A nationally renowned trumpeter and teacher with extensive national and international performing experience, Justin Emerich is associate professor of trumpet at the MSU College of Music. Emerich’s orchestral experience includes serving as acting associate principal trumpet of the San Francisco Symphony, as well as performing with the St Louis Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Opera, Malaysia Philharmonic, Seoul Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Grant Park Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Grand Rapids Symphony, Palm Beach Opera Orchestra, and the New World Symphony. He has been a featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony and the Fulcrum Point New Music Ensemble in Chicago. In April 2013, Emerich was singled out as one of the San Francisco Symphony’s “superb soloists” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Justin and Heather Zweifel during a Burning River Concert
Emerich is also an avid chamber musician and has been a member of, and toured with, such groups as the Canadian Brass, Burning River Brass, Proteus 7, the Avatar Brass, and Pink Martini. Performing with these groups, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and all 50 states in the U.S. While with the world famous Canadian Brass, he performed as solo-piccolo trumpet and collaborated with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra brass sections. Emerich and the Canadian Brass were also featured with the New Jersey Symphony and premiered a new work by Bramwell Tovey with the Vancouver Symphony. He is currently the piccolo trumpet of Burning River Brass. Emerich performed in numerous Broadway shows in New York City including Kiss Me Kate, Into the Woods, and 42nd Street.
After earning his degree, he became artist-in-residence and assistant trumpet professor at Grand Valley State University. Emerich has performed with such artists as Diana Ross, Burt Bacharach, Natalie Cole, Wayne Newton, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Doc Severinsen, Allen Vizzutti, Renee Fleming, Sufjan Stevens, Ben Folds, and Vanessa Williams. He has recorded for hundreds of TV, movie, and video game soundtracks, and can be heard as the lone trumpet on The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock. Emerich has recorded various CDs for the Columbia, SFS Media, Naxos, New World, Dorian, Burmermusic, LML music, and Albany record labels.
Emerich, who comes to Michigan State University from a faculty position at University of Las Vegas, is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music.
B-Flat: Bach ML 37-Made from parts that Charley Butler put together (since 2007)
C: Bach L 229 bell (since 1997)
Piccolo: Schilke P5-4 (since 1998)
E-flat: Blackburn Eb/D (since 1999)
Bach 1C with 25 throat and 24 backbore (since 2000)
Bach stock 7E on pic (since 1998)
Interview with Justin Emerich. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: Justin, thanks so much for chatting with me about your career and your ideas about playing and teaching!
JE: It’s my pleasure. You’re doing great things, and I’m just happy to be a part of that!
SC: Can you tell me about what your early music life was like? Who were some of your teachers and what were some of your musical experiences?
Justin and his three brothers. He’s in the red shirt. Jeff, the one with a tie, is the bari sax player in the U.S. Coast Guard Band
JE: I grew up in Fresno CA as one of four boys in my family. Second of the four, I was always into all types of music, and just remember singing and hearing music in my head all the time. My grandmother bought our family a piano when I was about 5 years old, and I started lessons at that time. I didn’t like to practice, but I loved to make sounds. I had a piano teacher who helped me write little tunes, and I loved that. After a few years, my parents couldn’t keep me interested, so I stopped with piano. Then in the 4th grade, I had the opportunity to pick another instrument. My best friend wanted to play trumpet, so I followed him in that line. At the end of that line, and as the person introducing the instrument to the children, was a man who had such joy and love for music, and it didn’t hurt that he looked like Santa clause to me, that I was sold on the trumpet. His name is Lloyd John Ellis. He became my trumpet teacher in the 5th grade and I studied with him through high school.
I was a big fan of Bud Herseth and Glen Fischthal in high school, but really wanted to go to North Texas University to play in the One O’clock Band. Lloyd urged me to audition at different conservatories, and I ended up going to a small school in South Florida called the HARID conservatory. It is now the Lynn University School of Music. My teacher there was Rich Stoelzel, and he was exactly what I needed at that time. He helped me immensely and put me on the path to being a professional by including me in the faculty quintet, helping me win a job at the Palm Beach Opera, and pushing me to play with the New World Symphony.
SC: You eventually went to Juilliard. What was your audition like? Tell me about your time there.
