A second interview with Elisa Koehler, tireless researcher of the trumpet

Elisa Koehler – Trumpeter, Conductor, Researcher and Academic Administrator

Known for her versatility and probing musicianship, Elisa Koehler is a trumpeter, conductor, and author with professional experience as both a soloist and an ensemble musician. Currently Chair of the Music Department and Professor of Music at Winthrop University, she was previously Professor of Music and the Director of the Center for Dance, Music, and Theatre at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland and Music Director and Conductor of the Frederick Symphony Orchestra. As a trumpeter, she has performed with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Brass Quintet, and as the solo trumpeter of Baltimore’s Bach Concert Series. Dr. Koehler has performed and recorded on period instruments with the Bach Sinfonia, the Handel Choir of Baltimore, the Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, and Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band. A member of the editorial staff of the International Trumpet Guild Journal since 2002, she was elected to the ITG Board of Directors in 2017 and elected ITG Secretary in 2019. Also an active researcher, Elisa Koehler is the author of Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer’s Guide to Trumpet History and Literature (Indiana University Press) and A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player (Rowman & Littlefield). In 2016 she edited new performing editions of the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos with historical commentary for Carl Fischer Music. She can be heard as cornet soloist with Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band on the album, Thomas Coates: The Father of Band Music in America.  Dr. Koehler has presented at national and international conferences, and produces the YouTube channel, Brass from the Past, which features educational videos concerning historic brass instruments. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Conductors Guild Journal, Heritage Band Encyclopedia, The Brass Herald, and The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. She also keeps a blog with interesting articles about academia, music making and trumpet-related things. Elisa Koehler earned a doctorate in orchestral conducting from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, a master’s degree in trumpet performance from the University of Tennessee, and bachelor’s degrees in both music education and trumpet performance from Peabody. In 2009 the University of Tennessee honored her as a Distinguished Alumna and in 2014 she received Goucher College’s highest faculty honor, the Caroline Doebler Bruckerl ’25 Award, which honors an exemplary faculty member in the areas of teaching, scholarly activity, and service.

Interview with Elisa Koehler. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis.

SC: Elisa, it has been almost nine years since our last Trumpet Journey interview, and a lot has changed! I thought it would be good to catch up on what has been happening to you since that time, so I am really grateful that you have agreed to another interview!!


EK: The pleasure is all mine, Stan. Thanks for the invitation! I’m really honored.


SC: What are some of the changes that you have gone through since 2012—your job, your research, your trumpet playing?

EK: In 2013 I became chair of the Music Department at Goucher College (it was my turn in the rotation), and everything changed. The focus of my career shifted from performing to administration, which was something of a natural progression. I started out as an adjunct while conducting a community orchestra (the Frederick Symphony) and juggling a lot of trumpet freelancing and private teaching. As I moved up through the ranks at Goucher and eventually earned tenure, I gradually reduced the amount of freelance work and private teaching to focus on my increasing responsibilities at the college and my writing projects. The organizational leadership skills I had developed as a conductor translated easily to academic administration. During that same year (2013-2014), I was finishing the edits on my first book while writing my second book and simultaneously managing a major facility renovation at the college. It was insane! But I’m grateful for all the opportunities and have always subscribed to Billie Jean King’s philosophy: “pressure is a privilege.” Three years after that I was promoted to full professor and became the director of Goucher’s new Center for Dance, Music, and Theatre as the college consolidated academic departments. In 2019 I moved on to become the chair of the Department of Music at Winthrop University, which is where I am now. I’m extremely grateful that I have been able to combine trumpet playing, conducting, and research in my academic career.


SC: In 2012, you told me in our interview that you were working on some books that you mentioned in our interview. Since then, published them and some other things, too. What has the impact of that been on you?


EK: The books have been well received, especially Fanfares and Finesse, which is required reading in many university trumpet studios now. I am really proud of that. I was also invited to edit new editions of the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos for Carl Fischer Music in 2015, which was a huge honor, and I have given presentations at international conferences of the ITG and the Historic Brass Society. But the biggest reward has been the number of people who have written to me or have come up to me at conferences to tell me how much they enjoyed my books. That means the world to me.


SC: It means a lot to us, too, Elisa—thanks for your books. A big congratulations on your new job at Winthrop University and your leadership role. Could you talk about transitioning from Goucher to Winthrop? Did this require new skills?


EK: Thanks! The biggest challenge was relocating to South Carolina after having spent most of my life in Maryland. I also had to get up to speed with several university-specific online platforms for curriculum revisions, personnel management, academic records, and assessment. Getting to know my new colleagues and the culture of the university was crucial, and I have also upped my game with Microsoft Excel, an essential tool for academic administrators. Michael Watkins’s The First 90 Days, a standard book on leadership transitions, was helpful preparation, as well.


