Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Washington D.C.

I have spent a great deal of time in our nation's capitol because my mother grew up three miles south of the government center.  And now it looks like I will be spending more time visiting this musical mecca; the city is acting like a magnet attracting most of my friends to its musical institutions.

Will Timmons recently won a position in the Air Force Ceremonial Band
Tyler Castrucci will be attending the University of Maryland for his masters of music
Katie Thingpen is moving to stay close to Tyler
Joel Baroody just won a position the US Coast Guard Band

I think they should all move to Denver.  As proof here is the crime rate for both cities, Washington D.C.and Denver.

Congratulations to Washington D.C. you are receiving four more incredible musicians to add to your musically bloated city.

Correction:  The Coast Guard Band is in New London, CT.  I am not sure how I missed that.  Sorry Joel.  But Washington, you really should stop enticing my friends.

Interview: Pam Kiesling 4th Horn of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

I am pleased to announce a series of interviews here on the 160 Project.  My plan is to interview rising young musicians in an attempt to chronicle their progress in the field of classical music.  In the first round of interviews I will be looking at some recent audition winners around the country and one international audition.  Hopefully, this will lead to interviews on a verity of topics with musicians from a verity of careers and stature.

First up, Pam Kiesling.  I met Pam at the Univesity of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where we performed together in the orchestras and wind symphony.  Currently, Pam is living, working, studying, and teaching in Houston, Texas.  In this interview we discuss her budding career and her recent success with auditioning.

If you have any questions for Pam or myself please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Faster than the speed of sound

In a world full of overweight and beer drinking trombone players, who would think a trombonist could break the sound barrier? Mico Hirschberg of Eindhoven University thought so.  BBC News published this article about trombones producing shock waves.  They have even provided video proof.  The air traveling inside a trombone travels approximately 1 percent faster than the speed of sound.

However the article does not make any mention about volume.  Sorry violists this is not proof that brass plays too loud.  I guess the quest for 160 dbs continues.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer in Colorado

Yesterday, I had my first experience playing for money on the street in downtown Denver.  The 16th street mall was packed with people in anticipation of the holiday weekend. Most people were either eating lunch or in a hurry to get to the next store.  However some people stopped to listen, including a few ACLU activists, a dude smoking a cigar, the head of jazz studies from LSU, and a violinist dressed like Darth Vader.  The Tromboniacs received lots of complements and little cash.  Several people took pictures and I doubt we will ever see them.

Last night Colorado Public Radio broadcast the Colorado Symphony playing Mahler No. 9.  The concert was spectacular.  I was very impressed with the trombones, Mike Thorton, and Justin Bartels.  The orchestra as a whole was incredibly tight and energetic.  I hope they can reproduce the experience again tonight when I will be in the audience.

Congratulations to Rachel Hockenberry for being named 4th horn of Symphony Kentucky at Bowling Green and to Pam Kiesling for being name 4th horn of the Arkansas Symphony.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Future: at least the next three months

Tomorrow the Trombonaics will be playing on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.  The weather looks phenomenal, so bust out your lawn chairs and your dollar bills.  We will be putting on a show around lunch time and we will have a case open for tips.

As many of you know, I will once again be spending my summer at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  A few days ago Alan Fletcher and Asadour Santourian made a video discussing the season highlights.  If you are looking for the best concerts this is the video to watch.  If you want to hear me play, you will have to keep reading the 160 Project.  I will know my assignments one or two weeks before the performance.

Feltsman is performing with the Aspen Festival Orchestra on the opening concert of the season on July 3rd.  I first heard Feltsman perform in the spring of 2006 when he performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Atlanta.  His performance of Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto changed the way I listen to music. He was so captivating at the piano that the orchestra seemed to be an extension of his playing.  I was so focused, strings, winds, and brass seemed to emanate from the piano.  One day I hope to achieve the blending that I heard the Rotterdam Phil produce that night.

Sadly, I will not be on this performance, my teacher John Rojak will be performing with the Festival Orchestra all summer.  However, I will not miss the concert or dress rehearsal.

Congratulations to Derek Fenstermacher for being named the principal tubist with the New Jersey Symphony.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

October in May

Congratulations to my former school and to my former roommate!  Joel Baroody arranged Shostikovich's October for the CCM Brass Choir.  I have never had the pleasure of playing under Joel, but his conducting looks pretty steller in this video.

To my knowledge Joel has an arrangment of a movement Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony for brass quintet, and an original composition for 8 Loud Trombones which I have been lucky enough to perform twice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hero #2

Early on in the existence of this blog I wrote about the importance of being Young at Heart.  Being optimistic and energetic about the world can keep us positive and help us enjoy life.  No other teacher was better at being young at heart than Dr. Dorothy Payne.

Dr. Payne was a true inspiration to every music theory student taught.  And she truly believed any student could learn music. Even at the end of her career, when I was her student, she was upbeat and full of energy.  She taught either from the white board or from her piano.  Her large vocabulary and quizzical nature always made her class interesting and playful.

Dr. Payne was the only classroom teacher, in my sixteen years of education, that I disappointed. I was usually very slack in my approach to academics; Dr. Payne did not mind much as long as I aced the tests.  One day Dr. Payne decided to see who did the reading.  She asked every student in class if they knew what an Italian augmented sixth chord was.  Finally she addressed me, "Surely, Russ will know." No ma'am I don't.  Disappointed she continued the lesson.  I read the entire chapter during class and gave Dr. Payne a run down of every international augmented sixth chord, their function and their spelling after class.  Pleased she thanked me and I went on my way.

I have many more stories about Dr. Payne and I will always remember her with affection and awe.

