Interview with CSU graduate, Thad Alberty

Thad Alberty

Thad Alberty is the lead trumpet at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in the orchestra on their Liberty of the Seas ship. His performance experience includes both the classical and jazz idioms, including Rapid City Municipal Band, Neue Polka Colorado, Mojo Audio, the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra, and other freelance work in the Denver area. He has also performed under Michael Sachs, Vincent DiMartino, Terell Stafford, and others. Thad has a Bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of South Dakota and a Master’s degree in music performance from Colorado State University, where he was the Graduate Teaching Assistant in the trumpet studio.

B flat: Bach Stradivarius 37ML
C: Bach Stradivarius 229L Chicago
D/E flat: Yamaha 9610S
Piccolo: Benge Ohio
Flugelhorn: Yamaha 631G
Cornet: Yamaha 2330III
Bugle: “Regiment” in low G, used as a prop in my ship’s weekly parade
Conch shell: An unbranded shell I bought from a street vendor in Mexico

B flat: Bach 1-1/2C Yamaha 14A4a, Yamaha 11B4, Marcinkiewicz E14.1
C: Bach 1-1/2C
D/E flat: Bach 6C
Piccolo: Bach 7E 117 back bore
Flugelhorn: Yamaha 11F4, Yamaha 14F4
Cornet: Bach 3B
Bugle: Unbranded

Interview with Thad Alberty, CSU graduate and cruise ship musician
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Thanks for agreeing to talk about your music career, Thad. Tell us about your background and how you got interested in music and the trumpet.
TA: I have a decent amount of experience in both the classical and jazz idioms. I grew up in a musical family. Both of my parents are music educators, so as a kid I was always exposed to music and going to concerts. My dad first taught me to play the trumpet when I was about 8. When I was starting band in 5th grade I heard players like Maynard Ferguson, Bill Chase, and Wayne Bergeron screaming in the extreme upper register. As a kid, this amazed me and inspired me to start playing the trumpet regularly. When I was in high school, I realized that I also needed to be able to play the classical idiom to be a successful musician, so that’s when I started taking that more seriously.

Thad playing jazz solo “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”

SC: Who were some of your most influential teachers growing up?
TA: When I began playing trumpet, I lived in South Carolina and studied with Kelly Jokisch of the Florence (SC) Symphony Orchestra in my middle school years. She helped me build a foundation for literature to learn, such as the Haydn Concerto and the Kennan Sonata. After returning to South Dakota, I studied with Don Downs, my high school band director. He helped me set the groundwork for technical aspects of my playing and emphasized practicing standard exercises such as the Arban Method and Clarke Technical Studies. I studied with Dr. Rolf Olson (South Dakota Symphony Orchestra) at the University of South Dakota. He helped me take my musicality to the next level by introducing new concepts to listen for in recordings. At USD, I also studied with Erik Mahon. Like myself, he played at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. He taught me to pay close attention to small details of my technical playing, so my time studying under him was one of many humbling times when I realized I had vastly overestimated my playing level! I studied jazz under C.J. Kocher at USD, and he helped me set a foundation for jazz theory practical for performance. At Colorado State, I studied under Caleb Hudson (Canadian Brass). He introduced small details to pay attention to in terms of my musical playing and further technical details to practice. This was another of many times I knew I had plenty of improvement to make in my playing. Of course, I also studied under you at CSU. In that time, I continued to build on what I previously learned mechanically and artistically. I also learned both in lessons and from firsthand experience how to be successful in auditions. There were many times when I was humbled by how I needed to develop as a musician. In my studies at CSU, I also played under ensemble directors such as Peter Sommer, Wil Swindler, Dr. Rebecca Phillips, and Maestro Wes Kenney. These experiences taught me a lot about being a successful ensemble member. I studied jazz with Wil Swindler as well. In that time, he helped me set the groundwork for artistic improvising, as well as composing and arranging. Throughout my formative years, I’ve been fortunate to have many teachers who taught at a level appropriate for my level of playing.

SC: What was South Dakota like, in terms of a musical scene? Did you go to the musical instrument museum?
TA: Yes, USD is home to the National Music Museum. It started as a place for a local band director to store his collection of instruments in the 1960s and has grown into a leading institution for research of instruments. I went there a few times to do some research on the history of the trumpet, they have a large collection of trumpets from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century to similar non-western instruments. And that’s just part of their current collection of over 14,000 total instruments. As for the music industry in South Dakota, there are fewer professional gigs than you might find in the big city because of the smaller population, so musicians have a wider range of skills for different playing situations. For example, the principal trumpet in the regional symphony orchestra might also get a job playing lead in a big band. In Colorado, by contrast, there are more gigs and more players with the larger population, so the top players are more specialized in their skill set.

SC: What was your undergraduate school like? 
TA: I would describe the USD music department as kid-friendly. It’s a good place for music majors to get an idea of how the music business works without being overwhelmed. For example, during my time there, I was surrounded by a few trumpet players who were better than me when I was a freshman. This motivated me to work my way up the chain in the trumpet studio, and along the way, I got experience playing in the top ensembles more than I might at a more prestigious school where there would be many better players than me and they would get that experience.

