I have been very neglectful in keeping up with this website and so it's been, wow, 4 years since my last update here. There are a lot of reasons for that, but mostly it just hasn't been a priority for me. I returned to work after the Fort Worth Symphony strike and focused on getting tenure. Shortly after receiving tenure in 2018, I heard from a friend about the MET Opera Principal Trombone audition that I was apparently 3 days late for applying for... oops! They let me into the audition anyways as number 154 on the 3rd day of prelims, and the rest is history.
After winning and accepting the position (which deserves its own blog post), I moved to New York. I don't know how many of you have ever lived in New York, but it is not friendly to newcomers trying to move in for the first time. Lots of crazy rental requirements that meant a few of my applications were denied immediately. I ended up finding a decent place close by and started playing Operas day in and day out. I severely underestimated how stressful and tiring it would become!
The first couple of months, I was fine. More than fine, I felt like I could really excel at the job because I had 3 months during the summer to prepare the first few operas. Aida in particular went well, and I even received a note from Principal Trumpet, David Krauss, saying "Great job! Looking forward to the next several years of Aida!" Which was a big boost to my stressed brain. As the season went on and more and more new rep was thrown my way, culminating in the performance of all four of Wagner's Ring Cycle operas, I realized I was in over my head. It takes a lot of experience to be able to predict, without effort, the ebb and flow of an opera. Each night is different, and you have to juggle around 5 operas at a time. The timing is incredibly precise, and without a good sense of timing, the coordination of basic playing becomes impossibly difficult. I cracked notes, I was late, I was early, it was a mess.
Well, turns out that's pretty normal. Barbara Currie, one of the horn players, towards the end of the season said, "Man, what a crazy year! This season has been so hard and tiring. I don't know how you're keeping up, John. I wouldn't want this to be my first year." I don't think she realized how relieving it was to hear those words. The tenure process is necessary to protect the integrity of the orchestra. I understand that. But making it to one of the top orchestras in the world, only to lose the job after two years because you weren't good enough? That is scary. I don't care how confident you are, facing those prospects is stressful. Thankfully, while I may not have perfectly tackled every challenge the Opera world threw at me, it was enough to be awarded tenure with a unanimous vote. Happy days, happy days!
Unfortunately, that happy news was given to me a few weeks after the MET cancelled the rest of the season in March of 2020. So it was a little bittersweet to know that I would get to return for future seasons that may or may not happen in the near future. Still, good news should be celebrated whenever it is had. I am very thankful to have received tenure at both jobs, and while I am sure my experience is not at all unique, the whirlpool of challenges surrounding the tenure process is something I didn't hear a lot of from my teachers or masterclass clinicians as a student, and it's something that I think I want to present to my future students as a reality and something they can prepare for. The playing? That's the easy part. Dealing with the expectations of colleagues and politics and the mental toll the stress takes on you? That takes maturity and support.
Now, in July of 2020, I've had my first "vacation" where I had zero trombone-related obligations since 2011. I haven't taken more than one day completely off the horn since then, and I haven't had a summer or winter break that wasn't punctuated by some audition, competition, or festival performance since. That was nice. But it's time to get back to work, whether the MET Opera is ready to employ us again or not. I plan on recruiting several students for regular lessons (weekly or biweekly), probably by video lesson, but perhaps in person if the circumstances are correct. That is in addition to my duties as a professor of trombone at Rutgers University, Bard College, and the Mannes School of Music. If you are a senior in high school looking to start your music education in Spring or Fall of 2021, I highly recommend that you look at these institutions seriously, as they all have their particular focuses and advantages. And if you're just looking for a lesson or two, still feel free to shoot me a message!