Interview with Dr. Sarah Stoneback: a tremendous talk with a triplet

Sarah Stoneback, assistant professor of trumpet pedagogy and performance with the School of Music in the College of Arts and Architecture at Montana State University, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, in Bozeman, Mont.
MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Dr. Sarah Stoneback is an innovative and exuberant performer, with over twenty years professional performance experience. Dr. Stoneback is an active Conn Selmer Bach Artist/Clinician, trumpet soloist, chamber musician and orchestral performer who has frequented stages throughout the United States, Europe and China. She has been featured with groups including; the National Brass Quintet, the InterHarmony International Chamber Music Festival (Italy), Eurobrass, the Denver Municipal Band, the Montana State University Band and numerous high school bands.

Currently, Dr. Stoneback is the trumpet professor at Montana State University School of Music and holds the position of Principal Trumpet with the Bozeman Symphony. Sarah’s dedication and love for music can be traced to her early experiences, performing and traveling with Stoneback Sisters and Brass. Comprised of a triplet trumpet trio, trumpet quartet & brass quintet, this ensemble has presented over 2,000 educational seminars and residency programs. They frequently solo with bands and orchestras throughout the United States and Europe, including the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, The John Philip Sousa Band, the South Dakota Symphony, the Texas Christian University and the United States Air Force Band of the West.

Dr. Stoneback holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Performance and Pedagogy and Masters of Music from CU Boulder, under Professor Terry Sawchuk. Dr. Stoneback has a bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance from Arizona State University where she studied with Regent’s Professor David Hickman. She is a 2000 graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy, where she studied with Dr. Stanley Friedman.

Follow Sarah on IG and FB where she posts a lot of tips on learning, teaching and performing and more!

As a Conn-Selmer, Bach artist and clinician, Sarah plays on Bach instruments including:
B-flat Bach Stradivarius 37 bell
C Bach Strad 229 bell
Piccolo Selmer Paris/Maurice André 
Flugel Horn: Selmer Paris 

Mouthpiece(s) of choice: 3C on big horns, Pickett Brass 9DE Cup, #1/27 Shank

Interview with Sarah Stoneback. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis.

SC: Sarah, it’s so good to finally get a chance to chat with about your life, career, teaching and playing!
SS: Thank you, Stanley and greetings from Montana! I am excited to visit and catch up with you, as well as meet your trumpeters today.
SC: We’re so much looking forward to your virtual clinic! Tell me about your musical family growing up. Your father and sisters played trumpet, right? 
SS: Yes, you are correct! How much time do you have? There is so much to share! I come from a very musical family and had an epic childhood. I am a triplet and my sisters Mary, Kristin, and I all play trumpet. My Dad, Dr. Ron Stoneback also is a trumpeter and educator, who has written several textbooks for bands. My Mom also plays the horn. Music and performing has been a lifestyle and focal point since I was in 5th grade.
Stoneback Sisters with dad, Ron Stoneback

By the time my sisters and I entered our undergraduate studies at Arizona State University, we had performed upwards of 1,000 + performances including soloing as a trio with the St. Lous Symphony, performing at conferences including the International Women’s Brass Conference, Texas Band Masters, Texas Music Educators, presenting community concerts as a trio/quartet/quintet and school outreach, conference appearances, and more.

As I mentioned, I am a triplet and we all play trumpet – as the Stoneback Sisters, we are a tripleting trumpeting trio.
SC: (haha!–I see what you did there…)
SS: We began playing trumpet the summer going into our 5th grade. We wanted to start earlier, but our Dad would not let us because of shifting teeth. He began trumpet when he was 3 years old – my Grandpa Stoneback was a music educator and piano tuner, so my Dad would play in his bands growing up. So, our family has a history of musicians!
Going through Elementary into High School, our weekends would consist of lessons that could last up to three – six hours. After his long teaching week, our Dad would spend his Saturdays teaching lessons going through Arban, Rubank, Voxman, and more. Evenings and weekends would also include trumpet trios, quartets, and brass quintets.
By the time we were in 6th grade, we had gone through three beginner books, and two intermediate books and kept going through method books and repertoire and solos. We soloed with our first band as a trio when we were in sixth grade with the South Dakota State University Orchestra with Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday and Trumpeter’s Lullaby. When we were in 8th grade we performed at the Texas Band Masters conference in San Antonio and soloed with the San Antonio Youth Orchestra. While at the conference we were invited to be Bach Clinicians – you could say we are a Stone”Bach” exclusive family 🙂. Been in the Conn-Selmer family since then.
The Stoneback Sisters

Our individual practice schedule consisted of anywhere between 2 – 6 hours a day from elementary through high school into college studies. Weekends, summers and evenings would find us touring all over where we grew up in South Dakota and beyond.  I am grateful that our parents supported each of us in our trumpet playing, encouraging each of us to be the best we could be and work hard and diligently. They also would give us movie tickets to get out of the house so we would stop practicing, lol. However even though we practiced a lot we still participated in sports at school like cross country and track, and I was big into gymnastics for many years and competed.