SC: What are some of your memorable concerts there?
TA: My senior year I was selected as one of four winners of the Concerto Competition and earned the chance to play the Fasch Concerto with the USD Symphony Orchestra. My freshman year, trumpeter Brad Goode and trombonist Paul McKee performed as visiting artists with the USD big bands. That left an impression on me because I realized then and there that I wasn’t just competing against the other trumpet players in a more protective institution like a university; once I graduated and got out into the music business, I would be up against the top players like them for performing jobs and I had to work hard and get to that level to be successful as a professional musician. That’s another example of the concept of being humbled by the music business!

SC: What got you interested in coming to Colorado to study?
TA: When I first visited CSU, it appeared to me that it was an up-and-coming music school that was quickly improving. I think that has proven to be true, the quality of the ensembles has grown incredibly in the last few years. Some highlights from my time at CSU include playing Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story in wind symphony. The wind symphony also played at the American Bandmasters Association conference under the batons of conductors such as Maestro Frank Wickes. I played Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Mahler’s 7th Symphony in orchestra. I also played in the various jazz ensembles with guest artists such as Terell Stafford, Don Aliquo, and Myra Melford. Another factor I considered when I decided to attend CSU was the local music business. I figured that in the Denver area, I could get some gigs since it’s a large city, and I could probably get more gigs than I might in an even bigger and more competitive city like New York or Los Angeles. I think that has also proven to be true, I had a pro gig at least every few weeks in the 2 years I lived there. I regularly played in Neue Polka Colorado, a polka band that plays at Oktoberfest celebrations. I also played regularly in Mojo Audio, a funk/R&B band that plays at local bars and music festivals.

Below, Thad playing the beginning of the Edward Gregson Trumpet Concerto on his graduate recital at CSU

SC: What are you currently working on, trumpet-wise?
TA: At my job with Royal Caribbean, I’m working on my jazz lead playing, as I hold the lead trumpet position in the ship’s show band/pit orchestra. I’m also working on my improvising, as we have combo gigs every week. In my free time, I work on my classical playing, not only for my own enjoyment, but also because I never know when I might have a gig where I need to use those skills.

Below is a recording of Thad playing lead trumpet–it starts to get hot at about the one-minute mark!

SC: What ensembles were you in at CSU?
TA: I’ve played in wind symphony, the top big band, the top jazz combo, a trumpet ensemble, orchestra, brass quintets, and the new music ensemble. The brass quintets frequently have professional gigs in the community, especially church services. The new music ensemble has a wide variety of instrumentation for each piece. In orchestra and wind symphony, we played in settings both chamber and symphonic. For example, we played Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice in the pit orchestra. By contrast, the full orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony for the first concert one semester and the Holiday Gala concert at the end of the semester. In wind symphony, I played on two pieces for brass choir for a Master’s student’s conducting recital, and the full band played the first concert in October and again on the December concert.

Below, Thad with CSU graduate brass quintet playing “Penny Lane”

SC: When you’re not playing and practicing the trumpet, what do you like to do?
TA: I’m an outdoors enthusiast. I like to run, hike, fish, and observe wildlife. There’s plenty of that in Colorado! I’m also a huge Green Bay Packers fan, so I spend my fall Sundays watching them while enjoying local food and craft beer. When I’m on working on the cruise ship, I use time off to explore the port towns. When I’m home from the ship, of course it’s nice to just catch up with family and friends.

SC: So, you recently won a job playing trumpet on a cruise ship, which is fantastic! Tell us about the audition process and what the job is like.
TA: I started the audition process by sending jazz and classical recordings of myself to an agency that hires musicians for ships. They responded to my email, offering to hear me audition via Facebook video call. Five minutes before the video call, they emailed me a packet of excerpts that they then heard me sight-read for the audition. Next, I had 24 hours to further practice the same excerpts and send a video of myself playing them to the agency. The day after the audition, I got an offer for my current job. The key to that audition was not necessarily to play the music perfectly, but demonstrate an ability to learn music quickly. As for the job duties, the orchestra plays 2-3 shows per week backing a guest singer, as well as the ship’s singers. Some of these excellent singers have included Jesse Hamilton, Stephani Parker, and Brandi Russell. We play two shows of the musical Saturday Night Fever one night per week. We play a set for condensed big band (2 saxes, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone + rhythm section). We play background music as a smaller Dixieland combo or jazz combo. The ship’s entertainment division dances in a parade twice per week. There is the added perk of seeing the world and getting paid while doing so. In fact, as a crew member you can sign up to escort guests on an excursion of your choice, and go on the tour for free. My ship goes from the weekly home port in Texas to stops in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands in cycles of four weeks. All crew members also have safety duties for the unlikely event of an emergency. The key to this job is to be a strong sight reader and learn music quickly, as my audition process showed.

SC: Thanks so much for the interview, Thad! At CSU, we’re thrilled about your success and hope to hear about many other great things from you in the future. Stay safe and healthy!

TA: My pleasure. Thank you, Stan! Stay healthy.


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