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Winning Streak: Nine More Meadows Brass Alumni Win Orchestra Positions

Trombone, trumpet and French horn alumni advance their careers

“Listen to what your Meadows faculty tell you! I promise they know how it is done and what they are talking about.” – Derek Hawkes, assistant principal trombone, Nashville Symphony

Approximately one year ago, Meadows shared news of five alumni from its Brass Department winning significant orchestral positions. Meadows recently received word that nine more alums from the SMU Meadows Division of Music Brass Department have made advancements in their orchestral careers as well. The latest list includes:

  • Myles Blakemore (B.M. Performance/Trombone ’15) won second trombone with Symphony in C (Collingswood, N.J.).
  • Matt Ernst (M.M. ’06) moved from principal trumpet with the Cincinnati Symphony to principal trumpet with the Milwaukee Symphony.
  • Ben Hauser (M.M. Performance/Trumpet ’16), US Navy Band Washington, D.C. Concert/Ceremonial Band
  • Derek Hawkes (B.M. Performance/Trombone, B.A. Interdisciplinary Studies '14) is moving from second trombone with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra to second/assistant principal trombone with the Nashville Symphony.
  • Daniel Hawkins (B.M. Performance/French Horn ’15) won the position of utility horn with the San Francisco Symphony.
  • Garrett Law (M.M. ’17) won third horn with the Las Colinas Symphony.
  • Jessica Pinkham (M.M. Performance/French Horn ’16) won second horn with the Dayton Philharmonic.
  • Paul Torrisi (B.M. Performance/ Trumpet ’15) is moving from third trumpet with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra to assistant principal/second trumpet with the Grand Rapids Symphony.
  • Justin Weisenborn (B.M. Performance/Trumpet ’11) won the position of trumpet with the USAF Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base.

Meadows: Preparation for the professional life

Looking back on his time at Meadows, trombonist Derek Hawkes says his double degrees – one in music performance and the other in interdisciplinary studies, which focused primarily on orchestral management – have served him very well. While playing second trombone with the Jacksonville Symphony, he found his training useful beyond the orchestra pit.

“My interdisciplinary studies professors – Melissa Murray, Maria Dixon Hall and Zannie Voss –taught me a variety of negotiation skills,” says Hawkes. “Because of that, I was able to be part of shaping a landmark collective bargaining agreement while I was with the Jacksonville Symphony.”

Hawkes says the range of opportunities he had at Meadows fed directly into his preparation to play in a professional orchestra. “They’ve got the trombone studio, trombone class, brass rep class, all the jazz opportunities,” he recalls. “The Meadows Wind Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Orchestra facilitate a lot of professional caliber prep for what the expectations are and should be for a professional musician.”

Daniel Hawkins, now utility horn with the San Francisco Symphony, agrees. “The time spent training with those ensembles was so productive and proactive in creating a wonderful musical product that they are permanently in my heart. I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to my horn professor at SMU, Gregory Hustis. He taught me so much about what really moves people with musical phrasing, and to this day I always think about his pedagogy and how I can apply it to my horn playing.” Hawkins, who won first place in the national 2015 MTNA Young Artist Competition’s horn category while a Meadows student, also studied with Haley Hoops, adjunct lecturer of horn, throughout his time at Meadows. “I am deeply grateful for her wisdom,” says Hawkins. “These professors meant so much to me, and I could never have achieved this without having them all believe in me.”

Jessica Pinkham also has plenty of appreciation for her Meadows music faculty, and says her experience studying with Hustis, an adjunct professor who also was principal horn for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 1976 to 2012, was extremely beneficial to her career. “Tough but caring, Professor Hustis pushed me to be a better horn player in my time at SMU,” she says. “I am also grateful to Dr. Jack Delaney for his enthusiastic investment in students—and the many cans of Skyline Chili he gave me as a fellow Cincinnati Bearcat!”

For Paul Torrisi, the Grand Rapids Symphony audition was his second audition win and his first win for a salaried position. He agrees with his colleagues that his Meadows experiences and professors provided him plenty of opportunities for success. “First, the world-class Dallas Symphony Orchestra is just down the road,” he says. “Listening to them provided me with inspiration and an excellent sound concept. I got to play a wide variety of repertoire and gained a lot of experience playing in the Meadows Jazz Orchestra, Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra. I also received excellent aural skills training from Dr. Xi Wang [associate professor of music composition and theory] and Dr. Mark Feezell [senior lecturer in music theory and composition, co-chair of music theory and composition]. However, I would have to attribute most of my improvement to Tom Booth [lecturer of trumpet, and chair of brass, winds and percussion]. He provided me with a perfectly balanced trumpet curriculum and pushed me to be realistic and self-critical.”

Read more about other SMU Meadows brass alumni and their career paths, the SMU Meadows Division of Music, Brass Department and various Meadows ensembles.

Music Alums’ Advice for Success

Below, a few of our recent brass alums share their advice with younger students on how to get ready for a professional music career:

Derek Hawkes

“Get opinions from people whose musical prowess you admire, regardless of instrument. Take as many auditions as you can afford. Listen to what your Meadows faculty tell you! I promise they know how it is done and what they are talking about.”

Jessica Pinkham

“Trust your teachers, trust yourself, and hold yourself to the highest standards of preparation and musicianship. Remember that the audition is just another day.”

Paul Torrisi

“Be consistent in your practice. To achieve some level of mastery in your craft, you often have to give something up. Train your ear just as much as you train on your instrument. Lastly, be a well-rounded person, and have a hobby or two outside of the arts.”

Daniel Hawkins

“DREAM! I came from a very small town in the middle of East Texas, and I had a dream about playing in a professional orchestra. It wasn’t until high school when I discovered what the sound of the horn can be like in the orchestral environment, and I was immediately hooked. I continually reached out to listen to recordings, study with horn professors and performers who inspired me, expanded my ear to listen to all styles of music (not just classical), and, most importantly, reminded myself to always have fun playing music.”

Garrett Law

“Learn to really enjoy the process rather than solely focusing on your wanted result. Auditions can be quite grueling and unforgiving, requiring so much mental and physical preparation. Learning to enjoy yourself during that preparation helps.”

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