What a Week!

This past week was definitely one of the most musically and personally satisfying weeks I’ve had in a long time. So, I thought I would share the details of it with you all. People always tell me that I’m “living the dream” and after a week like this one, I think they might be right.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of being the guest artist at Montclair State University’s annual Trombone Day. The event was a full day of fun and hard work. We started in the morning with a warm-up session before moving on to a masterclass and a full recital. I am thankful for once again having the opportunity to share my love of music with a lot of aspiring trombonists. Many thanks go to Tony Mazzocchi, Dillon Music and Antoine Courtois/Buffet Crampon for making this day possible.

Monday began my week of double duty with the Metropolitan Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Without going into the details, I can say that week included several hours of teaching, rehearsals of Gotterdammerung and Faust at the MET, 4 rehearsals and 3 performances of Shostakovich 7 with the PO, performances of La Boheme at MET, and a lot of time on the train or bus, sometimes nervously checking my watch to make sure that it could all work out. Thankfully, I made it to everything on time. The only close call was Friday. A late bus and two sold out trains made getting from a 2PM performance in Philly to a 7:30PM curtain at the MET a little too close for comfort!

The great thing about the week was not simply that I got to be in ten places at once. Rather, it was the feeling of so many wonderful parts of my musical life coming together at once. I’ll start with the educational part of the week. My students from the Juilliard Music Advancement Program took part in Trombone Day at Montclair State University. For most of them, this was their first opportunity to have a full day of immersion in trombone surrounded by older, more mature players. A camera crew that is filming a documentary on music education, with a focus on Juilliard MAP, followed us throughout the day. For a trailer of the documentary, click here. Later in the week, on Thursday, I had the opportunity to work with the brass students from Play on, Philly!, a Philadelphia music education program based on the El Sistema model from Venezuela. The program they have established in Philadelphia is really great. The students get 3 hours of after school instruction 5 days a week. That’s a REAL commitment. Over the course of a couple of hours, I spoke with the kids, played for them some and gave suggestions and demonstrations as needed. It was a lot of fun and definitely a worthwhile thing to do. I’m proud to say that several of my friends are heavily involved with the program and they are, on a daily basis, making a difference in the lives of Philadelphia’s youth. My buddy Stanford Thompson, who took over my room in Philadelphia after I graduated from Curtis, is now the executive director of the program. My friend Joshua Popejoy, a former Indiana University classmate, teaches trombone. Thanks to those guys for welcoming me in to spend some time with the kids. If more cities had programs like this, the world would be a far better place. For more information on the program, click here.

Of course, playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra was incredible. As a student at Curtis, I think I only missed three of their programs in three years (and those were because I had to be out of town). Basically, seeing the orchestra was like religion. The sound of Philadelphia is firmly engrained in my ear and it is the professional sound I admired during my most important years of training. When you’re a student, you lionize the members of the orchestra that you love most. The players become your heroes, and rightfully so. Their musicianship is worthy of extreme admiration. To share the stage with them is always a musical and personal pleasure. I liken the experience of playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra to eating your mom's home cooking. I was musically raised with that sound, so it sounds like musical home base to me.  Granted, I play with a world class orchestra and I hear other great orchestras all the time because I live in New York, but I think the analogy holds true. You can find the fanciest restaurant in NYC and spend a thousand dollars a plate, but when you go home and your mom makes gumbo or sausage and biscuits in the morning, nothing can take the place of that. For me, it was a blast to play Shostakovich 7 with the orchestra, not only because the concerts were uniformly excellent, but because so many of the people I went to school with have now become members of the orchestra. It was really great to look up and see so many of my classmates scattered throughout the orchestra, often times in titled positions. Also, I had the great pleasure of sitting next to former classmate Shachar Israel, who is now a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. He sounds even more fantastic than I remembered, and it was a joy to sit next to him and Matt Vaughn throughout the week. Outside of the rehearsal, we had the opportunity to chat about our students, upcoming solo performances, our home purchases, etc. It immediately struck me how surreal it is that we’ve all grown up so fast. It seems like only yesterday that we were arguing over chamber music assignments or who was playing too loud in low brass class (If you’re wondering… yes, those battles were epic!). Now, only a handful of years later, we’re on the other side of the whole thing. We’re playing in Philly, Cleveland, and the MET and teaching and giving classes. The musical child inside of me is still asking, “Did that really happen? Wow!”.

Meanwhile, at the MET on Friday night, we had opening night of La Boheme. Having played in Philly earlier that afternoon made for quite a day. I think it is a rare privilege to perform with two of the world’s finest orchestras in the same day. The two groups are extremely different, but equally incredible. I recall sitting on stage at Verizon Hall during the Shostakovich thinking, “Man, it really doesn’t get any better than this!” Six hours later I’m in the pit at the MET thinking the exact same thing! What an awesome day to have those two experiences in such close proximity to one another.

For the performance of Boheme, my Curtis classmate Matthew Rose made his MET debut in the role of Colline. A former poker buddy of mine, Dmitri Pittas sang his first leading role at the MET, Rudolfo. Again, that warm and fuzzy feeling came over me. The cool thing about seeing so many of my friends having great successes is that I know their path. I was a first-hand witness of much of their hard work and dedication. I remember Joseph Conyers, now Associate Principal Bass of the PO, playing excerpts in my living room. I remember playing ping-pong in the student lounge with Matthew Rose. They are all normal people doing extraordinary things. They are a reminder to me that the dream is alive and well for our generation and that the light at the end of the musical tunnel really is that bright at times for those who are fortunate enough to make it.

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