Friday, August 21, 2015

The Carthartic Trombone

This post has been a long time coming. I wanted to include this in my blog, but I also wanted to make sure it still stayed within the what's-it-like-to-move-to-Alaska theme. I rarely talk about my trombone playing on Katy Goes North, but I think you'll see why it's relevant to the blog if you stick around to the end. 

I started playing trombone when I was 10 years old, and I ended up going to college for trombone performance at The Shepherd School at Rice University in Houston. It was very unusual for the trombone professor, David Waters, to accept undergraduate students into his studio, but I pleaded hard enough and was accepted. My intention was to make my living playing trombone in a symphony orchestra, but during my freshman and sophomore years at Rice, I woke up to the reality that wasn't going to happen (basically an issue of too many trombone players/too few paid orchestra positions). I watched my older studio colleagues fly around the country for orchestral auditions and being unsuccessful time after time after time. I dropped out of the performance degree and ended up with a Bachelors of Music in Music History instead. While I was glad to have a degree from Rice, since then I have always carried a bit of shame for having quit trombone as a profession.

In the years following my graduation from Rice in 2002, I continued to play trombone here and there. I was in a few bands, but mostly my trombone collected dust- even during the four years I worked at The Boston Conservatory. I think I felt deep down that I wasn't good enough to play in public- especially around talented music students. THEN came my move to Juneau. I don't think I ever considered not bringing my trombone to Juneau when I did The Great Purge prior to moving. Even though I didn't really play any more, it didn't feel right to leave it behind. A musician's instrument is like another appendage. I wasn't willing to sacrifice a part of myself just for more room in the car. In fact, I had already been invited to play with the Thunder Mountain Big Band in Juneau before I even left Boston! I remember my first rehearsal with them. I was nervous and worried that too much time had passed without playing, and I wasn't good enough. There were wolverine and bear hides on the wall, and lots of new people to meet. It went okay, but I still wasn't sure I was good enough. However, the band leader, Ron Maas, pulled me aside afterwards and invited me to stay!

A few months went by, and eventually I was asked to join the community wind ensemble. Again, I really was nervous. This music was technically a lot harder, but they let me stay too. I started to feel more and more comfortable playing. It can take a while to get your "chops" back after a long time of no playing.

Big Band Studio

We even get paid for these gigs

First Wind Ensemble Concert - March 2013
Juneau has a symphony orchestra, and I assumed it would take years to get my foot in the door with them. However, by the winter/spring of 2014 I had proven to the music community that I was good enough and reliable and became a regular Juneau Symphony Orchestra trombone player! JSO is an unpaid orchestra, but it's the kind of music I enjoy playing the most. I couldn't be more thrilled to have the opportunity to play in an orchestral setting again.

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 Trombone Section

 Additionally, I play in a couple of brass quintets and chamber groups, participate in several theater and opera productions as they happen, and I give private lessons to local kids.

I gave 8 weeks of my life to Perseverance Theatre in 2014 for a production of "Chicago"

The "Chicago" Band

So as you can see, I have become very active in a very active musical community. It's not uncommon for me to have rehearsals or concerts 5-6 times a week or more. There's also no real shortage of trombone players here - there are just THAT many opportunities to play.

A Low Brass Convergence - look at all those trombones and tubas!

In the fall of 2013, I discovered that David Maslanka had written a trombone concerto. I have been a fan of Maslanka's music since I first heard it in high school, and upon hearing a recording of the piece, I instantly fell in love with it. I wanted to get my hands on the trombone part to see if I could play it. Being a rather new piece, I had to request the part from Maslanka's website. I received a reply from Davd Maslanka himself, and a week later, I got more than just the music in the mail. He said that he had never been to Alaska, and if I got around to performing it, he would come up to work with me!

 This was an incredible opportunity- one that could not be turned down. I mulled things over for a while about how and when this could happen. I began scheming with my local musician colleagues, and what developed was a music festival featuring David Maslanka and other Alaskan composers. We took the opportunity to also bring guest musicians from down south to come participate and beef up our little community ensemble. I worked hard on this festival (and the concerto) for over a year. Mostly I was focused on fund raising and logistics, and every once in a while, I would remember that I'd have to get up on stage and play a whole dang concerto - in front of the composer no less!

Well, it happened his past June, and it was magical. Besides how cool all of this was for me, it was a really special experience for the local musicians- to be able to work with legit, professional musicians and composers. Also wonderful was that our guests were treated to a trip to Alaska!

Performing Maslanka's Trombone Concerto with Ensemble June 20, 2015

Getting a hug from David Maslanka

The weekend of the festival, I had a cathartic moment that has changed something in me. I told people how I wished that I could share my success with my old trombone professor, David Waters, who I had quit on. He passed away in 2010. 

BUT here's the revelation that I had: perhaps if I hadn't quit trombone and switched majors back in college, I would have been on a very different trajectory in life. Perhaps I never would have moved to Alaska hence never having the chance to have these experiences. Maybe that decision 15+ years ago was exactly the choice I needed to make to bring me to this point in life! Of course, I still wish David Waters was alive today, but I don't carry the same sense of shame I used to. I'm here in Alaska, a place I adore, and I get to play trombone in an actual symphony orchestra! There is so much that has gone right for me in Juneau, and my music experience sits right at the top of the list.

David Maslanka privately said to me the weekend of the festival, "I see a change in you." He's a perceptive guy.

Here are a couple of links if you want to learn more about the festival:

Juneau Empire Article

Juneau Community Bands Website 

1 comment:

  1. Loved being in your story with you, you're such a good writer, thanks for sharing such an important part of your life. You're so brilliant, talented, sweet and fun, thanks for being you. We miss you.
    Love Lilly + Saadi