Interview with Alumnus Matt Ernst, Associate Principal Trumpet of Louisana Philharmonic
Alumnus Returned to Campus to Perform Hummell Trumpet Concierto
Recently, Matt Ernst (M.M. Trumpet Performance ’06), Associate Principal Trumpet of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in New Orleans, returned to SMU for a performance of the Hummel Trumpet Concerto with Dr. Jack Delaney and the Meadows Wind Ensemble. He took time to respond to some questions about his background with SMU, and how his time studying here helped his career in trumpet playing.
How long have you been playing the trumpet?
Eighteen years. I started on piano when I was five years old. Then, at age 10, I started on cornet. My parents bought me my first trumpet at age 14.
How did you hear about SMU?
I first heard about SMU because of Tom Booth’s reputation of being a stellar teacher. After my undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, my wife applied for a job with the Fort Worth Opera, and I decided that I would apply for the master's program at SMU.
Dr. Delaney said at the MWE concert you stayed an extra year to study conducting with him. How did that help with your overall capabilities as a musician?
Studying conducting with Dr. Delaney was very instrumental in my education. While being a competent conductor does require technique, the emphasis when studying scores was on the music. To be what Dr. Delaney called “podium worthy,” I had to know everything there was to know about the music: biography of composer, what the composer was doing during this period of composition, what was going on in the world when this was composed, what is the form, etc, etc. The list of what you need to know to stand in front of a group and lead is seemingly never-ending. This got me away from the technique as a trumpet player, and focused more on being a better-rounded musician.
When did you win the job with the Louisiana Philharmonic?
I won the audition for Associate Principal Trumpet in the LPO in the summer of 2007.
What was the process like for the audition?
I played three rounds that day. The first two rounds were behind a screen and composed of solo excerpts and one etude, and the final round was mostly playing with the principal trumpet, Vance Woolf.
What is it like to play in New Orleans? Do you do any special concerts for Mardi Gras?
Playing in New Orleans is very rewarding. The city is extremely unique and has a vibrancy and life to it unlike anywhere else I have lived. This translates into, for the most part, very enthusiastic and energetic audiences, which is always nice from a performer's standpoint. Having a conductor of Mexican descent, Carlos Miguel Prieto, we play a great deal of music from his native country. The music from Mexico is always a challenge, and it is usually very exciting to play as well as new to the orchestra and the audience. Because New Orleans has such a rich history in jazz, we also get to play from time to time with the jazz musicians in the city. As for Mardi Gras, the city basically shuts down that week, and the orchestra is always off. No one would dream of coming to a classical music concert the week of Mardi Gras!
How is it balancing family life with playing in a professional orchestra?
Actually, playing in a professional orchestra is very good for my family life. I have a lot of time for my wife and child that I wouldn't otherwise have if I worked a "nine to fiver." As any professional orchestral musician will say, we get paid not only for our time on stage, but for our time in the practice room keeping our level as high as possible. So, this is the biggest challenge--finding time to practice as much as I did while I was in school. My daughter has learned to sleep through the trumpet, though, and I have found a lot of joy in taking breaks to play with her. Having her as a distraction has actually helped me to be a better player and musician. My daughter has given me a little perspective, and that has helped me not take my music too seriously. I find myself being more thankful and less worried or tense since she was born.
Do you teach a private studio or hold an adjunct position at a university in New Orleans?
I am the Professor of Trumpet at the University of New Orleans, and I also teach at the arts high school, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
How has SMU prepared you for your current job?
It was very important for me to study with a teacher who plays in a professional orchestra. At SMU, all of the brass faculty play in the DSO, and I received a great deal of instruction from all of them through private lessons, private coachings, brass rep class, and also from hearing them play downtown on a weekly basis.
What kind of involvement with music does your wife have?
My wife is a vocal coach and accompanist and currently works for the New Orleans Opera.