Hero #1

In my recent job interview I was asked about my hero.  I had difficulty with this because there is actually no one person that I idealize.  Instead, like most musicians, I look for the best attributes in individuals I respect and try my best to incorporate them into what I do, myself.  Hopefully, this will be the first blog in a series outlining some of the people that I have come to respect.

Dr. Brad Edwards was my trombone teacher at the University of South Carolina.  I studied with him for four years in Columbia, where he became a great mentor and a trusted friend.  He helped teach me to hold a high standard and to be patient.  He was always focused on the musical outcome and spent a great deal of time talking about the tune.

2010 Guest Recital at USC
Russ Zokaites, Brad Edwards, Katie Thigpen

In the first master class with Doc he discussed how he was not going to teach us to play the trombone.  He was simply going to teach us how to practice.  He knew then that our musical journey would not end when we left Carolina.  He spent a great deal of time showing us various exercises to practice excerpts or scales and he would then encourage us to come up with our own.  In education this is called creative problem solving.

His focus and drive lead him to publish three books, teach numerous students including several that went onto study at competitive conservatories and a few that play professionally, give recital tours, take auditions, play in two orchestras, and coach his sons lego team.  Doc will continue to be a huge influence on my teaching, musicianship, and my approach to the trombone.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Great Job Powell Middle

Over the last four months, I have had the opportunity to work with the students, staff, and parents of Powell Middle School in Littleton, CO.  While at Powell I had one goal in mind, teach the students making a living with music is possible and give them the tools needed to start them on their way.  I also wanted to take the four months to give the students, parents, and administration an idea of what I thought a music program should look like at a high caliber school.

In four incredibly short months the students and I were able to:

  • Give two concert cycles, including two complete concerts with the sixth grade, a chamber music concert and a pops concert with the seventh grade, a combined concert with another school in the district and a full length concert consisting of classics, pops, a concerto, and contemporary music with the eighth grade, and the participation in the LPS District Jazz Festival.
  • Work with four guest artists including: Katie Thigpen, the former director of Camp Bernstein at the Blue Lakes Fine Arts Camp, Brian Wilmer, the clarinet graduate assistant at the University of Georgia, The Trombonastics Trombone Quartet, and Greg Harper of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra
  • Discussion about and meetings with young musicians on the audition circuit including: Will Timmons, recent winner of the Air Force Ceremonial Band in Washington, D.C., Joel Baroody, recent finalist in several auditions, Cecilia Kozlowski, artist deploma student at CCM (who attended the seventh grade pops concert) and William (Jack) White who was recently named as assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony.
  • The growth of the program from 161 students to 170 students, a growth of over 5 percent in a tumultuous year.
  • Incorporate a daily warm-up addressing technique, tuning, ensemble and musical concepts applied to music.
  • Be named to the Colorado Schools to Watch Program
  • Prepared and performed in two award ceremonies and one recruitment concert
  • And several students winning positions in upper level bands at high schools within Littleton
 I am very impressed with the students capacity to work and their dedication to the school and community.  I was surprised by the intelligence and audaciousness of these young men and women.  I hope they succeed in their future endeavours. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I posted a few weeks ago about the openings at Monteux for the coming summer.  They have filled some, however some are still vacant.  If you are not doing anything summer, please read my previous post and consider attending this wonderful festival.

This youtube video is of the Stravinsky octet in summer 2009.  Will White, the conducting associate, is conducting.  Will was just named as the assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  This video is typical of the performance quality and Mr. White will be returning to Maine to work with the festival this year.

Openings include:

Bass Trombone

Again the Pierre Monteux School is a wonderful and relaxed place to read lots of repertoire and to gain tons of experience.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meatloaf's new single

What will famous people do for popularity?  I would say many would compromise artistic output for a stunt.  However this video is in the exact style of Bat Out of Hell III and the words are actually a litte better.

Meatloaf: Ode to Bagel Bites

I hope you enjoyed one of my early musical inspirations......Thanks Mom.

Crazy Time

Over the next two weeks I will be incredibly busy with teaching, performing, and hosting a few friends while they are auditioning for the Colorado Symphony. 

Cecilia Kozlowski 5/8-5/10
Concert Band and Symphonic Band 5/10
Puma Band 5/12 (Greg Harper guest conducting, me performing)
Too Many Trombones 5/14
Katie Daugherty 5/15-5/17
Tromboniacs 5/19
8th Grade Continuation 5/19
Last Day of School 5/20

I am looking forward to the next two weeks, staying busy is important to me.  And the great news, spring is finally in Colorado; although I do hope to hit A-Basin one more time before they close in early June.

Current listening selection: Credence Clear Water Revival, thanks local coffee shop

Thursday, May 5, 2011

White Coats and Success

Tonight I conducted the first of this round of concerts for Powell Middle School.  Tonight's concert featured the 6th grade students in their last concert for the year.  The last two weeks have been an amazing honor; the students have caught onto rehearsal techniques and have calmed down a little so we have all been having fun.  I made the decision to wear a tux yesterday when my students asked if I could.

When I showed up in a white dinner coat, my older students were a little confused.  But armed with a black bow-tie and black cummerbund my 6th grade students thought I looked nice.  93 sixth graders where packed onto stage with all of their instruments and a sizable percussion section.

Selections included:

Boogie Woogie Band
Saturday at the Symphony
Fires of Mazama

The concert was a success, students had fun and the parents where impressed.  Above all my white coat is intact and unstained.

Special Note: Congratulations to Will White the new assistant conductor the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Current listening(watching) selection: StarTrek