Summer Update- July and August 2009

 July 2009- In the middle of July, my colleague Billy Hunter and I headed down to Memphis, TN to be guest artists at the Memphis Brass Festival. I gave two masterclasses, a handful of lessons and a recital at the festival. Many thanks to Kevin Sanders, John Mueller and the members of the Memphis Brass Quintet for inviting me to participate in the festivities. I had a really nice time in Memphis. The only downside of the trip was that I probably gained 5 lbs. eating dry rub ribs. Thanks Corky's BBQ! I can't wait to have you again! The students in Memphis were quite enthusiastic. It's always nice to see young guys/gals at a masterclass with pencil, paper, and questions ready to go. I think we all learned a lot from the experience. I hope that this is only the first of many successful brass festivals in Memphis. Best of luck to the faculty at University of Memphis in maintaining and growing this wonderful project that you have started.

One thing that did stick out to me, and I will pontificate about this more in a later posting, was the number of students who were playing pieces that were beyond their level of ability. I simply can't understand students who are intent on performing Arrows of Time or the Creston Fantasy when reality says they should be working on Morceau Symphonique or Barat's Andante et Allegro. I've always felt strongly that we should perform in public the pieces that we can play well, constantly practice the pieces/techniques that are slightly beyond our reach and leave the things that are years away on the shelf for the time being. You get there by first mastering the fundamentals. In other words, the first time you get under the bar on the bench press, try lifting 45 lbs. with proper form before putting 300 lbs. on the bar. That's sensible, right? I digress.

At the end of July, I began the first of a few recording sessions for my upcoming solo CD. I am very thankful to have an excellent pianist (Hanako Yamagata), recording engineer (Adam Abeshouse), and good friends (Paul Pollard, Josh Popejoy and Burt Mason) with great ears to help me along this journey. I never realized just how demanding a solo recording session can be. Adam is truly a genius recording engineer and I would highly recommend him to anybody looking to record an album. There's not enough I can say about the musical support and guidance of my colleague and friend Paul Pollard in this project. I was there for his recording last year, so I suppose he owes me one! Speaking of which, for anyone who has not yet added Paul's most recent release "Listening" to their library, I would highly recommend that you do so! I have found recording to be enjoyable, tiring, trying and most of all, educational. I have a new level of respect for people like Christian Lindberg and Joseph Alessi who seem to churn albums out at such a high level at an alarming rate. I don't know how they do it, but I do intend to find out. When I do, I'll let you all know! To date, we have completed recording the Tomasi Concerto, Casterede Sonatine, Uber Romance, Pryor's Starlight and a few opera arias. We have one recording date left next week and then we're down to editing and mastering. I believe this recording will come out great and I hope it is a joy for people to listen to.

August 2009- August began with a bang! I was off for a beautiful yacht vacation in the British Virgin Islands with my good friend Shea Scruggs (Assistant Principal Oboe, Baltimore Symphony) and his family. We had a great time. I saw some of the most beautiful places in the world, took some great pictures, scuba dived, snorkeled, kneeboarded and yes, I brought my trombone and practiced an hour a day just to stay in shape! I usually leave my trombone behind for a vacation just to let my mind and chops rest a bit, but I knew August had a lot in store for me.

Immediately following the exotic island vacation, I found myself back in my hometown of Spring, TX. My friends Tim Higgins (Principal Trombone, San Francisco Symphony), Brad White (2nd/Associate Principal, Houston Symphony) and I were featured in a CBS news story with Len Canon. Tim, Brad and I all attended Klein High School in Spring, TX. Although Brad graduated almost ten years before me, Tim and I actually graduated in the same class. We've spent a fair amount of our lives competing against each other. We've been through junior high school regional auditions, high school region, area and state auditions. We went to Tanglewood together. He was at the MET audition when I won. I was at the San Francisco audition when he won. Now that we both have jobs, we can just play and have a great time with no worries of competition. At any rate, after filming the news story (which should air in early October), the three of us performed a quartet concert with the assistance of one of my former teachers and current mentors, Michael Warny (Houston Grand Opera and Ballet). True to the low expectations of trombone players, we didn't expect many people to attend a summertime trombone quartet concert in Spring, TX. We were pleasantly surprised when the hall became standing room only. We started out with 50 programs, then had to print a hundred more, then another hundred.... People were bringing in chairs from other rooms, sitting on the floor, standing outside the hall with the door open... since when did we get so popular!?!? The concert was great. Once again, there were tons of young, aspiring brass players there. We had a fantastic time making music, telling jokes and enjoying each other's presence. Let's do it again some time soon guys!

Following Texas, I headed to Columbus, GA for a masterclass/recital appearance at Columbus State University. Many thanks to Bradley Palmer for inviting Paul Pollard and I to come down and share our music with the students at CSU. The masterclass went over very well and I had a nice handful of students who were interested in private lessons during my stay. The event culminated in a recital with Paul, Brad and myself. It was a real pleasure to play in the recital hall at CSU. For those who don't know, I think CSU has one of the most beautiful recital halls in this country, both aesthetically and acoustically. If you ever get the chance to play there, you should do it. Brad Palmer has a great thing going on down there at CSU. Keep up the good work Brad!

Summer concluded with a trip to Albuquerque, NM. I believe this was my third time visiting Albuquerque. Just like Memphis, Albuquerque has the food part taken care of. Make sure to check out Powdrell's BBQ, Saggio's, Frontier and whatever the Greek restaurant across the street from the music school at UNM. They have a mean lamb gyro. This trip to New Mexico was part of an annual residency I am a part of with a group known as the Master Musicians. Before you think anything, don't worry, I didn't come up with the name myself. The group consists of myself, Anthony McGill, Billy Hunter, Richard White, Demarre McGill and Shea Scruggs. This is a wonderful group of all African-American musicians in major American orchestras who are committed to bringing classical music, music appreciation, inspiration and joy to under-served communities. During our stay we had the opportunity to present two classes at an inner city high school in Albuquerque. We each presented masterclasses at the University of New Mexico. Thanks to Debbie Taylor and Karl Hinterbichler for having me. I'm glad there was enough time for me to do some playing in the masterclass this time. The event culminated in a joint recital of the "Master Musicians" at the African-American Performing Arts Center in Albuquerque ( The evening finished with a work by Kenneth Bentley that the center commissioned for our group to play together. The night ended with chants of "Play it again!". It's always rewarding to have the opportunity to perform with some of your closest friends. I relish the opportunities I get to be a part of something that is purely about joy, enrichment, and camaraderie. Many thanks to Pamelya Herndon, Don Jordan and anyone who I might be forgetting for making this event happen. I hope this will continue for years to come.

Well.... that's all for summer 2009! Here's hoping that 2010 will be even better. Cheers!

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