Interview with Johnny Dollard, a new YouTube voice on the trumpet

Born in Maryland and currently living in Texas, Johnny Dollard has been playing trumpet for 9 years. He writes, arranges, and creates videos for music, especially trumpet and brass ensembles, and is currently in his first year at Stanford University majoring in Materials Science.

 

(editor’s note: my wife and I worked together with Johnny’s parents in the U.S. Navy Band for nearly 20 years, and we remain close friends.)

 

Equipment:
  • Bach Stradivarius model 37 Bb Trumpet, reverse leadpipe
  • Getzen Eterna 4-valve flugelhorn
  • Bach 1.5C Trumpet Mouthpiece
  • Curry 1.5FLD Flugel Mouthpiece

Interview with Johnny Dollard. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Hi Johnny! Thanks for agreeing to do an interview on my blog! 
JD: Hello! Thanks for reaching out for the interview, I’m happy to be here.
SC: You’re still really young, but let’s start even younger—what were some of your earliest musical experiences? Who were you teachers and influencers when you were young?
JD: Well, I guess my earliest musical experiences must have come before I can even remember, since my parents were both in the Navy Band with you when I was a kid. I got to hear them practice quite a lot, and also listened to their concerts from time to time growing up. Way back in first grade, and again in third, Dad tried to start teaching me the cornet (on the same instrument he’d learned on 40 years earlier, which is pretty cool), but both times I was too small to actually hold up the instrument for longer than a few minutes, so I wasn’t able to really get going until about the middle of fourth grade. Until then, I had some fun in recorder class in elementary school.
SC: I’ve known you and your parents for a long time, because your dad and mom were in the U.S. Navy Band—along with me and my wife. What was it like to have military band musicians for parents? Have your mom and dad influenced you in non-musical ways?
JD: It was pretty cool! Getting to hear them in concert was great – I especially loved it when the band played Stars and Stripes Forever, since I got to watch Mom stand up and play that famous piccolo section. The yearly tour that one or the other would go on was a bit odd, since they’d be out of the area for a couple of weeks, but they always brought back some fun stories.
Other than musically, my parents have certainly had a huge influence on me. Throughout my schooling, they’ve been very active in my education, not only teaching me the extra math and reading skills that have helped me so much, but encouraging me to be curious and creative. They’ve been super supportive of my interests, and it’s wonderful knowing that whatever I decide to do, they will be happy seeing me excited about it.
SC: When you moved to Texas, what was the band environment like there—at least in your school and district? 

The Dollard family on their Texas porch–serenading the neighbors

JD: It was fantastic. I’d had a good introduction to solo playing, but the band program where I moved from was pretty weak. Once I got to Texas, I fell in love with playing in a big group every day, and the strength of the band program really helped my playing. Learning an instrument is great, but it’s even better if that learning happens alongside a bunch of other people your age in a fun (and at times, a bit competitive) setting.

SC: Did you participate in any competitions or All State bands?
JD: I did! I was fortunate enough to have the honor of performing in a TMEA All-State ensemble all four years of high school – the last year somewhat narrowly missing COVID’s arrival in Texas. It was an incredible experience. The music was amazing, the conductors were awesome, and more than anything else, playing alongside that many talented musicians for a few days was life-changing.
The other competitive thing I did, musically, was marching band, which, for those who don’t live here, is huge in Texas thanks largely to football’s popularity. It honestly wasn’t my cup of tea at first, but I managed to get into it after not too long and had a lot of fun.
SC: Johnny, I should add here to my readers that it’s incredibly difficult to make the Texas All State roster for four years–so, kudos to you!! I know that you played Strauss’ Alpine Symphony one year! And I know that you were also often featured as a soloist with your high school marching band. When you were in high school, what other things were you into besides music?
JD: My other big thing was Robotics. I was lucky enough to join my high school’s “FIRST” (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) Robotics Team in its rookie year. Each year, a new game is released – sometimes like basketball with rock climbing, ultimate frisbee along with robotic vision systems, crazy stuff like that – and teams have six weeks to build the best robot they can to play it, and then we go to competition. The experiences I had with The Spring Konstant (our team’s name) – both educational and community-oriented – were really what pushed me to keep pursuing science into college and as a career.
SC: Now you’re in college at Stanford University in California. Why did you choose Stanford? What has it been like there so far? 
JD:I chose Stanford for a number of reasons, but I think the most significant one is that they said “You can learn here and we will give you money.” Well, I think they put it a little more formally, but you get the idea. The longer classes go on, and the more people I meet there, the more it feels like I belong, which is great. Since so far everything has been online, I can’t wait to get started with a somewhat normal campus life, hopefully this fall.

Academically, I’ve loved my classes and learned a surprising amount – I knew things would speed up and get more in-depth, but it’s really surpassed my expectations. Socially, I’ve managed to at least meet and get to know a few people despite the difficulty of communication, which is nice.