JE: Before going to Juilliard, I knew I wanted to study with Mark Gould. I made a point to go to the Lake Placid Summer Institute (which turned into Chosen Vale Summer Institute) to meet and work with Mr. Gould the summer after my junior year of my undergrad studies. I went to the festival as if it was an audition, and I was trying to impress him. I feel like we made a good connection, and that helped me when it came time to finally audition at Juilliard. My audition was exciting, and I loved every moment of it. The only thing that surprised me was that they asked me to play a C-major scale, two octaves, up and down in one breath. It made me question why, but I took a deep breath and played the scale. I later found out that was something they were doing to hear the utmost of fundamental playing. To me, it was a great idea, and I do that now in my own auditions at Michigan State University.
Being at Juilliard was amazing. Being there, I always felt lucky to play music with such incredible people. It was just an inspirational place to go to school. I would just scratch my head and think, Wow! I go to school with these amazing artists!
SC: I read that you did some Broadway work—what shows did you play?
JE: When I got to NYC, I got very lucky very fast. Maybe in October or November of my very first academic year at Julliard, a friend of mine was asked if he could play the lead book for Kiss Me Kate. He said no and sent them my way. That book had some real lead parts that I wasn’t super solid on at the time. However, I decided to give it a try and was able to make it work. I wouldn’t say I was amazing, but I did fine on that book. The guy I was subbing for on Kiss Me Kate was a long time Broadway player named Dominic Derasse. The show ran for a while, and I got to play it from time to time, but when it closed and he landed Into The Woods, he started using me all the time. This led to other contacts and shows, and it was a blast to be in the Broadway scene.
SC: You have racked up a ton of experience in orchestras and chamber music. Which came first?
Burning River Brass trumpet section photo at a recording session
JE: Thats tough for me to answer. I was in the faculty quintet at my undergrad as a sophomore, but I also started playing with the New World Symphony then. I subbed with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in NYC, but also got my position with Burning River Brass around the same time. When I was playing with the Seattle Symphony, I got the call to audition for, and won, my position with the Canadian Brass. To me, each genre has helped me grow as a musician and has also helped directly lead to the next opportunity.
SC: Canadian Brass. That’s the big Kahuna. Tell me how you got in and what THAT was like! And why did you leave?
JE: I had met the quintet as a student at the Music Academy of the West. I loved the Canadian Brass and tried my hardest as a student to impress them. The years passed, and I went to Juilliard. While at Juilliard, Ryan Anthony left Burning River Brass for Canadian Brass. The people with Burning River called Juilliard, and I was lucky enough to get the invitation to join Burning River Brass. After a few years, Ryan decided to leave Canadian, and they had been looking for someone to take his place. I got the call early one morning from Eugene Watts to come and audition in a couple days. I was over the moon. I flew out a couple days later, spent a couple days with them playing all types of music and drinking coffee, and was offered the position. I was ecstatic!! I moved to Toronto, because, at the time, everyone lived there, and I started touring and playing concerts. It was a total blast. Unfortunately, there were a number of factors that led to the end of that dream. I can share that, through the process of leaving the Canadian Brass, I learned an awful lot about myself and still feel that it was a dream come true be in the quintet.
SC: You played in the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. What were some of your memorable projects there?
San Francisco Symphony in Japan after Mahler 5
JE: To me, this was just an amazing time. Growing up a few hours south of San Francisco, I was an enormous Glen Fischthal (former principal with the San Francisco Symphony) fan. Glen had moved to Associate Principal and then decided to retire. At that time, I was offered to take over for him in that position. It was surreal to me. There were so many projects that were incredible. I was singled out by the SF Chronical for being one of the symphony’s “great soloists.” We did several tours to Asia and Europe, we made recordings that were nominated for Grammy awards, and I made amazing life-long friends. But…I had a very personal experience while in the SFS. When my daughter was born, I took my paternity leave. The very first week back after my leave was Strauss’s Alpine Symphony with Seymon Bychkov. It was my first time performing that piece, and it was an experience I will never forget.
SC: Then you started getting into teaching at UNLV. Did teaching come naturally to you?
JE: I think so. I had never not taught, so it didn’t seem as if it was something new. I had held positions at Grand Valley State University, the Cornish College of the Arts, and managed a private studio, where I had students go to Juilliard. I very much enjoyed my time at UNLV and really learned the ropes from great faculty mentors like Bill Bernatis. My time in Vegas was full of excitement was never dull.
