Generally speaking, the Portland Symphony Orchestra is a polite organization. But the niceties are giving way to rivalries as Clemson and Alabama prepare to meet for the national title in college football Monday night.

Robert Moody, the orchestra’s principal conductor and music director, comes from a Clemson family. Norman Huynh, the orchestra’s assistant conductor, graduated from Alabama and played in the school’s marching band.

The two men plan to watch the game together at Moody’s home in North Carolina, where Huynh is working as a guest with the Charlotte Symphony.

Huynh ought not expect a warm welcome. “We will try to make him feel as miserable as we can,” Moody said.

To which Huynh replied, “Roll Tide!”

College football is ingrained in Southern culture, and it’s become part of the culture of the PSO. Moody has long cited Clemson’s last national championship capping the 1981 season as a highlight of his life, an event that moved him to tears. Moody attended the Orange Bowl championship game with his dad. Huynh – whose team, he notes, has won three national titles since 2009 – is known to leave notes on strangers’ cars in Portland that have Alabama stickers, inviting their owners to watch a game with him.


That’s not all. Carolyn Nishon, the symphony’s executive director, graduated from the University of Michigan, whose football team finished 10-3 and walloped the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. She’s almost as passionate about college football as Moody and Huynh, and last week she was playing office referee.

“The entire staff and orchestra are all going to be watching this game to see who is going to be happy and who is going to be completely devastated,” she said. “Norman and Robert have been talking about this potential all season long. I am just surprised it’s actually happening.”

Moody and Huynh each grew up in football families. Moody went to school at Furman University in South Carolina but cheered for Clemson and has attended Clemson games since he was a boy. His father graduated from Clemson in 1952 and “a good number” of his 54 cousins also went to Clemson, including a former punter for the football team.

Huynh grew up in Alabama and never doubted he would attend the University of Alabama. He called college football “a way of life” at Alabama. He performed in the marching band and was a junior when the Crimson Tide won the national title in 2009.

Despite living in Portland, Huynh has not lost zeal for his team. He plans his weekends around college football. “I miss going to the games, and I miss going to Tuscaloosa on Saturdays and being with 100,000 of my closest friends,” he said. “But it’s still a big presence in my life.”


Robert Moody we were hyping it up all year long and it’s finally here. GET READY FOR THE CRIMSON TIDE TO ROLL ALL OVER CLEMSON!!!!

Posted by Norman Huynh on Thursday, December 31, 2015

Moody has said one reason he hired Huynh as assistant conductor was a Facebook video of Huynh leading the band in a ‘Bama cheer at a pep rally. “It went from five to 10 people doing it to 5,000 people doing it,” Moody recalled. “I said: ‘I want that guy. I want someone with that kind of passion and motivation.’ ”

He might regret that decision on Monday night. Despite Clemson being undefeated, Alabama is favored to win the game.

Still, Moody oozes confidence. “I think I am going to be quite happy come the end of the night,” he said.

Nishon is not taking sides. “I have to remain neutral on this one,” she said.

Her job is making sure the losing conductor honors his bet. If Clemson wins, Huynh will wear a Clemson jersey at the July Fourth concert on the Eastern Promenade and conduct the Clemson fight song from the stage. If Alabama wins, Moody will wear an Alabama jersey and conduct the Alabama fight song.

At which time, Moody’s 54 cousins will stop talking to him.


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