Michael Martin is a trumpet player with The Boston Symphony Orchestra. A few years ago, we did a four part interview which can be seen on YouTube, but we wanted to archive it on the blog as well, along with the other great interviews you will find here. In Part 1, Michael tells ChopSaver Guy Dan Gosling about his early musical influences including the movie Jurassic Park and the path he took to get into the BSO.
In Part 2, Michael talks about his extensive audition experience as both a participant and a judge. A must watch for any musician at any level. Special thanks to members of the Honor Orchestra of America for their participation in this series.
Dan Gosling: Hello friends. My name is Dan Gosling, also known as the ChopSaver Guy. And I’m thrilled to be launching a new interview series. Hopefully we’re going to interview some interesting people from the world of ChopSaver, the music world and beyond. And I am joined today by Michael Martin, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Trumpet Section. Thrilled that he came into town. It was actually through social media that I found out you were in town, on Instagram. You posted that you were going to be in Indy. And I reached out to Michael because of that and we very quickly put this all together with the help of the Honor Orchestra of America which is part of the Music for All National Festival, which is going on this week in Indianapolis. And we are joined by some of the supremely talented young brass players from that orchestra. And I heard you guys rehearsing this morning. Scary stuff! You guys sound great! So Michael, your Instagram says, I believe it’s Atlanta raised, Chicago trained…
Michael Martin: Chicago educated.
Dan Gosling: Chicago educated, Boston based.
Michael Martin: Boston based, yeah.
Dan Gosling: So why don’t we just start with that as a jumping off point and we can probably take some questions from you guys and I have a few questions that we were provided through our Facebook page.
Michael Martin: I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, which is just north of Atlanta and was obviously surrounded by music from an early age. My father Freddy is a band director in the Atlanta area and is a horn player. So I was exposed to brass playing from pretty much my first memory. And, my brother Chris, who’s 10 years older…
Dan Gosling: Chris is a pretty fair trumpet player.
Michael Martin: Yeah, he’s alright!
Dan Gosling: If you don’t know Chris Martin, Michael’s older brother, is Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So no crazy talent in that family! (Note: Chris is now Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic.)
Michael Martin: So he, about the time that I was coming into middle school, sixth grade choosing an instrument. Chris was just leaving the Eastman School of Music and starting…
Dan Gosling: Cause you two are 10 years apart.
Michael Martin: 10 years. Yeah, he’s 10 years ahead of me. So he was just leaving the Eastman School of Music and starting his position with the Philadelphia Orchestra. So I was hearing plenty of good trumpet playing when I was just starting out which made it a little frustrating making my first sounds on the instrument and wanting to sound like that.
Dan Gosling: But what a role model, right?
Michael Martin: You know, it was, I look at people who don’t come from who, the background that I came from, exposed to music from early age and having a sibling essentially lay the path out for you. And I look at others who have gotten to the same place that I’ve gotten or similar places and that didn’t come from musical families and I’m just completely in awe of what they’ve done because I felt, even though I’ve worked incredibly hard to get where I am, I felt like I started with a little bit of an edge. So my mother sings in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. She’s won more grammys than me or my brother. So, I studied piano with her from a very early age and so it was, music was always, always in our house of course, but I was never, my parents were very diligent about never pigeonholing me into the music career. They were, they were extremely, they were very intense about me exploring as many different avenues as possible. I played every sport growing up as a kid. I did tons of extracurricular activities at school, because they wanted me to be happy in whatever I did and to, you know, pursue that goal with, with those reasons in mind, just for myself, not because anyone else, was forcing me to do it or because I felt pressure based on how successful Chris was or anything like that. So those dreams of, of wanting to play the trumpet for a living they started, actually, despite growing up hearing my brother play and hearing how how wonderful he was, the, the catalyst for my wanting to play the trumpet was actually seeing the movie Jurassic Park in theaters. And I think we’re all familiar with John Williams scores. And that one in particular to me, it really just, it moved me in a way that’s just kind of inexplicable. It just connected with me on a very, on a very basic emotional level. The trumpet playing in that by Malcolm McNabb is just, and all the guys in that section, but him in particular, was just phenomenal and that that’s what really set it off. So and then, you know, Chris studied with Charlie Geyer and Barbara Butler at Eastman.
Dan Gosling: So now we’re to Chicago…
Michael Martin: So now we’re sort of getting out of Atlanta and heading towards Chicago. I knew that based on the success he had had with them and how much he raved about their teaching and how much he got from it, you know, he went there, a phenomenal player. He came out one of the best in the world. So, I knew the level I needed to get to, to be considered for that studio, but more importantly I, that was my main goal was to, was to be good enough both musically and academically because they had moved to Northwestern since my brother had graduated. And Northwestern’s a tough university to get into. And so that for me a little bit more than the trumpet, cause the trumpet things were going very well and I was I was doing well with the path that I was on. But academics I really had to focus on and make sure that SAT scores were up and all my exam scores and GPA, all of that was as high as I could possibly get it. So, you know, I remember the day my brother called me actually the day that I got in school, and it’s still to this day, one of my, one of the most memorable phone calls I’ve ever had!
