Michael Mermagen, a Havre de Grace native making his Maryland debut as a professional cellist in his hometown next Sunday, says he nearly became a scientist instead of a musician.
"I actually wanted to be a scientist. My father is a physicist and my brothers are electrical engineers," said Mermagen, 27, in a telephone interview from his home in New York.
"I do get into a lot of technical hobbies. I'm into computers and amateur radio. But I got bitten by this bug, and I knew there was nothing else for me to do."
On Oct. 14, county residents will have a chance to hear Mermagen play as part of a chamber music trio called "Arista Trio" in a concert at 3 p.m. at Havre de Grace High School auditorium.
His father, Bill Mermagen, who serves on the Havre de Grace arts commission, helped put the concert together. The Mermagen family is helping to sell the $8 tickets.
"Chamber music is really three people in close communication loving what they're doing and expressing the music in a very personal way," said Mermagen, who has played in the trio for three years.
"There are many chamber music festivals in small towns. I think Havre de Grace is an up-and-coming coastal town, and if they can get the community support for concerts like this, it would be good for Havre de Grace."
Mermagen met the other members of the trio, Daniel Froschauer, who plays violin, and Sang-Mi Chung, who plays piano, at the Juilliard School in New York, where he earned a master's degree. Mermagen attended Peabody Preparatory School and the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
Although Mermagen's entire family is musically talented, choosing the cello as the instrument to play was really an accident, recalled the musician's mother, Christine Mermagen.
"We always laugh about this," she said. "But Meadowvale Elementary used to have an orchestra, and his older brother Billy chose the flute. The conductor told us he really needed someone to play the cello so we said, 'Why not?' " Mermagen started out on a half-size cello at age 7, but now plays a 1774 Nicolo Gagliano violoncello, which his mother describes as "the Steinway of cellos."
"We have all scientists in the family, and we never dreamed he'd want to pursue a career as a professional musician," his mother said. "It was very scary, but we're very supportive. I'm sure he didn't think of all the things we thought of, economics and so forth."
Although being a musician can be a hard way to make a living, Mermagen said he wasn't a bit worried. Mermagen decided to become a professional cellist when he was 17 and began attending the Peabody Conservatory. In a way, Mermagen said, he was just relieved to have made a decision about his career.
"When I was in high school I knew it was decision-making time, but there was no particular field I'd been interested in. It's really nice when you can come to a decision, and I didn't care if it was going to work out or not," he said.
"It was just a feeling of 'I'm going to do it no matter what.' It takes a great deal of work to learn to play an instrument and to build a career, but the work is so rewarding it's not drudgery."
Mermagen's favorite composer is Johannes Brahms. The trio will play one composition by Brahms in its concert next week. The group recently played at the Aspen Music Festival and has toured New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The trio will be heading to Maine this winter.