MSG Matthew Byrne, trumpet, is currently a member of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and performs with the ceremonial band element of the unit. His primary duties include performing for ceremonies in Arlington National Ceremony and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as military functions in and around Washington, D.C. Byrne began playing the trumpet in the fourth grade and after graduating from High School in 1991, attended Ithaca College on a viola scholarship, studied trumpet with Dr. Kim Dunnick, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance and Education. He then went on to teach strings in the public school systems of Long Island, NY and Guilford, CT. In 2002, Byrne returned to school as a teacher’s assistant at the University of Louisville. He graduated Phi Kappa Phi and earned his master’s degree in Music Performance studying with Dr. Michael Tunnell. While at the University of Louisville, he auditioned for and won a position with The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and joined the unit upon completion of basic training in 2004. When not performing with the U.S. Army Band, Byrne is active as a freelance musician in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, performing as a soloist and in chamber ensemble settings on both trumpet and viola.
B-flat trumpet: Spencer, Schagerl (Morrison), and Bach 43LR
C trumpet: Yamaha Chicago
Eb and piccolo: Shilke
Mouthpieces: Monette B12, C12, E12
Interview with MSG Matthew Byrne. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis.
SC: Hi Matt! Congratulations on your marvelous and moving Taps yesterday at the wreath laying ceremony for the Inauguration! It was truly remarkable and many trumpeters all over have been swooning!
MB: Thank you, Stan. It’s been a fascinating couple of days. I was aware of the significance of the event and mentally prepared myself for what was happening live, but hadn’t really given much thought to the coverage it received beyond the live event. I’m very glad I didn’t.
SC: Thanks for agreeing to chat a little about your life and career and about this special ceremony! First, I was wondering if you might like to talk about how you got interested in music and who did you study with when you were young?
MB: I was fortunate to have some fantastic public school music teachers and programs growing up. I always enjoyed music class in elementary school and couldn’t wait to start playing an instrument like my older siblings. I’m one of six kids and we all played instruments through at least High School. I actually started on viola because that program began a year before the band program. I knew I wanted to play the trumpet (thank you, “Rocky”) and thought I would switch over, but I ended up playing both instruments through college. I started private lessons in middle school with a very talented trumpet player, Ray Riccomini, who was in high school band with my older brother. When he graduated, I continued my lessons with his teacher, Doug Mendocha, until I went to Ithaca.
SC: And then you went to college at Ithaca? Tell me about that.
MB: I studied with Kim Dunnick at Ithaca. I had a tough time adjusting to college at first. When I auditioned, I was told I would be able to receive a scholarship if I went as a viola major, so I went that route and took trumpet lessons. I was so far behind in string techniques since I never really studied with a private teacher, that it was difficult to keep up with both. That situation, coupled with two large studios of very talented trumpet players was a bit overwhelming. I ended up transferring to George Mason University after my freshman year. It was there that I met SGM ret. Denny Edelbrock who kicked my butt for a semester and introduced me to the military band opportunity. It was the kick in the pants I needed, but I knew I belonged back at Ithaca, so I returned 2nd semester Sophomore year as a trumpet major.
SC: After that did you study at the University of Louisville with Michael Tunnell? He was such a great person. What did you take away from that experience?
MB: After graduation, I spent 6 years teaching public school strings in NY and CT. I would play trumpet just enough to prepare for Easter and Christmas and the occasional wedding. It was miserable. I decided I would either have to play full time or put it away. So, my wife (a vocal major) and I decided to go back to graduate school for our Masters degree. University of Louisville had a great assistantship opportunity and when I met Mike Tunnell, I knew that was the place for us. He was one of the nicest and most genuine people you could ever meet. His approach to life and personal interactions were the real lessons. Learning trumpet was a side benefit
SC: When did you join the U.S. Army Band—“Pershing’s Own”? How was the audition?
MB: I auditioned during the summer of 2003. At that time, one would send in a tape as a pre-screened audition and if selected, go through the MEPS to make sure you were eligible to enlist if you were offered a spot. It was my first time applying so I compiled a few recital recordings and concert excerpts and sent them in. A couple weeks later, I received a call saying that I had been accepted to audition and the music for the audition was in the mail. Unfortunately, I was out of town and wouldn’t see the music until a week or so before the audition. (This was all before the wonders of online file sharing). When I returned home and looked at the music, I almost cancelled my audition, but my wife encouraged me to go through with it anyway. From what I can remember about the audition, someone would turn on a metronome before each excerpt and you played behind a screen. At the end of the day, the band ended up hiring three that day and I was not one of them. I was told that someone may be retiring in the very near future and if so, they may call me. I was encouraged just by advancing to the finals in my first professional audition, but returned to Louisville to finish my degree. A few months later, I was just about to start a rehearsal when I received a call from the band offering me a spot. I was able to finish the degree and head off to basic training right afterwards.
(note: MEPS is the Military Entrance Processing Station where they primarily do physicals for potential recruits)
SC: What duties and gigs have you have you done since being in the U.S. Army Band?