Our approach was support and encourage first–and let that inspire each other to be the best we can be. My sisters and I would enjoy sharing what we learned in lessons with one another – essentially it was like we were getting four times the lessons!
Marie Speziale, Sarah and Susan Slaughter

At an early age we were introduced to top performers and educators in the trumpet field like Maynard Ferguson, Susan Slaughter, Doc Severinson, Marvin Stamm, Mike Vax, Keith Johnson, Marie Speziale, Chlora Bryant, Willie Thomas, and more. These connections made at an early age really set our experience on trumpet in an exciting direction. After being invited to open for the IWBC conference in St. Louis, Susan Slaughter with the St. Louis Symphony invited us to solo with the St. Louis Symphony years later. So, these connections made at an early age were defining and we still keep in touch with many.

After graduating from Arizona State University studying with David Hickman (see below for more about these studies), we hit the road. In this capacity, we performed full-time presenting community concerts in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, State Arts Councils, Conn-Selmer Inc., Educational Residencies in elementary and collegiate settings, music ministry support, conference performances, guest soloing appearances, and more. We were self-managed and enjoyed running every aspect of the business from promotional work, contract and grant writing, communications, programming, etc. With all of this, we started published our own online magazine, and called it “Stonebrass The Magazine”, featuring people we met along our travels and life stories. We also organized scholarships for students to attend camps and special music function around the country.  It was real life field experience.

I look back and am so grateful for this time we spent as a family in this capacity from an early age. I believe because of this influence and love of music that my parents passed down, I always knew music was going to be the route I took, career-wise. I will never forget when my middle school band director, Mr. Bachand, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitating, I exclaimed I wanted to perform on trumpet and teach!
SC: What a fantastic story! You eventually went to the Interlochen Arts Academy—was that where you graduated from high school?
SS: Yes! My sisters and I graduated our senior year from Interlochen Arts Academy in 2000. While there, we studied with Dr. Stanley Friedman. This was a magical experience, making amazing musical memories. Always want to get back there, hopefully sooner than later.
SC: Then you went to Arizona State University for your Undergraduate studying with David Hickman. That’s one of the big music schools. What was it like?

SS: Studying at Arizona State University was a memorable and pivotal moment in my sisters and I trumpet playing career. There is so much I could share that was defining and shaping experiences in musical growth. One of the reasons we chose to attend ASU, in addition to studying with David Hickman, was the Rafael Méndez Library and the ability to work directly from this.

After we performed a tribute performance to Méndez with Doc Severinsen, the twin sons of the late Méndez granted us rights to perform all the trio music from the library. With this permission, bands and orchestras didn’t need to pay fees to collaborate with this music. Outside of this, the instruction, guidance and experience the university, faculty and ensembles provided was top notch and a dynamic experience.

SC: And then you went to CU Boulder to complete both your masters and doctorate, studying with Terry Sawchuk. 
SS: Yes, I value and am so grateful for my time at CU Boulder in my graduate studies. Much like my growing years, there is so much I could say, the experience was truly one of kind. For five years, I was a trumpet teaching assistant where I was able to teach Undergraduate students.
As part of the Assistantship, I performed in the Flatirons Brass Quintet. With this group, I was invited to compete in the Fischoff competition three times, receiving Bronze in 2009.
I also set up the CU Trumpet Alliance CUTA student group that was able to bring in top notch guests, as well as eventually send the whole studio to the National Trumpet Competition. CU provided experiences for me to build so many aspects of myself–not just me as a musician and trumpeter. I invested a lot of energy into the program including being the Assistant to the Director of the CU Summer Music Academy for three years. I also spearheaded the 2015-2016 audition season and was Interim Assistant Dean of Outreach and Recruitment. I enjoyed doing a lot of design work for the Band Program. I appreciated the support and trust faculty and administration provided throughout the process of graduate studies.
While at CU I became involved in the Graduate Teacher Program – as a Lead Graduate for three years, I organized and set up workshops for the College of Music, provided teaching consultations for fellow colleagues throughout the University and more. The Director at the time, Dr. Laura Border was the one who first introduced me to the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, a learning paradigm that ultimately turned out to the be the basis of my Dissertation work at CU and continues to inform my approach to music student learning and music teacher instruction.
SC: What did you write about for your dissertation at CU?
SS: I did a case study applying the Kolb Learning Style to teaching music. The basis was understanding how learning styles informed both the teaching and learning experience in music. Ultimately, this journey set me on a path to truly find my own teaching voice and connect with student–and not just the ways I was taught. If you are interested in digging deeper, check out an article I wrote for the ITG Journal–and my dissertation!
(editors note: here are the citations and a link for Dr Stoneback’s dissertation)

