Why Study Trombone at Vanderbilt?

by Jeremy Wilson, Associate Professor of Trombone

Trombonists from all over the country are discovering the immense opportunity that awaits them at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.   What is it exactly that makes this a great place to study trombone?

In short:

WE DON't BELIEVE in "Either/or" 

We Believe in "Both/And"

Studio Backstage.jpg




  • ART AND CRAFT - Students often tell me they feel they must make a choice between being a technically proficient trombone player or a communicative artist.   Here we firmly believe no such choice has to exist, nor should it ever.  It takes just as long (or longer) to cultivate meaningful artistry as it does to learn how to play your instrument well, and we start that process from Day One.   Artistic expression cannot be fully realized without fundamental skills, but proficiency is useless and empty if you have nothing to say with it.  We actively pursue both sides of that equation.  Blair trombonists are assigned individualized fundamental routines which they must practice diligently, but they are also taught to use those fundamental skills to connect with audiences, express a composer's intent, express themselves, and make meaningful music with every note of every phrase. 
  • GOOD PERFORMERS AND PEOPLE OF INTEGRITY - We believe good music comes from good people.   As a studio we focus on the cultivation of world-class performers who are also trustworthy, responsible, easy to work with, and honorable.   In the long run, you can't be a successful musician unless you can be a good colleague as well.   Here we not only teach people how to win a job, we teach them how to keep it.   Our greater purpose as a studio and as a music school is nothing less than to change our industry and change the world for the better, and we do that by equally pursuing the highest levels of artistry alongside the highest standards of personal integrity.  
  • HIGH STANDARDS AND A SAFE PLACE TO GROW - Here we want our students to excel to the highest level in everything they do.   But if that pressure to succeed or to meet a high standard results in a soul-crushing environment where failure is not allowed and only perfection is accepted, then we have truly failed our students.  We are committed to setting the bar high and keeping it there, but we are equally committed to creating a safe place where failure to reach the bar results only in learning and growth. 
  • COMMUNITY AND INDIVIDUALISM - A Blair trombone student once said that the VU Trombone Studio is "like a little Southern family", and it certainly feels that way!   There is a great sense of community in the Trombone Studio, the Brass Department, and the Blair School as a whole.   But the individual is also highly prized here.  Each student has the freedom to strike out on their own, chasing their own goals and dreams in the way most appropriate for them.   There is no 'cookie-cutter' curriculum or path through the Blair School.   And the sheer amount of individual attention given to each student due to our 4:1 student/teacher ratio (as well as the absence of graduate students) means that each Blair student will have every resource they need to succeed as an individual. 
  • AN EXPERIENCED PERFORMER AND A PASSIONATE TEACHER - I have somewhat of an allergy to self-promotion, but anyone who is considering where to study music (especially as an undergraduate) must consider the studio teacher he/she will study with.  And it's important that anyone considering studying trombone at Vanderbilt knows what they're getting when they study with me.   With me you're getting someone who has performed all kinds of music at a world-class level.  I've been a member of one of the world's great orchestras (Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera), a member of one of the world's elite jazz ensembles (North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band), a member of two successful and award-winning chamber ensembles (Blair Brass Quintet, UNT TF Quartet), and a soloist who has been featured on major national and international stages. But being a seasoned performer does not necessarily mean a person is qualified to teach, or that they'll be good at it.  In my case, my passion for teaching and my ability to teach is something I've had since the beginning.  When I began graduate school with Vern Kagarice at North Texas, he asked me what I wanted to do with my career.  I told him then and there that I wanted to do what he was doing.  I wanted to teach at a major university and cultivate a performance career alongside that.  I left the Vienna Philharmonic in 2012 and moved to Nashville in order to teach at Vanderbilt, thereby fulfilling what was my career ambition all along.  I do not do this because I was bored or unhappy in Vienna.  I do this because it's what I'm passionate about and it's how I choose to spend the rest of my career.
  • CONSERVATORY AND UNIVERSITY - At the Blair School of Music, there is a distinct conservatory feel: small class sizes, favorable teacher/student ratio, an emphasis on chamber music, and tons of individual attention.  But coming to Blair also means you're a part of Vanderbilt University, a major research institution with a large and diverse student body, Divison I sports, world-class programs in education, medicine, law, engineering, and more, and a top-15 ranking from US News & World Report.   All Bachelor of Music students are required to go through an intense and focused core of music courses in theory, history, literature, composition, musicianship, ensembles, private lessons, and so on.  But they are also required to have a 30-hour liberal arts core, which is highly customizable and allows them to take advantage of the immense variety of top notch academic programs on Vanderbilt's beautiful main campus.  Vanderbilt also makes it easy and seamless to enroll in more than one major. Around half of Blair students have second majors or minors in something outside music. 
  • SERIOUSNESS AND FUN - Vanderbilt students are highly motivated and often quite competitive.   Our students are often the 'cream of the crop' in their hometowns, and when they are put together on the same campus it's amazing how our students push each other to succeed.  And in order to make meaningful art and change our industry/society for the better, we must take our values and our skills seriously and act like grown-ups from time to time.  That said... if we let our seriousness and our competitiveness turn into a dark and toxic environment, we are failing in a major way.  So at Blair we make sure that our competition is always friendly & healthy, and our seriousness doesn't mean we take ourselves too seriously.   In the Vanderbilt Trombone Studio we make sure that we support each other and encourage one another.  Our studio is filled with beautiful music and significant intellectual discussion, but with plenty of laughter, smiles, and goofiness as well.  Here we learn to pursue our goals with focused intensity and enjoy the journey along the way.
  • CLASSICAL AND JAZZ AND CHAMBER AND EVERYTHING ELSE - At the Vanderbilt Trombone Studio, we don't do niches.  We actively pursue well-rounded musicians in every facet.  Of course each student has his/her own career goals, and most likely gravitates towards one type of playing or another, but if we are going to call ourselves educated and well-rounded musicians that means we must be able to perform any and all music we might come across.  All Vanderbilt Trombone students spend significant time on solo literature, etudes, and orchestral/excerpt playing, but also concentrate heavily on things like jazz and other 'commercial' styles (we have an amazing jazz program here thanks to Dr. Ryan Middagh), doubling (euphonium, contrabass, bass trumpet), and of course chamber music, which is a major pillar of the Bachelor of Music curriculum.  Our students are also given the resources to diversify their marketable skills into areas such as teaching private lessons, conducting, and composition/arranging.  
  • RELAXED SOUTHERN ATMOSPHERE AND THRIVING MODERN CITY - Last but not least, one of Vanderbilt's greatest assets is its location in one of the country's up-and-coming cities.  Nashville is experiencing a period of unprecedented growth, and the city is becoming a hub of culture that is attracting musicians and artists of all kinds to move here.  Vanderbilt is mere minutes away from many downtown cultural hot-spots such as the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Gulch, OZ Arts Nashville, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and numerous other live music venues.   Yet even with this growth and modernization, Nashville retains a warm hospitality, a friendly and courteous atmosphere, and a welcoming spirit that makes it a pleasant place to live.  And if you drive 40 minutes from campus in any direction, you will find yourself among the rolling green hills of rural Middle Tennessee.  There are many state parks, nature preserves, lakes, rivers, and forests in the surrounding area that make for gorgeous hiking, camping, or boating experiences. 

