By Sophia Kinne ’20
I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was in fourth grade. I was introduced to jazz, as I knew it at the time, in fifth grade with a generic “Latin tune” called El Gato Gordo. Fifth grade me could not have imagined what this beginner’s jazz would later lead to: for one, playing the works of contemporary jazz musicians Joe Bowie and Peter Apfelbaum in my 2016 fall and 2017 winter terms with the Barbary Coast.
I could never have imagined that music would continue to be an important part of my life, in the form of the Coast. My mother listens to mostly Catholic hymns—psalms and Gregorian chants (I promise, they’re real). For the first three years of my trumpet playing, she consistently, incorrectly told people that I played the trombone. My father played the drums for a couple years in high school, and yes, I say, “played the drums,” not “played percussion” because that is the vocabulary of the musical culture I was exposed to. My older sisters played clarinet and flute throughout high school but were never in the jazz band.
So, just to reiterate, the fact that I am still playing trumpet, and in a jazz ensemble in college is kind of surprising. I am still a bit at odds with the identity of “musician.” To me, musicians have always been serious, impressive people with lots of musical drive, plenty of skill and talent, and above-average knowledge about their musical interests. Being barely able to squeeze in 30 minutes a day of practice and being no expert on jazz history, I somehow feel I don’t quite fit the bill.
I do enjoy it, this jazz thing.
But I also go to Dartmouth, which means I enjoy a lot of things. And for me, the 4-6 hours of Coast rehearsal every week is hard enough to fit in with classes, work and other campus involvements, let alone the many additional hours of practice each week it would take for to reach the level of a professional, and of some of my peers.
Am I a musician? If I am not dedicating my entire life to it and improving as much as I possibly can, as I see others doing, can I claim the identity of “musician”? Well, who better to help me answer this question at Dartmouth than the legendary Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble director, Don Glasgo.
I sat down to chat with Don recently, as he is retiring after 40 years and I thought I might like to learn a bit about him. I realized almost immediately that the conversation would reveal as much about me as him, as one of his first remarks was that he could tell I “like being in the band” (true). From there, we mostly talked about what making music means for Coast members.
When improvisation came up, Don told me about the year Lester Bowie was the guest artist. Don wanted to prepare Lester for the reality that the members of the Coast weren’t all professional-level improvisers. It’s not a music school, after all, and I’m not unique in that I balance multiple facets of Dartmouth along with Coast. Lester Bowie responded that jazz skills are important for all students, no matter what path they take in life, saying, “When you’re being operated on, do you want a doctor who knows how to improvise or not?” In other words, we can be doctors, engineers, and econ majors, and make beautiful music as well.
Don explained his perception of how improvisation is like life, and it made a lot of sense. Improvisation—making it up as you go—can be a tool for taking on life. You can know the theory, and plan ahead to a certain extent, but ultimately the quality of a solo matters in the moment. Often ideas are unexpected, unique and unpredictable. The possible paths are endless. If the metaphor isn’t reaching you by now, it may never. In Don’s paraphrased words, life is a series of choices, and each one affects the next, but there are millions of possible paths and outcomes. There is definitely no one way of getting somewhere—in a solo and in life.
I think the most important thing I got from my chat with Don was that you should be able to play music and “dedicate your soul to it” without dedicating your life to it. Having a soul lived through music means approaching life like you approach music, not necessarily making music the entire and singular focus of your life. If anything, I think it is this sentiment that makes me feel some allowance in owning the title of Musician. One thing Don said that really made me smile was, “I really feel like I was put on Earth to do this, specifically.” If “this” includes making people like me, who will never be the best trumpet player in the world, feel like a musician, then I am glad he was put here.
I am a ’20 from Syracuse, New York. I am a proud member of the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, specifically the trumpet section, and in an unrelated twist, the Woodsmen’s team. If you see me around campus, feel free to smile or wave. Either is welcome.