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"

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AT THE VANDERBILT TROMBONE STUDIO, WE HAVE A UNIQUE SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES AND VALUES THAT ALLOW US TO OFFER A BALANCED AND WELL-ROUNDED UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE UNLIKE ANY OTHER.  

HERE, THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS IN WHICH STUDENTS DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE THING OVER THE OTHER.  

HERE, YOU CAN HAVE BOTH... 

  • 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!