SC: Recently you have been arranging and composing things for trumpet. Many of them have an important video component—and are posted on YouTube (link to Johnny’s channel). Tell me about some of these projects. 
JD: Indeed I have! I guess I’ll start by talking about my Arban duet series, since the videos for that are probably my most creative. My goal for them, since some of the tunes on their own are quite simple, is to make them all unique and entertaining, but within the format of “convincingly depict two copies of me in the same scene.” Playing within boxes is fun, and it can be a cool part of a video (I did some of both sectioned-off and one-scene video in Yesterday), but I think it’s cooler and more natural-looking to have that seamless transition between one clone and the next.
For my other videos, what I make usually depends more on the goal of the project. For Launch, that meant creating a video that artistically complemented the music and crystallized the story it told, but without being too distracting or trying to redefine the music’s message. But for my upcoming version of Launch, which includes recordings sent in by a few of my friends, the video will be much more player-centered and lighthearted: I plan on putting everyone into a Zoom meeting.
For “Down in the River to Pray,” which I arranged and played in about two days in response to the murder of George Floyd, I wanted the song to reflect of the power of peaceful protest, and so I composed the video of images that conveyed that message.
And lastly, there are some video projects that I want to purely be about the music, and for them, I make a simple score-video for people to follow along in the music with.
SC: Do you want to be a really famous YouTuber one day? Who’s your favorite YouTuber?
JD: Haha, maybe! YouTube is a great platform to share my work on and get a wider audience, so even though I’m composing and playing just because I really enjoy it, I’m happy to put what I do up on my channel and see what people think. My favorite youtuber is probably Steve Mould, who makes really interesting science videos explaining little things that most people don’t think to even wonder about. Musically, my favorites are Seb Skelly and Antonio Cabrera. They both have moderately-sized channels where they post trumpet or brass ensemble multitrack tunes, and they were the inspiration for me to start recording and posting some of the music that I made.
SC: This morning I saw your most recent music video—“Launch”—and I was blown away by its originality. Tell me about how you came up with the idea and how you went about composing it. What is your “workflow” or method of composition? Do you compose on the trumpet?
JD: I’m glad you enjoyed it! Last summer, I was wanting to get into composing a new piece, and I started in my head, just toying with a few of the musical ideas and moods from pieces I’d been listening to at the time, most significantly Eric Whitacre’s “Deep Field,” and the Santa Clara Vanguard’s 2018 show “Babylon.”
Once I decided I wanted it to be about space, I started imagining visual scenes in my head of what the music depicted, since I’ve noticed I write much more effectively if I have a specific goal of what I want to convey with my music.
So, Part 1 of the 4-part piece begins with my best musical impression of the stars coming out at night. At first, they appear one by one as little points in the sky, and then they all reveal themselves as the staggeringly big and distant collection that makes up our galaxy. Emotionally, depicting that meant attempting to walk the line between the wonder I feel looking up at night and the intimidation that comes from the sheer size, emptiness, and unknowability of the universe. Following that, the big hit in part 1 was my way of moving the piece from an introduction about wonder and fear to a story about exploration.
Part 2 was probably the hardest to write, since it took the longest to develop the imagery I wanted to convey with it. In fact, while writing it, my imagination was focused on the process of engineering and building a rocket – which is by all measures astounding and worth a piece of music on its own – but once I finished it, I actually decided what I had written fit better within the arc of the piece if it was about the ascent of the rocket itself.
Part 2 was also the hardest to learn, and that’s partly the consequence of the way I went about writing it. I wrote the entire piece in Sibelius before ever playing a note of it on an instrument, and so once I had something that worked on a computer, I would often find it needed some serious rescoring to give the lines direction or even just make the melodies playable. It seems a bit silly to do it that way in retrospect – now, when I compose or arrange something, I usually just skip straight to recording first, lay down some experimental tracks, and then notate what I like – but back then going directly to the score in Sibelius was what I was used to, and it worked out ok in the end.
I really loved writing part 3, and honestly it felt like it just wrote itself – like it already existed and I just caught it, bottled it, and put it onto a page. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted it to sound like the way International Space Station footage looked – a gradual reveal of the earth rolling underneath you, close enough to show the beauty of the planet’s natural features, but far enough below to remind you of how small and special our whole world really is – and I did my best to convey that visual beauty in musical language. I didn’t (and don’t plan to) do much harmonic analysis of that movement; I just wrote what felt and sounded right. In fact, that’s my go-to approach to composing. Theory is a wonderful tool for understanding and appreciating music, and it can be a great help in navigating through a difficult part of a piece I’m writing, but I find that if I use it as anything more than a tool (for example, by pre-structuring a movement chord by chord before writing), it can close the creative pathways or dampen from-the-heart emotions that really make music special, and really make my music my own.
The last part was a lot of fun. Narratively, I toyed with the processes of reentry, descent, landing, and recovery quite a bit, but thematically it was always simply a celebration of gaining a new perspective. I got to bring back melodies, rhythmic ideas, and chord progressions from the three other movements (which musically are nearly independent of each other) in a style and context totally different from when I introduced them, and that made it a blast to write and play.
SC: Well, I’m just so impressed with what you are doing, Johnny. Thanks for sitting down to chat with me, and I wish you lots of luck in the future.
JD:  Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.
SC: But…before you go—what are you hoping to work on next? 
JD: Ooh, I’m glad you asked. Currently I have a few projects (probably a few too many, as I find it hard to put one thing on the shelf while I finish another) going on. One of them is a brass band re-orchestration of Launch for the San Antonio brass, who reached out asking to play a version of it scored for their ensemble. It’ll be a bit tricky, since there are roughly twice as many parts and a lot more variety in the sounds, but I’m looking forward to it. Reworking an earlier piece of mine, The End, from small brass choir to concert band was a lot of fun and had a lot of opportunities to be creative with transforming the music, so I’m expecting this to be kind of similar. Once I finish that, I’ll get back to a couple of ongoing projects, one of which is a brass ensemble arrangement of “You and I.” It’s originally a Stevie Wonder tune, and one of my favorite musicians, Jacob Collier, did a stunning choir arrangement of it a few years back. I think it’ll translate really well into an instrumental format. The other things I’m working on are my duet series and the additional Launch video that I mentioned earlier, and maybe a few easy arrangements of tunes like Holst’s Jupiter Hymn.
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1 thought on “Interview with Johnny Dollard, a new YouTube voice on the trumpet

  1. so proud of this young man, he is a tribute to an awesome talent and the willingness to work hard to make use of his talent. A proud grandmother

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