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In his bones

Aspiring musician can't imagine any other path

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2005

When Brandon Newbould started out in fifth grade band at Tustu

  Brandon Newbould practices Monday at Soldotna High School for an audition he will perform in June to get into the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, Austria. Photo by Jenny Neyman

 

Brandon Newbould practices Monday at Soldotna High School for an audition he will perform in June to get into the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, Austria.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

mena Elementary School, he wanted to play piano.

It was not to be.

"The band director kind of tricked me," Newbould said. "He told me why don't I start on the trombone and move to piano after a while, but I didn't. He just needed another trombone player, I guess."

Even though his instrumental education started on a sour note, Newbould now hopes to go as far as the education system will take him with his trombone playing.

He graduated from Soldotna High School in 2000 and went on to get a bachelor of arts degree in music performance from Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Now at 23 he hopes to attend the Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, Austria, which would give him the equivalent of a master's degree — the highest possible in music performance.

Not bad for a guy who didn't start out wanting to play the trombone. Now he can't imagine doing anything else.

From his middle school years on, Newbould knew he wanted music to be a central part of his life. Like many teenagers he'd devote hours a day to his stereo. Unlike many teenagers, he wasn't playing the newest albums from whatever pop artist was hot at the time.

"I was a nerd and am a nerd, but I was a different flavor of nerd," he said. "I would sit and listen to a Beethoven symphony 15 times in a day then be listening to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, all kinds of stuff."

As college approached, Newbould knew he wanted to pursue some sort of career in music, he just wasn't sure what.

"I at least understood that I was really interested in music. I couldn't really imagine quitting," he said.

Newbould stared out on the music education track, as did all freshmen music students at his school, for the simple reason that education is where the most job prospects are in the music world. But as he started his education classes and talked to other students farther along in the program, he decided teaching would bring him away from what he really wanted to do —perform.

"It made itself clear to me as I went that that's what I had a passion for," he said.

He has no interest in solo work, though, or being a studio musician jumping from job to job recording tracks for commercials, being in back-up bands or doing whatever else may be available. What he really likes is playing in groups — ensembles, chamber groups and, ideally, orchestras.

The way the products of many separate musicians combine into a coherent whole is an engaging experience.

"The music surrounds me," Newbould said.

While he has aspirations of playing in high-level ensembles and professional orchestras, he doesn't have delusions that achieving those goals will be easy. Everyone from his middle school band teacher to musicians he's known have warned him of how hard it is to make a career as a performer. Though he's taken the warnings to heart, hearing stories of the challenges he'll face haven't kept him from wanting to face them.

"I don't think anything could be worse than compromising now and not knowing how far I could have taken it," he said.

Along with the friendly warnings, Newbould has received a nearly broken-record litany of support from his parents, friends and other musicians constantly telling him, "You'll make it."

"I don't know if they have any more idea than I do if that's true of not," Newbould said.

Newbould figured attending a graduate school would better his chances of landing — and succeeding at — auditions to the kinds of groups he wants to perform in.

"It's a good way to go. When it comes down to it, it's how well you play, not what degrees you have," he said.

The Mozarteum Conservatory is a prestigious and highly competitive institution. It has a rich tradition and its approach to music and teaching is different than at schools in the states, which is part of the appeal for Newbould.

An added bonus is Austria's beautiful landscape and tips Newbould has heard of great places to run while he's there, which would remind him of his favorite place to live — Alaska. He's so enamored with the state that the thought of leaving it behind to pursue a music performance career is a difficult one for Newbould to digest.

"It's true that it'll be more and more difficult to reconcile my love for music and that sort of thing with my love for Alaska," he said.

Newbould returned to the central Kenai Peninsula after graduating from college in 2004 and has spent the year substitute teaching and preparing for the rigorous audition he will perform June 29 in Austria to get accepted to the Mozarteum Conservatory.

He'll have to take a general music theory test, as well as perform three pieces he chose from a list of options the school gave him. Each piece is purposefully obscure and of different styles and time periods. One isn't even written for trombone — it's meant for bassoon.

That's fine with Newbould. He has never been fond of trombone literature and always played whatever interested him, whether it was meant for trombone or not, he said.

"I tended to find ways to play music I like, even if it's written for flute or voice."

In a twist of irony from his beginning band days, he'll have another hurdle to overcome in his audition — piano.

After wanting to play piano instead of trombone in fifth grade, he ended up learning to play it in college to fulfill an elementary piano proficiency requirement and found it was a lot harder that he'd thought.

"The whole thing is like trying to learn a language at an older age," he said. "When you're young it's no big deal. When you're older it's a laborious process."

To top it off, Newbould also has to learn German. The school is international but students must pass a German proficiency test within their first year there.

With a year of practicing behind him, including recitals of his audition material in Soldotna and Homer, Newbould figures he's as ready to take the next step in his career as he'll get.

"I'm nervous but I feel about as prepared as I could and that's an OK place," he said. "I can just be as prepared as I can be and hope for the best.



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