Stoneback, Sarah, “Incorporating Kolb’s Active Experimentation in the Trumpet Studio” (2017). International Trumpet Guild Journal. Publication, Summer 2017.

Stoneback, Sarah, “Application of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory and Border’s Adaptation of the Model to Trumpet Instruction in the Applied Collegiate Trumpet Studio” (2014). Brass and Percussion Graduate Theses & Dissertations. Paper 1.

SC: How has the Kolb Learning Style shaped the way you teach?
SS: My research is rooted in the Kolb Learning Style Theory. Unique to my approach incorporates a perspective that Dr. Laura Border adapted to teacher instruction and student learning. I have taken this and adapted it to music teacher instruction and music student learning. Viewing my teaching through the lens of this approach continues to shape my approach to teaching and performing and learning in general for both myself and how I walk with students throughout their learning experiences on trumpet and music. It has also provided me a tool for multiple modes of presentation. Using this approach also provides ways to connect with students on a deeper cognitive level where more “Ah-Ha” moments can be possible. It also provides a way for me as a teacher to understand why some examples may be more effective for students than others. It has revolutionized the way I view education and know has done the same for educators I have worked with through the years.
SC: This is really fascination to me. I am definitely going to read up on this! Back to trumpet playing–what kinds of performing do you do these days?

SS: I am lucky to live in a community where the Arts are strong and filled with a lot of opportunity to collaborate. I am the Principal Trumpet of the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra. I am also a member of Bobcat Brass Trio, comprised of my brass colleagues, Jeannie Little and Mike Nelson. Throughout the Pandemic I have had the unique opportunity to become a member of the Virtual Trumpet Ensemble, led by Joseph Leyva.

I also perform frequently with my students here MSU. For example, this coming Thursday, March 11, I am performing Vivaldi’s Trumpet Concerto for Two with one of my students for the faculty/student collaborative recital. I also enjoy doing projects with colleagues. I just finished recording for an upcoming release of an original composition written for me by one of my MSU Colleagues and friends, debuting in a couple of weeks. During the Pandemic, I have also been doing a lot of pre-recorded recitals and projects–so, I have enjoyed diving into that. I am also a member of Eurobrass, a 12-member German-based Brass Ensemble and looking forward to hopefully touring this coming summer.

SC: What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or performing?

SS: I love hiking, running, cross country skiing and taking advantage of the outstanding and breathtaking views Montana has to offer year-round!
SC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
SS: I am currently in the Tenure Track process at Montana State University, where I was just officially retained as of last week! I am working to be tenured here at MSU and continue to publish and work on my creative and scholarly research in learning and approaches. Along with that, I can’t wait to perform more and more! Also, I wouldn’t mind being a proud dog owner 🙂
SC: Good luck in your tenure process! And thanks so much for this wonderful interview! By the way, my wife and I have five dogs, so we may be able to help you out (just kidding, Melissa, if you’re reading this!!)


4 responses to “Interview with Dr. Sarah Stoneback: a tremendous talk with a triplet”

  1. Sarah and her sisters ROCK! I’m so glad to have gotten to know the Stoneback family and follow the careers of Sarah, Mary and Kris. It was wonderful having them in my Interlochen studio — sometimes a bit confusing but always fun! I’m so impressed but hardly surprised by their multitude of accomplishments.

    1. Stanley Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Stanley! One thing I was really impressed with Sarah’s understanding of theoretical learning constructs and how they can be used for trumpet playing (or anything else).

  2. Wonderful article and interview. The Stonebacks have been our frequent friends for years and we have followed their trumpet journey since they were born. I am always amazed at the strength of their family in spite of all the challenges they have endured. Character strength has made a way for excellence in each of the Stoneback triplets. Thank you for sharing the article with us. I am excited to hear what may be coming next.

  3. Don Anderson Avatar
    Don Anderson

    Sarah, Mary and Kristen were our neighbors along with their parents, Ron and Margie, until their Senior year. I can attest to their practicing whenever they could. They had their own concerts for the neighborhood. My daughter was a student of Ron’s from fourth grade until they moved.

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