SC: You moved on to become associate professor of trumpet at Michigan State, and now you work with dozens of students. What are some of your important points that you try to get across? How do you balance your outside engagements and the “boots on the ground” teaching that you have to do at MSU? What are you students like?
Justin and the MSU Wind Symphony trumpet section after our premier of the Mackey Concerto at CBDNA in Kansas City, KS
JE: Managing the studio at MSU is an amazing thing. We have roughly 25-30 trumpet majors, and each of them have their own goals and dreams. My goal at MSU is to not just be a teacher, but to be a mentor to each and every one of them. This can be a challenge. However, I believe this is why I am in East Lansing, and I love the variety and energy that I get from my studio. I’ll be honest, It is tough to balance my workload at MSU with the opportunities in the musical world, but I find that I just need to make sure my priorities are in order. I have a family with two children, a studio with 25-30 growing young professionals, and all the musical opportunities I could ever dream of. I just need to be selective and put them in the right order. My students are awesome. They are inquisitive, intelligent, creative, and driven. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people with which to work.
SC: What are some other chamber music groups that you have played in–or still play ind? What direction do you feel like this part of your playing is going?
JE: I still play with Burning River Brass and we still maintain a faculty quintet at MSU. These groups are with amazing players and people, and they continue to push me in musical ways that I wouldn’t imagine I would be thriving in. I recently (in the last few years) have become a member of the Brass Band of Battle Creek. I view the British style of Brass Band to be in a chamber music way and have completely become immersed in this music and this orginization.
SC: In 2018, you came to my school, Colorado State University, to share with our students your playing, experience and ideas. We loved it! And now you’re going to do another clinic with us on Zoom on Wednesday, the 17th. What have you been doing since 2018?
JE: Since 2018, I have been doing a ton of orchestra playing (Detroit Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic, St Louis Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Grant Park Music Festival…) and really focusing on my studio and their growth.
Justin on top of Mt Fuji with members of the DSO while on a tour to Japan
Atlanta Symphony section after Copland 3 and Gershwin Piano Concerto
Justin in front of Seoul, South Korea, on a trip to play with the Seoul Philharmonic
Seattle Symphony Mahler 2 trumpet section
Beaumont Brass (faculty quintet at MSU) after our class at the Juilliard School during the ABQ seminar
Seattle Symphony section after Shostakovich performance
I’m super excited about where our studio is right now (8 participants in the National Trumpet Competition of 2021, two alumni currently in final rounds for collegiate professor positions, numerous public school band directors, graduates moving on to prestigious grad programs with assistantships, and helping to send good people out into the world).
SC: This is so impressive, Justin. You recently recorded a John Mackey solo for trumpet with wind ensemble. I’ve just heard it, and it sounds great. How did this project come about and develop?
JE: This project was spearheaded by our Director of Band at MSU, Kevin Sedatole. Kevin had the idea early in my time at MSU and reached out to John to see if he would be interested in composing a trumpet concerto. The final result is an 18-minute trumpet concerto, where I use five different horns with one movement specifically for piccolo trumpet. I’m super proud of this piece, our resulting recording, and the fact that it’s now been performed by people like Chris Martin of the New York Phil, Jens Lindemann from the Canadian Brass and UCLA, and several other great trumpet players and professors around the country.
SC: What about spare time? Do you have any? What do you like to do when you’re not playing the trumpet?
JE: I spend most of my spare time with my family. We love the outdoors and go for walks, no matter the weather, as often as possible. I love to make a big bonfire in my back yard (we live on a small lake in MI), have friends over to go fishing, and just be outdoors. Additionally, I love to keep in touch with my brothers and parents as I’m super proud of all they do and have accomplished.
SC: What are your goals on the horizon?
JE: My goals on the horizon are to write a method book about my approach to the piccolo trumpet and how it relates to playing the big horns. I have several conceptual ideas and firm exercises that I feel have helped me throughout my career and have also aided my students on their paths. Additionally, I would love to create a trumpet ensemble with my friends and colleague around the country that is something sort of different. We recently released a project that I would say is the most “mainstream” type of project I want to put out. It was a piece by David Biedenbender called Spirals.
SC: I can’t wait to check out all these things in the future, Justin. Thanks so much for talking with me!
JE: Thanks a ton, Stan!!!
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