Dan Gosling: Yeah, I bet. I bet.
Michael Martin: Yeah. So I was there for four years. I studied with Charlie Geyer for my undergraduate. I had just a tremendous four years and then did a one year masters and studied with Barbara Butler. And I would say as influential a single year of study as I could’ve ever expected or imagined.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, I know what that’s like. Actually, I was, I did a one year master’s at Northwestern myself back in 19___. And a few years before Michael was there, but, an amazing place, I would say an amazing place, really no matter who’s been teaching there. The brass legacy there is just second to none.
Michael Martin: That’s incredible. I find that it’s really an extension of the brass history in that town in general, cultivated by the CSO and extended through Northwestern and DePaul and Roosevelt and it’s just a brass destination city for sure. So I was there, I played three years in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony my last two years in school and then one year beyond. So I was freelancing a little bit and I finished my last season with Civic in spring of 2009 and freelancing kind of all over the place around the country. I played, I was subbing with Chicago Symphony a little bit subbing with the Boston Symphony a little bit. I played two tours with the Burning River Brass, which was a phenomenal experience. I would say, if you’re not familiar with that group, you absolutely have to go buy and download all of their albums because that’s a phenomenal group of players.
Dan Gosling: instrumentation is?
Michael Martin: Instrumentation is four trumpets, two horns, three trombones, euphonium, tuba and one guy on percussion. And it’s just a tremendous group. The versatility and virtuosity that they showcase on a regular basis was, uh, it was awesome to be a part of. Very fortunate to do that. Went to Seoul, Korea and played a stint as Guest Principal Trumpet there for a couple of weeks. And also went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I played there just for a week shortly before going to Boston. My audition for the Boston Symphony was in February of 2010. And that audition was actually for Second Trumpet and the Fourth Trumpet at the time ended up winning the position outright. And then they invited myself and two others to play an extra final round in the section…
Dan Gosling: To fill the chair?
Michael Martin: To fill the chair that he left in the event that he got tenure. So it was a very unique and unprecedented circumstance, but they were very pleased with the playing that they heard from all four of us Ben (Benjamin Wright) included, obviously, and that’s what led to me being Third/Utility Trumpet now.
Dan Gosling: Fantastic!
(End of Video 1)
Dan Gosling: I think what I want to do is, so I don’t miss out on these, I know these people have posted some questions and there are probably similar kinds of questions you guys might have. And then after we get through these we’ll open it up. I mean I could talk to you forever. We could talk about, your sports, your DCI involvement. There’s a ton of ways we could go with this. But this is actually from David Bailey on Facebook. This is several questions and I think a lot of these kind of dovetail into each other. So let me just read this. How many auditions did you have to take before you landed this job with the BSO? What orchestras did you perform with before landing this job? I think you’ve sort of answered that. What advice do you have for trumpeters starting out in the audition trail?
Michael Martin: This audition for the BSO was my 15th audition…
Dan Gosling: 15th?
Michael Martin: 15th and I had made, I think I went starting out right out of school. I took one audition while I was in school or two auditions when I was in school. And the second audition I took I…the very first audition I took was for Principal Trumpet in the Houston Symphony. And, no, no, that’s, I got it backwards. Sorry. The very, very first audition I ever took was for Fourth/Utility Trumpet in Atlanta, which was very interesting because it was when my brother won his position in Chicago.
Dan Gosling: Okay.
Michael Martin: He was going to Chicago to play a one year and I was a member of the local union, even though I was a student in Chicago, was a member of the Atlanta local and they had an “invitation only” for the local union audition for Fourth/Utility. And I was runner up in that audition as a sophomore in college.
Dan Gosling: Oh my gosh. Wow!
Michael Martin: And so I played very well and had I not played a wrong note two times in a row on Carmen, it might’ve worked out a little bit better.
Dan Gosling: You had just practiced it the wrong way?
Michael Martin: Oh no, I just hadn’t practiced it. I was a sophomore in college. Why would you practice something that’s down a half step? That’s easy. So Kevin Lyons, who’s a phenomenal trumpet player in Atlanta ended up winning that position and went on to play several years with the orchestra. But you know, I’m a sophomore, I’m 19 years old and I just made the finals and was runner up and, you know, so I walk out of the audition and I’m like, this is, I got this made, this is easy!
Dan Gosling: This is easy!
Michael Martin: This is no problem. Right? And it only took 14 more times doing that to get there. And I promptly went 0 for 6 in my next six auditions.
Dan Gosling: Meaning no advancement?
