July fourteenth through July seventeenth-- for a trombonist like myself, that was the best week of my life. The International Trombone Festival of 2021 took place that week in Columbus Georgia at Columbus State University, and I had the extremely fortunate privilege of attending. Loaded with all sorts of events, performances, exhibits, and people, the ITF was everything I dreamed it would be and so much more.
July fourteenth-- the very first day of the festival. With so many awesome things to do, I had to prioritize what events I wanted to see the most since so many things were happening simultaneously all over the festival. I started the day early; at 9:00 AM, I attended the Robert Marstellar solo competition for tenor trombonists 20 years old and under. I hadn’t heard many trombonists perform in person beforehand, so watching this contest was a unique experience for me. I was impressed with the attention to musicality displayed by the competitors and enjoyed listening to their performances. Later that day, I watched the Gilberto Gagliardi solo competition for tenor trombonists 18 years and under, where a fellow student from Vanderbilt competed and performed. The competition was stiff for that contest, as all of the contestants gave fantastic performances. My biggest takeaway from listening and watching other students perform is that the best way to make the best music is to have fun with it, no matter the perceived outcome of the contest. I spent the rest of the day bouncing from performance to performance, each one blowing me away even more than the last. The first day of the festival was a blast!
July fifteenth-- the second day of the festival, and my first performing day. My teacher, Professor Jeremy Wilson from Vanderbilt University, was slated to give a solo recital in the morning, with the Vanderbilt trombone choir accompanying him on a world premiere composition called “Aurora,” by a composer named Kevin Day. I was excited for “Aurora” because I thought the piece would be really special and unique. But that day, I grappled with heavy onset anxiety and nerves; this was my first time playing on the stage of an international music conference, and the pressure was caving in on me. My chest tightened, and my breaths became sporadic. I felt like I could only put puffs of breezes through my horn, which is most certainly not how you play the trombone. The nerves remained with me for the duration of our performance, which wasn’t pleasant by any means, but thankfully no one could really tell I was nervous except for the people in a five-foot vicinity of me. The performance was well-received by the audience, and Professor Wilson was proud of the group’s work. After the performance, I went back to jumping from performance to performance, but I could slowly feel myself growing more tired and drained, especially after the emotional exhaustion of my heavy nerves. That day, I learned about the importance of two things: knowing my energy limits, and managing my nerves. I made myself take the night off to rest in an effort to recharge myself. I also approached Professor Wilson about my heavy nerves and asked for advice on how to manage that onset anxiety better. He gave me some breathing advice-- when trying to destress, take deep breaths in, but let the air coming out last longer so that it can cleanse your nerves and let you relax, a technique he called a cleansing breath. After all of this, I was ready to tackle the next day.
(I'm the most left)
July sixteenth-- the third day of the festival, and the Vanderbilt trombone choir’s big performance day. After relaxing and regulating my nerves the night before, I felt ready to give my best performance for not only myself, but for the audience, my friends, Professor Wilson, and my family watching over the live stream. That morning, I minimized the number of events I attended to make sure I didn’t wear myself out. Backstage before it was our turn to perform, I was continuing to try new things to reduce my nerves. One thing I tried was bouncing my knees back and forth really fast to focus my energy on that instead of letting it build up inside of my chest. That new and spontaneous strategy worked, and I was able to give the music all I had, letting me have a fun experience on stage. My chest opened up, and I blew full, victorious gusts of breath through my horn, and I made music that reflected my inner musical self. I was finally having as much fun playing as I was attending events, and that change of pace made the festival even better for me. I’ve had very few concerts where I was able to have that much fun, so for that reason, I think it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever put on.
July seventeenth-- the last day of the festival. I spent the last day of the festival doing much of the same things I had before, watching and enjoying performances, but I tried out new instruments at the exhibits. I found a new horn that interested me, so I asked Professor Wilson to listen to me play on my current horn alongside this new horn to determine if it was worth it for me to buy this new horn. His conclusion was that while there were some great things about the new horn, I should invest more in my current instrument instead because I had a more of an established core sound in that one as opposed to the new one. My takeaway from the day was that it’s worth it to try new things, even if they don’t pan out.
The number of performances I saw and lessons I learned while at the 2021 ITF made it one of the best weeks of my life, and I certainly hope I get to attend more ITF’s in the future.