified with Interlochen’s power to support young people in perhaps their most formative years. In high school, I found my center at that time through my art, which happened to be music. It was just exciting to think about being involved in an institution like Interlochen that helps young people find their meaning, find their center, and find their belonging.”
Devey’s experience is primarily in music, but he’s a self-professed enthusiast of all artforms. Devey has indulged his interest through creating collaborations between the CSO and other artists. The CSO is the resident company of the Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, and the Cincinnati World Piano Competition. The orchestra’s other collaborations span visual arts, theatre, motion picture arts and creative writing. Devey looks forward to expanding his knowledge of other artforms during his time at Interlochen. “Given that Interlochen is an educational institution, I have permission to be a lifelong learner and learn a lot more about the disciplines that have not been part of my earliest upbringing,” he said.
Devey’s business background is unique among Interlochen’s past presidents, but he believes his different perspective will be an asset to his presidency. “The best organizations usually don’t have people that are thinking the same way on any particular issue, but rather have a diversity of ideas and can engage in debate around those ideas,” he explained. “What I would hope in my time at Interlochen is to create an environment where people can engage in ideas and be really open. Through that process, we can clarify what it is that we’re all about and what’s the best direction to take.”
But beyond his excitement about the professional satisfaction that Interlochen will bring, Devey has a personal excitement to begin his role as president. “For all of my 45 years, the Traverse City area has been a part of my life. For the entirety of my career, I have admired and respected Interlochen. It is a blessing to find at once both a personal and professional home. I can’t wait to join the Interlochen community.”
President-elect Trey Devey was introduced to the Interlochen community in a special convocation on Nov.11, 2016. Watch the archived webcast >>