Michael Martin: No advancements, very rarely even played the entire list in the first round. And I didn’t take my next addition again until the end of my junior year. And that was for Principal Trumpet in the Houston Symphony. And Tom Hooten and Mark Hughes were kind of duking it out for both of those jobs. Mark ended up going to Houston and Tom ended up going to Atlanta. I think I played a total of seven excerpts between the two auditions. So needless to say, after that, my confidence was a little low and I went, you know, three or four more auditions without any real success to show and was a little bit perplexed, you know, so it seemed like the more I learned and the more I practiced, the harder this audition taking thing got. Then I kinda hit, I hit my stride a little bit after my senior year and advanced to the semifinals a couple of times. And then, ironically enough, my first real success in an audition was in Boston where I made the finals for the Assistant Principal Trumpet position in 2008, I think. And made it to the last for four or five, I think. And they ended up not hiring anyone. But that was an invigorating experience and a very justifying experience cause I, that was the first audition I went into determined to not try to fit into a different kind of mold or play a way that I thought someone else would want to hear. My goal for that audition specifically, that was the first one I remember my goal for that audition was going in and making myself happy with what was coming out of the bell and…
Dan Gosling: So you were being yourself?
Michael Martin: Absolutely. Just being myself.
Dan Gosling: And that’s a huge lesson right there.
Michael Martin: Right. And the sincerity that it takes to really win an audition to, for the panel on the, the audition committee on the other side of the screen to connect with you. You know, that that’s what you want them to do. You don’t want to try and manufacture someone else’s greatness that they connect to. You want them to connect with you. And I’ve sat on audition committees now since joining the orchestra, that’s exactly what I find myself listening for. I want to hear this genuine emotional commitment to what they’re doing.
Dan Gosling: So, even though they’re auditioning for one chair amongst a hundred people and they have to have a real team mentality, you still want to hear personality, right?
Michael Martin: Absolutely. I mean, technique will get you through the first round generally. But then after that, I mean you’ve got three more rounds to get through. And, I think our bass trombone audition was a very good example. We had three players in our most recent bass trombone audition. Douglas Yeo, our previous bass trombonist retired and had big shoes to fill cause he was a tremendous player and still is a tremendous player. And we got to the finals and the finals were James Markey from the New York Philharmonic and George Curran, who now plays in the New York Philharmonic, and a player from the Marine Band. And he’s going to kill me cause I’m totally blanking on his name. I’m gonna remember it in a second. But all three of them were absolutely tremendous players and it just came down to, just for us personally, we were able to, on that day, in that audition, in that final round between those three phenomenal players, connected with Jim just a little bit more than the other two guys. And the other two guys, you know, have gone on to continue to have phenomenal playing careers. So when it comes down to that point and you’re really splitting hairs, it doesn’t have anything to do with technique at that point because everyone that’s in that position can play all the notes. You’ve got the range and the articulation and the sound and the intonation and it comes down to just what you connect with emotionally.
Dan Gosling: That’s fantastic stuff. And just the final question from David was, “How can they not be discouraged since many tryout, but few make it beyond the first round?” So you know what that feels like.
Michael Martin: Absolutely. I think there’s… you have to have a certain willingness to accept the negative, the possibility of a negative outcome. I had a lesson with John Hagstrom who plays Second Trumpet in the Chicago Symphony. And he said one of the most enlightening things that I’ve heard in awhile about audition taking is, is if you had to, let’s say, a wizard came up and guaranteed you the greatest job in the world for you when you’re 65 years old and he approaches you as a 25 year old, and he says , “When you’re 65, you’re going to have the greatest job in the world for you. You’re going to be world famous and everyone’s going to know who you are and think you’re the greatest thing ever. But for 40 years you’re going to have to live above a pizza joint, and practice and take the worst gigs and work two jobs just to make ends meet. But for 40 years you have to do that. Is that worth it to? Can you make yourself do that?” And would you say yes to that? And, and that’s, it’s extreme. A little bit dark, but, but at the same time…
Dan Gosling: It makes a point.
Michael Martin: It makes a very good point. And it makes it crystal clear the resolve it takes to get through that process. Because I talk with our section all the time, Tom Rolfs and Ben Wright and Tom Siders and we all talk constantly about, you know, our jobs are tough. You know, we play all the big rep all the time and those parts are challenging. But we all speak, especially around audition time, Tanglewood auditions, New England Conservatory auditions that how much we never, ever want to take another audition because it’s…you and I were talking about this the other day. The audition is such a different animal than the job and in a way winning an audition and getting through that kind of a pool prepares you much more for playing the actual job than playing the actual job does.
Dan Gosling: Right.
Michael Martin: That makes sense?
Dan Gosling: And the skill set is a little different because you’re working on in your practice room, you’re working on not only exercise but short little bits of a greater work, like the third trumpet part or the second trumpet part. And when you get the job, suddenly you are part of the whole team and your mindset really has to shift.
Michael Martin:Yeah, absolutely.