SC: What is your routine like at Winthrop? Does your schedule allow for trumpet playing and teaching? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your department?


EK: I am primarily an administrator now and only teach one class, which is conducting the Winthrop Symphony Orchestra. My routine involves a lot of meetings, responding to email, and working on long range projects including curriculum revisions, course schedules, facilities, and budget planning. I also observe classes for colleagues’ faculty reviews and supervise recruiting and community outreach. Winthrop has an excellent trumpet teacher, Dr. Marisa Youngs, so that is not what I do. However, I have given occasional trumpet master classes and recitals, but the pandemic has put a stop to that since March 2020. The impact of COVID-19 has been enormous. I have had to re-think every aspect of how we deliver our curriculum and serve the needs of our students. In addition to creating sanitizing protocols for practice rooms, supporting remote instruction, and planning for social distancing, we have had to change every aspect of how large ensembles function, especially regarding facilities, including outdoor tents. But the biggest challenge has been creating a live stream system for our degree recitals and video recordings for ensembles.

SC: I was really fortunate in 2019 to get to play under your baton in Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band. Playing on your cornet, as well! It was a great experience at the Vintage Brass Festival. What else are you conducting these days? 


EK: Thanks! That was a lot of fun. I love working with the Newberry Band, which is a period instrument group that specializes in music from 1875 to 1910. Our second CD will be released next month. I’m super excited about that because it will be my first recording credit as a conductor. I was the cornet soloist on the band’s first CD, which was directed by Doug Hedwig. Right now, I’m conducting the Winthrop Symphony Orchestra at the university.


SC: For the past few years, you have also become a leader in the International Trumpet Guild. What has that been like? 


EK: It has been a privilege to work with so many terrific colleagues from all over the world. The ITG leadership team is an inspiring group of selfless, hardworking professionals. We were already meeting quite often by video conference before the pandemic, so it has been interesting to see all the innovation and forward thinking the ITG has engaged in recently, especially making all the back issues of the ITG Journal accessible online for members. And the virtual conference this summer is going to be fantastic!


SC: What would you like to be doing in the next few years, Elisa?


EK: Filming more episodes for my YouTube channel, Brass from the Past is a big priority. I have seven episodes already scripted to cover the cornetto, vented Baroque trumpets, cornets, and other topics, but the demands of my new job and the pandemic have put those plans on hold for the time being. I’m also working on a new project with Tim Quinlan at qPress to create an anthology of Arban’s “Art of Phrasing” collections (he published more than what appears in the famous method book). Another major goal is to publish a second edition of Fanfares and Finesse with updated information and new chapters on mutes and trumpets of antiquity. There has been some fascinating new research in that area.

SC: Down time—what do you like to do these days in your free time?


EK: Practicing the violin, learning French, and lots and lots of reading.


SC: The violin?! Et le Français? C’est incroyable! That sounds like fun! Here at CSU, we’re so much looking forward to hosting you via Zoom next week. What are you going to talk about to our students?


EK: I’m going to discuss my research on Arban’s “Art of Phrasing” as a window into cultural history and related topics, such as research techniques and musical interpretation. I’m excited to meet with your students!


SC: Thanks so much for this second interview (the only second interview on my site)! I hope that we’ll get to do this in about nine more years!!


EK: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for the invitation!

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Interview with Ashley Killam, entrepreneur and diversity-minded trumpeter

Ashley Killam (she/her) is an international speaker, trumpet player, educator, and researcher. Ashley is the co-founder of Diversify the Stand, a resource centered around learning from underrepresented voices in music and commissioning works to build a musical repertoire. She has presented her lecture series, Fanfare for the Unheard, to high schools and colleges across the United States and Canada. Fanfare for the Unheard focuses on promoting diverse works for all instruments and creating sustainable inclusion in all music programs. She is also the General Manager of Rising Tide Music Press, a music publishing company working to promote BBIA composers’ works.

(Note: Ashley will be the CSU Trumpet Studio Guest Clinician next Wednesday, February 3, on Zoom and streamed on the CSU Trumpet Studio Facebook page)

Bb: Standard Bach Strad
C: Bach 229 H
Eb/E: Yamaha YTR-9635
Piccolo: Yamaha YTR-9825
Cornet: Refurbished Besson
Mouthpieces: Pickett
Mic: Blue Yeti

Interview with Ashley Killam. The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Ashley, I’m so glad I got to meet you (virtually—but still!). You are doing some really interesting things about diversity related to the trumpet, and so I’m thrilled to sit down and chat with you about your playing career and your ideas.
AK: Thank you so much for inviting me to speak with your students! I am incredibly honored and so excited to talk about some critical topics!

