Studying under legends, NU trumpeters play to the tune of success

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  1. administrator

    administrator Administrator Staff Member

    Jun 27, 2006
    Studying under legends, NU trumpeters play to the tune of success » North by Northwestern

    Every Wednesday, a uniquely Northwestern family gathers in the basement of Regenstein Hall for some high-pressure bonding time. The parents are Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, a real-life couple who head the trumpet program at Northwestern. Their “children†are the five freshman trumpeters who have been accepted to study under them. The students mill about the basement, preparing to perform the week’s selected piece for each other.

    But this isn’t your typical horn studio. The instructors are considered two of the best in the country, and these five students, along with the 17 other trumpeters, have each beat out dozens of other people for their spot at Northwestern.

    These students can expect to launch straight into the nation’s top performing groups, such as the New York Philharmonic. But despite the competitive nature of the profession, both students and professors describe the Northwestern trumpet studio as a close-knit family that succeeds as much because of collaboration as competition.

    “A family atmosphere is not something you necessarily get at the Julliard School,†Brandon Eubank said.
    Eubank is a senior in the trumpet performance program. He recently won a spot in the U.S. Marine Band, which plays music for the president at events such as weddings and inaugurations. Eubank beat out 90 other trumpeters over a two-day audition for a four-year enlistment, which makes him an automatic staff sergeant without going to boot camp.

    Eubank continues the string of students and alumni from this select group getting high-profile jobs. Northwestern players fill the entire trumpet section of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and two of the three trumpet positions in the New York Philharmonic. Eubank says he came to Northwestern because of Butler and Geyer’s name-brand reputation.
    “They are very, very famous,†Eubank said. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, Butler and Geyer, Butler and Geyer.â€

    The pair, who are both Northwestern alums, married while in orchestras on opposite sides of the country and taught separately until joining forces at the Eastman School of Music in New York for 18 years. They then moved to Northwestern, where they have been teaching for 10 years.
    Geyer and Butler’s Eastman reputation, which includes three of the four trumpets in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is compounded by the recent success of Northwestern graduates. This reputation, along with Northwestern’s school of music and the music culture of Chicago, brings the best players to audition, Geyer said.

    “It’s like most things: If you continue to do a good job and learn at whatever you job is, by about the time you are ready to die — that’s when you have a reputation,†Geyer said.

    Two years ago, 80 people auditioned for the freshman, graduate, and transfer student spots at Northwestern. Then a recent Northwestern graduate got the third associate principal position in the New York Philharmonic, one of the top orchestras in the world. The next year, 120 people auditioned.

    The trumpet students who are taken under the wing of Geyer and Butler can look forward to few academic classes (though still more than at a conservatory), and schoolwork that consists mostly of practicing for ensembles. Eubank said he tries to practice three to four hours each day on top of rehearsals for ensembles, which can each take up to as many as eight hours each week. Eubank plays in the Symphony Orchestra, the Brass Ensemble and a chamber group.

    “Being a brass player, you can’t play forever,†Eubank said. “You can’t play for six hours a day like string players are expected to. You have to take care of your face.â€

    Trumpet majors also have a one-hour personal lesson every week, and many play small gigs such as weddings or church services. Underclassmen also take keyboard skills classes. While technique is a major element of the curriculum, there is also a practical focus. Students learn audition etiquette, how to play as a trumpet section and within an orchestra, and how to lead as a principal, second or third trumpet.

    Students also study excerpts of trumpet parts from major works, which orchestras frequently use for auditions. Conductors often complain that young trumpet players don’t know the orchestral classics, Eubank said, but he makes sure to be prepared every time he is asked to play them in an audition.

    Students usually study primarily with either Butler or Geyer, but they receive feedback from the other at group events or critiques. The students and professors both pointed to this teaching method as part of the reason for the success of the studio.

    Geyer and Eubank both acknowledged that trumpet players tend to be hardheaded and show-offs, something Geyer sees as required to play the instrument. That feeling is reflected by a quote on the bulletin board outside Geyer’s office:
    There are two sides to a trumpeter’s personality. There is the one that lives only to lay waste to the woodwinds and strings, leaving them lying blue and lifeless along the swath of destruction that is the trumpeter’s fury. And then there’s the dark side…
    Students perform for each other every week, but say the competition is usually healthy.

    Bryant Millet, 19, is a freshman in the trumpet program. Like many of the incoming freshmen and graduate students, Millet listened in high school as his band teacher raved about Geyer and Butler as “quite possibly some of the best trumpet teachers in the world.†Millet saw graduates landing big jobs and decided he had to apply.

    “Being surrounded by such great players really makes me practice and want to improve,†he said.

    Millet, like other students, found it difficult to say what exactly made his professors and the trumpet program special. Millet, who studies primarily with Geyer, did say he has greatly improved from his lessons here.
    “Just by listening to my playing, [Geyer] can tell immediately everything I need to change,†Millet said. “I can change one thing and my playing can improve five times over.â€

    Millet is part of the new generation of Geyer and Butler’s ever-expanding family. Geyer said most of his students continue to be “like children†after graduation, by staying in contact. And, like a parent, Geyer doesn’t claim responsibility when his students get jobs in top orchestras, but he does ask for one thing in return.

    “The only payback I want is that when you get that job you owe ua steak dinner. And they all know it,†Geyer said. “Those two guys in the New York Philharmonic still haven’t done it, and they know it.â€
  2. RG111

    RG111 Piano User

    Nov 12, 2003
    Thanks for posting this! Very interesting reading!

    Roy Griffin
  3. amtrpt

    amtrpt Pianissimo User

    Feb 17, 2008
    This reminds me that I still owe them a steak. I'll get right on that.
  4. MJ

    MJ Administrator Staff Member

    Jan 30, 2006


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