For principal clarinet Chip Phillips and principal second violin Amanda Howard-Phillips – one of the Spokane Symphony’s many married couples – life has always revolved around music in one way or another.
“I started taking lessons when I was 4,” Howard-Phillips said. It was a hobby at first, “something my mom thought would be fun for me and my little friends.” But it quickly became more.
At 11, Howard-Phillips made her solo debut with the Bainbridge Orchestra and would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a master’s degree in violin performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Today, in addition to her position with the Spokane Symphony, Howard-Phillips is also part of the Spokane String Quartet.
“I think I realized that it was really what I wanted to do for a career when I went to chamber music camp as a teenager and I played in a string quartet for the first time,” she said. “That was just mind-blowing … I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Phillips started playing saxophone and later clarinet in primary school. He continued through high school and would go on to earn a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music. Today, he teaches clarinet at Gonzaga University.
Somehow, busy as they are with practice and rehearsals, teaching lessons and raising their sons David, 7, and Arthur, 2, they still somehow manage to find time to run a small-batch coffee roasting company.
“It’s all my fault,” Howard-Phillips said, joking about all of the sugar and chocolate that once made up her delicious but expensive Starbucks habit.
The idea of roasting their own coffee started as a casual suggestion, a hobby maybe. But for Phillips, Howard-Phillips explained, there is nothing casual about hobbies.
Phillips operates Little Blue Trailer Coffee out of a remodeled garden shed attached to the couple’s garage using a machine he built by hand.
“This whole room was just a giant cobweb,” he said, gesturing to the cozy, coffee-filled space. “Nobody had even been in here since the ‘50s.”
But Phillips blazed through the renovation.
“When he sets his mind to something and wants to learn how to do something, he will not rest until he’s absolutely done it,” Howard-Phillips said.
Alongside music lessons, Phillips spent his childhood building machines with his father, an electrical engineer.
“He would be working on his thing, and I’d be doing my own … building little contraptions and working on the cars with him,” he said.
Phillips’ initial design for the Blue Trailer Coffee roaster started with an old-fashioned popcorn machine, a few modifications and an electric motor.
“I was like a mad scientist right here,” he said, especially with all the smoke the small machine was pumping out. “Even just a small batch will fill up the neighborhood.”
Two models later, the smoke is under control, and their neighbors – apart from one rather vocal detractor who has since moved away for reasons unrelated – are fully supportive.
Phillips is endlessly fascinated by the roasting process, always tinkering with temperatures and experimenting with the flavor profile.
“I go to bed and wake up thinking about it,” he said. “He’s so curious,” Howard-Phillips said. “Seeking out knowledge … always trying to figure out how to get better.”
That drive, she said, is exactly the kind of dedication you need to develop as a musician. You know it’s difficult, but you have that goal on the horizon pulling you forward.
“Studying music is one of the greatest ways to develop grit,” she said.
“So, if things don’t go the way I hope, I pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. Challenging yourself, pushing yourself farther and farther than you think you can go, is the most rewarding … that’s what makes it worth it.”
To aspiring musicians, they offered the following advice: “If you love it, keep doing it. Never stop taking lessons, and keep yourself open to feedback.”
For more information about Little Blue Trailer Coffee, visit littlebluetrailercoffee.com.
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