If you're a prospective student, I hope this has convinced you to consider checking us out further.   If you're not a prospective student, I hope you'll consider forwarding this post to anyone you know who is! 


Summer Successes!

As the first day of Fall classes approaches, I wanted to give everyone an update on what some of our Vanderbilt Trombone Studio members have been doing this Summer!

Le Domaine Forget

Three of our students took part in the academy of the Le Domaine Forget International Music Festival, which takes place in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.   Liam Glendening, Isaac Johnson, and Hiram Rodriguez spent two weeks studying with Ian Bousfield & Scott Hartman near the banks of the St. Lawrence River.   Isaac says,

"Domaine Forget was an experience I won't soon forget.  My favorite experience was probably playing excerpts with Ian Bousfield and seeing the huge changes that could come from really small tweaks.  The scenery was also stunning."
The Domaine Forget trombones with Ian Bousfield

The Domaine Forget trombones with Ian Bousfield

Brevard Music Center

Senior Matt Herrmann spent most of his Summer at the Brevard Music Center in the mountains of North Carolina, where he studied with David Jackson and performed tons of great orchestra repertoire, including the piece that Matt says effectively got him into classical music, Strauss' epic tone poem, Eine Alpensinfonie.  He also got to learn from great artists such as Bela Fleck and the incomparable Charlie Vernon.   Matt was one of 12 finalists for the center's Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto Competition, and he beautifully performed the first movement of the Grøndahl Concerto for Trombone for a large audience as part of the finals competition.  Congrats, Matt! 