SC: What about your early life? How did you get interested in music, and who were your big influences?
AK: I grew up in a musical family, with my parents a part of the Michigan State marching band. Neither were music majors, but music has always been such a big part of my life. A former babysitter and family friend was a trumpet player, and I wanted to be just like her, so trumpet it was! I am incredibly thankful for the support I had from my family and where I grew up. I was about 15 minutes away from Michigan State University, which has a fantastic music program. Because of that, I was involved in youth ensembles, took lessons from their grad students, and got opportunities to work with well-known composers. Significant influences of mine? Definitely Blast!, the brass and percussion touring group, and pretty much all musicals and film scores. I also grew up listening to music with great horn lines – Earth, Wind, and Fire, Chicago, Chase, and Michael Buble, to name a few.

SC: I read that you went to the University of Illinois for an education degree. Why did you go there? What was it like when you were a student there? Would you recommend trumpet students to consider an ed degree?
AK: I always joke that I went to Illinois because it wasn’t Michigan State, which is only partly a joke. As great of a music program as Michigan State was (and is), I needed to move and figure out my path. Five hours away was enough that I could be independent but easily travel home to visit. I loved my time in Champaign-Urbana – they have a fantastic music education program and many outstanding faculty that I am friends with today. I would recommend all trumpet players to consider U of I’s program for undergrad and graduate work. Ron Romm and Charles Daval are the perfect pair of trumpet professors and human beings, and I received so much support while there. The only downsides are the practice rooms aren’t the greatest – I haven’t seen many good practice rooms, so this is nothing new, and the fact you’re in the middle of a cornfield town. You learn to make opportunities for yourself!

SC: And after graduating, you went to the University of New Mexico for your master’s degree in trumpet performance. You must have gotten the “performance bug.” Tell me about that part of your life.
AK: At U of I, I did go for just the music ed degree. I considered a double major, but the workload for a music ed degree was already so much. I realized I didn’t need another sheet of paper telling me I was a solid player. I held myself to the same standard as performance majors because I knew I wanted to get better and learn more about trumpet after graduating. I attended the Raphael Mendez Brass Institute in Denver. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and play for a masterclass. Someone near me recommended John Marchiando’s masterclass, so I signed up. Afterward, John invited me to audition for his studio at UNM. I honestly didn’t realize New Mexico had any music programs, but out west sounded good to me!
I am so thankful I made the move. It’s definitely the land of enchantment for a reason – I miss the weather, New Mexican food, and green chiles so much. I loved my time at UNM because I could combine all of my favorite things – I got to perform in all of the ensembles AND teach at five local middle and high schools. I taught trumpet, brass, marching band and learned how to balance life really well. My time at UNM also started the research that I have been doing for the past four years, which I know we’ll talk more about later.
All in all, I enrolled in UNM thinking I HAD to be someone specific – that I HAD to have a goal of becoming an orchestral or military band trumpet player. I left a different person, in the best way. In two years, I started to find the path I wanted to take, even if it was less traditional.  I strive to show younger musicians that there is not just one correct path to take, and no one can tell you what you SHOULD do.

SC: Such great advice, Ashley! You still do drill design. Is that an in-demand specialty? Is it hard to do? (I’m guessing “yes”!)
AK: I do! I have been drill writing for six years now. I marched all through high school and undergrad, and drill writing just seemed fun. It’s pretty much just drawing but in a really large space! The most challenging part is the software – Pyware is pretty frustrating, which is why directors look to drill writers to do all of that frustrating work.
Most of the schools I write for are in rural Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, so I’m not a prominent hot-shot DCI drill writer or anything. Still, it’s a great summer project each year, and the groups I work with are beyond incredible. Thanks to Covid, that was all cut last year, but I’m trying to be hopeful that things will pick back up in the next year or two!

SC: You are passionate about bringing underrepresented composers to light. This is so compelling to me. Tell me about how you got interested in this and how you made it part of your business. 
AK: This is something I never expected I would be doing, actually! While at UNM, I took a course called Female Voices in Composition. Our final project was to build a recital for our instrument. This project made me realize two things: First, the only work for trumpet I knew that wasn’t by a male composer was the Pakhmutova Trumpet Concerto. Second, it was crazy how many outstanding works there are for EVERY instrument that we don’t know about. It made me slightly frustrated, and I started to question everything. Why do we have a “standard canon?” Why are the only concertos I hear for trumpet are the Hummel, Haydn, and Arutunian? After finding some really cool works, I decided to make this final project my actual master’s recital! My recital was called More Than Just Dead White Guys: A Graduate Trumpet Recital, and it featured six works for trumpet by living, women composers. My Soundcloud has recordings of a few of the pieces. 