MB: I am assigned to the Ceremonial Element of the unit and our primary mission is to provide the musical support to the leadership of the United States. The largest percentage of the work I do involves supporting funerals and wreath laying ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery and at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I have been fortunate enough to perform with some of the other elements in the unit, though, which is one of the benefits of this organization. I’ve performed in Australia and Germany with the US Army Trumpet Ensemble, the NCAA finals with the US Army Herald Trumpets and at the World Series with the US Army Brass Quintet. All very awesome and special experiences, but I believe my fellow trumpeters in the band would agree that the most important duty we have is sounding Taps for funerals and memorial events like yesterday.
MSG Matt Byrnes soloing with the U.S. Army Band Trumpet Ensemble:
SC: You reminded me that we worked on some baroque trumpet many years ago. Do you still play baroque trumpet?
MB: Unfortunately, no. I realized I would not be the next Nicklas Eklund, so now I just enjoy listening to those of you that have really mastered the craft.
SC: Ah, too bad! So, we’re still in this pandemic. What have you been doing in the Army Band recently?
MB: COVID has definitely changed our operations over the past year. Funerals in Arlington National Cemetery have not stopped and we still support that mission, though in a modified and more socially distant manner. Modified ceremonies (retirements, memorial, etc.) have been happening with smaller ensembles and the band has worked very hard to increase its online presence through its United We Stand platform. There are concerts, masterclasses, interviews and more which provide a valuable resource which anyone can access. We have also been supporting non-musical endeavors around the National Capitol region as well. In times of a National crisis, like this pandemic, the band may be called upon to assist with emergency operations.
SC:Tell me about your family!
MB: Yes! I mentioned my wife, Dallis, earlier who has been on this crazy ride with me since we were at Ithaca together. She’s a choir director at a private school in Alexandria, VA as well as the Music Worship leader at our church. We have two wonderful (mostly) children in middle school Macadger, 14, and Madelyn, 12, who are both very active musically and love to play baseball. Madelyn is a great gymnast as well.
SC: So, you gave such a moving and confident Taps yesterday for the Inauguration. Can you tell me what sorts of long-term and perhaps short-term preparation goes into a great performance like that? It’s okay, you can go into nerdy details if you want—this is a blog read by other trumpeters!
MB: Well, those who know me know I am not the biggest trumpet geek. I don’t like to “practice”, but enjoy performing, so my sessions are usually based around that. I try to find etudes that cover all the bases for what could occur on any given day. The hardest part of our job is being prepared for anything at any time. Most days I focus on lyrical stuff to counteract the amount of pounding the chops may take while marching and playing, but if I’ve got specific performances coming up with Concert Band or Brass Quintet, I will make sure I have my 3rd finger working. 😉
As far as event specific preparation goes, i.e. yesterday, it is mostly mental. I’ve played Taps thousands of times in my career and it doesn’t matter what or who it’s for, I get nervous every time because I only get to play “this” Taps once. I have never been in a situation where the sounding of Taps is not the most important thing happening at that moment in time and I owe it to the one(s) being honored to give it my best. I know this and I prepare for that feeling and have some strategies to calm myself down. For yesterday’s ceremony, I can describe, in detail, the speck on the marble a few yards in front of me while standing and waiting for the official party to arrive and the corner of the crypt I focused on while playing. Everything else was just “noise” that I didn’t need at the moment. A bunch of silent prayers and even some country song lyric studying helped to keep my mind occupied while waiting, which is the hardest part.
Video of MSG Matt Byrne sounding Taps for Inaugural Wreath Laying Ceremony. Note: Taps is at 3’22”.
SC: Great strategies for focusing! It looked like you played a Monette bugle for your Taps. I have never seen one before. How do they play?
MB: Yes, that was a Monette bugle and it has been getting a lot of attention. If I am not mistaken, it is very similar to the horn Wynton plays (without valves, of course). I do have to state that though the Army does provide all of our equipment, they do not endorse any particular brand or maker of instruments. We’ve got bugles made by Bach and Stomvi as well and our section plays what suits them best. I’ve played the same Monette model mouthpiece since 1991, so it was a pretty natural fit for me to go that route and in situations like yesterday, the less you are thinking about equipment, the better.
SC: I bet you have received a lot of congratulations for yesterday. Do you want to share any special ones?
MB: Like I said earlier, I am so glad I didn’t realize how many people were experiencing yesterday’s events with me, but the comments I’ve been getting on social media and through friends have been so overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Aside from personal congratulations from family, the one that really sticks out came from a colleague in the Herald Trumpets. They were watching from one of their holding rooms in between their own inaugural duties and apparently cheered when I finished. It’s a great feeling to know that your coworkers are pulling for you and in some ways , suffering along with you as, we’ve all been in these types of situations before. It just reinforces what a special unit this is and I am so grateful to be a part of it.
SC: Thanks so much for this interview, Matt! What are your hopes in the near future?
MB: It’s been my pleasure. I’m sure my hopes are aligned with most everyone else’s. I’m looking forward to live music, concerts, hugging and hand shakes. Sorry, I’ve got to run out for a gig. (Country fiddle) All fun on those.