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All that brass: WCU’s Trumpet Festival is quickly becoming an international affair

By Michael Beadle

Brad Ulrich was 10 years old when he began playing the trumpet. He’d started with the guitar but picked up his brother’s trumpet to sneak a few notes here and there.

“I was just addicted from a very early age,” Ulrich said.

By then, he already had an idea of what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Now as a professor of trumpet at Western Carolina University and a classical trumpet player in orchestras and quintets, he’s organizing one of the largest trumpet festivals of its kind in the United States.

WCU gets to toot its own horn this weekend as it hosts its sixth annual Trumpet Festival, Jan. 18-20, in Cullowhee. The festival features clinics, exhibits, socials and concerts from seven trumpet ensembles from universities throughout the Southeast. Trumpeters from more than a dozen states converge each year to share music, history and the love of this brass instrument which is found in jazz, rock-n-roll, blues, and just about every major musical genre.

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Highlights of this year’s festival will include a mass ensemble concert that will include some 150 musicians from high school age to professionals on stage at the same time as well as a not-to-be-missed performance from legendary trumpet virtuoso Allen Vizzutti. Vizzutti has played with Chick Corea, Doc Severinsen, the NBC Tonight Show Band, Woody Herman and many others.

Thanks to donations from trumpet-making companies like Yamaha, sponsorship from the International Trumpet Guild, and the high caliber of instructors teaching clinics and giving concerts, WCU’s Trumpet Festival is drawing visitors from as far away as New Mexico, Colorado, California, Florida and throughout the Southeast. Bill Phund and Jeff Piper, the current and past presidents respectively of the International Trumpet Guild, are expected to be on hand as well as 15 music-related exhibitors and more than 200 participants.

“Every year, it just continues to grow,” Ulrich said.

The non-competitive nature of the festival, which is based on the annual International Trumpet Guild conference, brings together trumpet players from middle schools on up to veteran professionals. Trumpet players are a passionate bunch, Ulrich added, and despite what some may think — that performers come with egos the size of their octave ranges — these trumpet players get along very well together.

The festival is not only an opportunity for people to hear great live music, but also to humanize the experience. If you hear the occasional mistake, that’s part of the show. So often people hear recordings with perfect playing, so audiences tend to expect perfection when they hear live music, Ulrich explained.

“It puts a lot of pressure on musicians,” he said.

So live music helps portray a more realistic experience – complete with improvisation, goofs and unexpected highlights where the performer takes risks to test out a personal style of playing.

Robert Kehrberg, dean of WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts, credits Ulrich’s hard work for making the trumpet festival an annual draw.

“I was Head of the Department of Music when Brad first started the festival,” Kehrberg said. “As an administrator it was a pleasure to support this initiative and also help provide funding for special guest artists over the years. It is faculty members like Brad that shape the future of the arts in our various communities. It truly takes one person’s vision and hard work to make a community more than nuts and bolts.”

Clinics throughout the weekend will include topics on warming up, trumpet technology and tips for performing. Registration, which starts at 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, costs $35 per person for the entire weekend.

The classical trumpet concert featuring Allen Vizzutti will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, in the recital hall of the Coulter Building on campus at WCU. The festival concert will be held at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 — also in the recital hall of the Coulter Building. A jazz concert featuring the Pavel Wlosok Trio performing with Vizzutti will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 19 in the WCU Fine and Performing Arts Center. The Pavel Wlosok Trio consists of WCU faculty member Pavel Wlosok on piano, Eliot Wadopian on bass and Byron Hedgepeth on drums.

All concerts for the festival are free and open to the public. For more information call 828.227.3274.

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