Sometimes attending a horse race is a life-changing moment. It certainly was for Maryland school teacher Bethann Dixon. She went to the 2012 Preakness at Pimlico and noticed the gentleman playing the “Call to the Post” in the winner’s circle. Dixon is a music teacher. She went up and introduced herself to Sam Grossman, a professional track bugler from the New York circuit. She asked if he was local and if he would be interested in speaking to her middle school students about life long musicianship.
Grossman explained that he lived in New York. She gave him her card and went off to enjoy a day at the track. Grossman remembers meeting her in vivid detail that day. “She was in a sundress and heels and asked me to speak to her students. I was with my dad a few months later and told him that there were 112,000 people at the track and the only one I remember is Bethann who is a trumpet player also.”
Grossman connected with Dixon on social media. He commented that he noticed she has a “bugler’s costume” and she explained that it is her riding habit. She rides with the Goshen Hounds Hunt Club in Damascus, Md.
Grossman said, “I am going to send you a piece of music. Please come to Belmont (Park) in three weeks and play the third trumpet part on ‘America the Beautiful.’” She demurred and thought it was a crazy idea. He continued to cajole her that it’s a great idea. “My mom was a trumpet player her whole life. Her five sisters were all musicians. One played a sax, two played trumpet, one an upright bass, and one played the violin. I had no way of knowing that by inviting her to play, we would become dear friends. I had no idea of how this friendship would improve my life.” Grossman grew very quiet as his eyes filled with emotion. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and quietly said “My mother (who passed away 21 years ago) would be so proud of me giving a woman a chance to play the trumpet professionally.”
Dixon joined Grossman and fellow trumpet player Ryan Resky at Belmont. Grossman remembered, “The first time she has ever played with us, we were in the garden terrace with eight Playboy centerfolds. They requested that we play them a song. So we played them something from ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘America the Beautiful.’ She was playing ‘Fugue for Tin Horns’ and she was completely at ease! I asked Resky (who is one of the best trumpet players in Manhattan) how long did it take him to feel comfortable? He wasn’t sure but said years. It took her five races and she was doing shtick! She was just so at ease. We were dumbfounded!”
Lots of people liked the grandeur of three trumpets playing a trio together at the track. They are crisp and precise. Dixon plays a herald trumpet with valves and makes quite an impression with her trendy white blond hair peeking out from underneath her traditional top hat. She plays with confidence and is a perfect fit whether she is playing with Grossman and Resky, Steve Buttleman from Churchill Downs, or Grossman’s twin brother Irving. She received positive feedback from her initial first appearances and was asked to come to Saratoga Race Course and Laurel Park racetracks to play. NBC told them, “This is a great look!” She rarely solos and prefers to play in duets and trios.
Her Hunt Club is extremely supportive. Once a year, the Goshen Hunt Club gives a fox hunting demonstration at Laurel Park. Dixon rides down the track with the hounds on her pony and then jumps off and plays “Call to the Post.” She doesn’t say much about her bugler career to her students but they find out anyway by word of mouth. They proudly tell her, “We saw you,” when she has been on TV. They ask her why she is a teacher. She tells them “I want to be with you all and teach you. It gives me happiness to teach.”
Dixon said it took some getting used to playing in front of the TV cameras. She doesn’t hear the audience in the grandstand. “It’s just me and the horn. I can’t allow myself to think about other things because I need to focus so much on getting the notes right. I just want to give my all and breathe.”
She enjoys playing “Fugue for Tin Horns” and “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls,” along with the Olympic theme and the fanfare from “Aida.” When they are in the audience, it’s fun to play “Happy Birthday” and “Love and Marriage.” Dixon says, “The fans are amazing. They treat me beautifully. I can’t imagine a sport with better fans. They are just lovely. I am always willing to talk or pose for a picture. There is a lot of love. I am lucky whenever they see me that their frown turns upside down.”
She has come a long way from the little girl who grew up in central Pennsylvania playing the flute and piano in band and orchestra. She was also into riding and showed hunter jumper. This love of horses and music is perfectly combined as she plays the historic “Call to the Post” at the track. From a casual meeting at the Preakness, it seems that this was predestined for her talents.
Grossman calls her the “Always Fabulous Bethann Michelle Dixon” as an honor to her talent and personality. She kids him back that it’s hard to be spectacular sometimes. He counters that when she shows up “She looks fabulous. She is ready to go. We will walk 12 to 13 miles easily. She is not lazy. She will take every photo with fans. She will tell stories. She will do whatever what needs to be done to entertain the fans. She throws herself into it. I have two rules: It has to sound nice and you have to do the work so that it sounds good. Being mediocre is not acceptable and she is on board. Playing for more than 100,000 people is very intimidating. It didn’t faze her even a little bit. She accommodates every single fan.”
Dixon is a solid equestrian. She is also a fan of Justify and Irish War Cry. Her Connemara pony Irish Mist is very similar to the fell pony that the Queen of England rides. “She is a gray. She jumps the moon. She doesn’t know she is little. She is 14.3 (hands) and she doesn’t know she is that small. She jumps all the big coops and fences just like the big horses.”
When explaining the feeling of jumping she stopped talking and looked into the distance. The person who can deftly handle the stress of performing in front of large crowds was deep in thought. “That feeling of being on top of a horse and riding and jumping? It’s the closest I would imagine to flying. It’s all you think about. No other thoughts invade your mind when you are on top of a horse. It’s an incredible experience for the senses. The mind can actually turn off all the other noise and you can focus on you and the animal.” She experiences the same sensation when she is playing her trumpet. A very large grandstand shrinks to the intimacy of the winner’s circle when she raises her horn to play.
It’s an amazing moment that started when a middle school teacher took a chance to introduce herself to a track bugler. It opened the door to an entire world of new experiences of fun and music at the racetrack. In her pursuit of perfection, she challenges herself. Just like her pony that doesn’t know she is small when she is at a large jump, Dixon surveys the situation and flies. The result is magical and always fabulous!