Matt is pictured here in the principal trombone seat. 

Matt is pictured here in the principal trombone seat. 

Eastern Music Festival


Our two incoming first-year students, Hiram Rodriguez and Matt Tuggle, spent several weeks at the Eastern Music Festival.  They performed in orchestra concerts, took private lessons with EMF faculty Gregory Cox and Michael Kris, and played in chamber ensembles.   It was a good year for our Matts in terms of concerto competitions, because Matt Tuggle made the finals of EMF's concerto competition, performing Ewazen's Concerto for Bass Trombone.   There are tons more photos out there if you Facebook-stalk these guys.  Congrats to our class of 2020!  


Chase on the far left, Dr. Middagh on the far right! 

Chase on the far left, Dr. Middagh on the far right! 

Senior Chase Coffey traveled to Colombia for 2 weeks as part of the Blair Jazz Quartet, led by Dr. Ryan Middagh.   The quartet was there in partnership with Colombo Americano to teach at jazz camps and perform for audiences in Medellín, Manizales, and Pereira.   Visit the Jazz at Blair Facebook page for tons of video clips and photos.  What an amazing experience!



Voice of Promise


Senior Josiah Williams spent the summer performing with Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps.   As part of Phantom Regiment's national tour, Josiah traveled all over the country performing in all types of venues, from parades and other community events all the way to the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis.  I was able to hear Phantom's show, entitled "Voice of Promise" at the DCI Southeastern Regional in Atlanta, and there was some fantastic playing going on!    Congrats to Josiah and to the Phantom Regiment for a great season of music and artistry!!



Pokorny Seminar

Liam, at left, with the Pokorny Seminar artists in Redlands, CA! 

Liam, at left, with the Pokorny Seminar artists in Redlands, CA! 

Sophomore Liam Glendening participated in the star-studded Pokorny Low Brass Seminar, which is hosted by Liam's father, Dr. Andrew Glendening, at University of Redlands in California.   Liam got to work with seminar faculty members, including Gene Pokorny, Randy Hawes, Tim Higgins, and Mick Mulcahy, just to name a few!   Liam was a top finisher in the mock orchestral audition at the seminar and, as he does every Summer, he got to soak up tons of great recitals, master classes, coachings, and lessons.   Anyone not familiar with this event should remedy that ASAP!  

Welcome to the VTS Class of 2020

The Vanderbilt Trombone Studio is thrilled to welcome two new members!

Hiram Rodriguez, a tenor trombonist from Carrolton TX, and Matt Tuggle, a bass trombonist from Flower Mound TX, will be joining the Vanderbilt Class of 2020 when class starts in August.   Both of these guys graduated high school in 2015 and decided to take a gap year before beginning their undergraduate study.   

Matt Tuggle (left) and Hiram Rodriguez

Both of these young men are extremely talented and hard-working, and their friendship and collaboration over the course of their gap year has been amazing to watch.   Hiram and Matt performed a joint recital in May, which was well attended and live-streamed over the web.   They called it "Posaune Royale" and it was fantastic!   They each played solo works, they did some duos, and they collaborated with their friends from Hebron and Flower Mound high schools (they called themselves the Flobron Trombone Ensemble) on some large ensemble works. Here's a link to their full recital:

Posaune Royale

The members of the studio have already gotten to know Hiram and Matt pretty well, and we are all excited and eager to star working with them in a few weeks!  I'm sure we'll all be hearing a lot more from these young men over the years.  Welcome to the family, guys!

Our New Website!

The Vanderbilt Trombone Studio is excited to unveil its brand new website!   We will be able to post much more content in the new format, and there will be many more videos, photos, events, and announcements to come!   Please check out our social links (Facebook, Instagram, & YouTube) in the gold band at the bottom of each page, and I appreciate any feedback or suggestions you may have on the layout or content of the new site!