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TL Trombones’ visit to Juilliard School

Wed 16 November 2022

Read trombone student, Sam Stokes’ blog about his once-in-a-lifetime trip to the world leading Juilliard School. During the week, our five trombone students, worked with the Joe Alessi, Juilliard staff member and principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic.

The Trombone department at Trinity Laban had been preparing for this trip to New York for nearly three years. With the pandemic restrictions finally eased, it was once again looking feasible for the trip to go ahead!

Our audition was a masterclass, playing to Helen Vollam, Principal Trombone of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It seemed so unbelievable at the time, that less than a month later, some of us would be in America! After a quick turnaround of all of our documentation and some last-minute packing, the five of us found ourselves at Gatwick Airport, with Carol Jarvis, our tutor for the trip.

First day at Juilliard

After recovering from the jet lag, and a little bit of sightseeing, we were thrown straight in at the deep end, participating in and listening to a masterclass with several Juilliard trombone students. And led by none other than the world-renowned Joe Alessi. After listening to some incredible performances, we performed as a quintet some repertoire that we had prepared before the trip. Mr. Alessi gave us some very constructive feedback, which prepared us for our performance in a few days’ time. 

That evening, we heard the Juilliard Orchestra rehearse Stravinsky’s The Firebird, for their forthcoming concert at Carnegie Hall, led by their conductor, David Robertson.

They rehearsed quickly and professionally. Mr. Alessi and his students invited us for pizza afterwards. A good opportunity for us to bond with the Juilliard students and get to know what the student life at Juilliard is like.

Fellow TL student Lance’s chess ‘know-how’ proved to be a hit, with Mr. Alessi challenging him to a match! 

Carnegie Hall

After a full day of practice, both for our performance as a quintet and individually for our lessons later in the week, we watched the Juilliard Orchestra play at the iconic Carnegie Hall.  With David Bahanovich, TL’s Dean of Music, we enjoyed a very professional performance, and we were lucky enough to have sat directly next to some of the offstage brass section!  

New York Philharmonic

The next day, we were invited to a rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic, ahead of their opening concert in the new David Geffen Hall, just across the road from the Juilliard building.

We were all amazed by the brand-new space and felt very lucky to hear the orchestra rehearse. It was a lovely surprise to hear the brass section performing some Gabrielli, simply reviewed by Jonathan as “the best thing he has ever heard”.

Following the rehearsal, we enjoyed a rehearsal of the Juilliard trombone choir. They performed some intricately prepared repertoire, led by the brilliant John Rojak, from the American Brass Quintet. We were then asked to join them in playing some Gabrielli, which was an immensely inspiring experience, learning a lot from our colleagues! 

Sam’s highlight of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me, was getting to have a one-to-one lesson with Joe Alessi.  I spent the hour with him going back to basics, spending time focusing solely on tone and production, and thinking about the basic elements of playing.

We spent time thinking about the basic elements that go into playing a scale. I really enjoyed the opportunity to step back, away from all the complex exercises and pieces, that it is so easy to focus on.  

Lance’s favourite part

Lance was very lucky to have a lesson with Nick Schwartz whilst we were over in New York, and this is what he had to say about the experience.

During the New York trip, I was notified on one of the days that Nick Schwartz wanted to give me a lesson on bass trombone. At first, I said yes, but had no clue who Nick Schwartz was in the trombone world.

Carol Jarvis then stated that Nick is “the most mental bass trombonist” she has worked with from her travels in the United States. I therefore proceeded to do some research on Nick and found a picture of him on the Mannes School of Music website.

My immediate reaction was utter shock as I recognised him from his appearance. I went on to YouTube and pulled up the following video – Epic Low Brass “The Rains of Castamere” Game of Thrones (Cover for 40+ Low Brass). Nick is featured sitting on the right of Joe Alessi and George Curran on the left, two of New York’s finest bass trombonists. Now I had an idea of what I would be in for.

The lesson was one to remember! We spent the majority of the time working on orchestral extracts from Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 – 4th Movement, and Haydn’s Creation. The concept of working on fundamentals remained the focal point throughout the session. The idea of working on slurred legato passages by using glissando exercises by moving quicker between the notes to connect them, allowed for a more consistent smooth tone colour and sound.

I also worked on distinguishing the dynamic contrasts in Haydn’s Creation where it is much quieter than you think, and this allows the notes to flow more freely. There was a crucial emphasis on the articulation in Haydn’s Creation as the performer needs to distinguish clear articulation markings.

The last thing we worked on was a study from the Marco Bordogni Bel Canto book for Tuba or Bass Trombone. With the studies in this book, the most important character is the legato phrasing. There was more attention to fundamentals where we did more of the glissando exercises.

After the lesson, we shared some insights on our lives in London and New York City. I enquired about what music books would be beneficial to me going forward. Nick took me to the Juilliard store and bought some useful study books for me. A very kind gesture!  I will never forget the experience and will always take the opportunity to go back to New York in future.

An inspirational opportunity

There are so many incredible experiences that I could list from this trip. I think it is important that I thank Trinity Laban, and, our wonderful sponsor, Richard Gaddes, for such an inspirational time in the Big Apple. It is an experience that I almost certainly think will shape the rest of my career.