One of the works on my Soundcloud is my first commission – Incantations by Whitney George. I was given little information on how to commission works, but knew I wanted to commission a new piece for my recital. Commissioning is such an important part, as it’s a great way to expand repertoire and support living composers! As a performer, you create relationships with composers and not only build repertoire, but keep music moving forward. While at UNM, I commissioned two works – Incantations and a duet for two trumpets and electronics, called Bored Games by Megan DeJarnett.
So I started to do research. Initially, my focus was on works by specific women for just trumpet. After talking to multiple professors, I turned this research into a presentation, which has morphed numerous times into Fanfare for the Unheard, the presentations you and your students will see next week. Over the following year, I started giving presentations, and my research started expanding. I also started questioning myself – why am I only presenting on women? What about composers of all backgrounds, cultures, races, and gender identities? I spent a lot of time reflecting on my purpose and who I was trying to advocate for. I started expanding my research to promote ALL underrepresented identities and all instruments, ensembles, and voice types. I do not have all of the answers, and I cannot and will not speak for all marginalized identities – I simply try and have conversations about why inclusion is important, and I provide resources to make building our repertoire easier.
This research became the backbone to Diversify the Stand (www.diversifythestand.com). Diversify the Stand was founded in December 2020 by myself and my colleague, Dr. Carrie Blosser. Diversify the Stand is about sharing and learning from the stories of underrepresented voices in music and leading commissioning projects to expand our repertoire. February is a big month for us, as it is the start of our book club and podcast series. We also have started our first commissioning project (https://www.diversifythestand.com/2021-consortium) to create the first-ever progressive solo book for trumpet by diverse composers. We have commissioned 12 composers to write works for the student-level player. These will also be perfect recital pieces for any level player! The composers are all gems of human beings, and I am so excited to see each of their voices show through their works. We hope this can be the first of many projects to build the repertoire for all instruments.
Along with this, I am currently working on two other commissions – both for solo trumpet and electronics. One work is by Megan DeJarnett and the other by Alonso Malik Pirio. All of this to say, I am on a journey. I am not perfect, and I do not have all of the answers. But I will do my absolute best to continue to work to create a positive change in the music community.

SC: What are some hidden compositional gems that you would like to bring to light?
AK: Oh my gosh, there are SO MANY. First, let me recommend everyone check out a Catalog of Works I made: 


I contacted over 200 composers to get consent and confirmation before publishing this on my website. It has so many great trumpet and brass works, and I would recommend starting here.

A few of my favorite gems, though…

Lauren Bernofsky’s Trumpet Concerto is, in my opinion, is the best trumpet concerto ever written. Her Suite for Brass Quintet is a perfect recital work for quintet. Marcus Grant is a composer, educator, and performer I just met recently. He’s doing such cool work with multi-tracking and is also such a gifted composer (note: here’s his YouTube playlist). Alice Gomez has an exciting five-movement work for trumpet and congas called Latin Jazz Suite. For some trumpet and electronics, Meg Bowles has four pieces that sound incredible! 

Stacy Garrop, Whitney George, Chia-Yu Hsu, Cait Nishimura, Zoe Cutler, Adolphus Hailstork, Alonso Malik Pirio, Gala Flagello are just a few other composers I have met that also have some great brass works. I could talk for hours about this and give a whole presentation only on pieces to check out and be happy to if anyone wants some recital advice!

SC: I’ve heard a few of those names–especially Adolphus Hailstork, whose Variations for Trumpet I’m playing on an upcoming recital (and I posted a video of me practicing it last week). I’m excited to explore your Catalog!
What do you like to do when your not playing trumpet, teaching, or being an entrepreneur?
AK: I live in rural southwest Virginia, which, although far from most cities, is really close to the mountains, which is a big perk in pandemic times! I am an avid hiker with my husband and corgi puppy, Biscuit! We’re actually training for a Grand Canyon hike in December – almost 45 miles in 4 days. I also became a decent baker thanks to the pandemic and have a sourdough started named Danny Dough-vito.

SC: Haha! Well, I’m so excited to be hosting you next week on my series of virtual guest clinicians for the CSU Trumpet Studio (Wednesday, February 3, 11:00am Mountain Time). We’re going to stream and archive that on Facebook. Give us the elevator pitch for why we should be setting aside time to watch!
AK: Fanfare for the Unheard is an interactive lecture featuring underrepresented composers, their music, and a conversation centered around diversity and inclusion. As educators, performers, and musicians, we can all reflect on the music we teach and program. It’s essential to question the “whys” of what we play. We can all begin expanding our musical libraries and welcoming more incredible works to our stands!

SC: Thanks so much for our interview time, Ashley! Looking forward to next week!
AK: Thank you so much for talking, and I can’t wait to “visit” next week and share some great music with you and your students!


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