interview with Natalie Cressman

We are so excited to continue our new series featuring women brass players who push boundaries and play outside the box of a standard path for a “conservatory trained musician.” Our first interview features trombonist Natalie Cressman whom I have met freelancing in NYC and it was such a pleasure to read her responses.
Possessing a voice as cool and crystalline as an Alpine stream, Natalie Cressman is a rising singer/ songwriter and trombonist who draws inspiration from a vast array of deep and powerful musical currents. Her new five-song EP Traces reveals her latest evolution, a sleek and sensuous electronica-laced sound with even a trace or two of dance floor sweat. Steadily evolving in many directions, the 25-year-old Cressman has already put down deep roots in several overlapping scenes. A prodigiously talented New York City-based trombonist, she’s spent the past seven years touring the jam band circuit as a horn player and vocalist with Phish‘s Trey Anastasio (and recently played with Phish at Madison Square Garden). Deeply versed in Latin jazz, post-bop, pop, and Brazilian music, she tapped the interlaced traditions on her first two solo albums, 2012’s Unfolding and 2014’s Turn the Sea. The Traces EP follows on the heels of 2016’s Etchings in Amber, a gorgeous duo album with guitarist Mike Bono that introduced Cressman as a formidable musical force without her horn. While the project focuses on songs featuring lyrics she wrote for several Bono compositions, Cressman also wrote words and music for three of her songs, contributing to the atmospheric suite of jazz-inflected, genre-bending tunes. With Traces, Cressman expands her creative reach into post-production, meticulously crafting soundscaped tracks. Her vocal work in increasingly intimate and rhythmically insinuating settings has revealed an artist who can thrive in any setting, from raucous, reverberant halls to packed and pulsing lofts and nightclubs. In an epoch marked by infinite musical possibilities, Natalie Cressman is a singular force who draws from an improbable breadth of sonic realms. Cressman is An artist endorser for King Trombones.

 

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  1. From your background in jazz and latin music to playing in the jam band scene with Phish and Trey Anastasio band, it certainly seems like you are a well rounded musician. How did you get started with your own work as a composer/singer-songwriter?

 

I started writing in high school here and there but I didn’t get fully into it until I moved to NYC to go to college and had opportunities every week to bring in original music and hear it played by my combo. At first I was writing mostly instrumental songs in the modern-jazz vein, but incorporated a lot of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian rhythmic and harmonic ideas. Those elements just kinda flowed naturally into my music, even when I was arranging standards or doing something more straight ahead. At that time I also was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and finding work by contemporary artists like Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato that took elements of more folk-based singer/songwriter styles and fused it with jazz. Being inspired by them is what really brought me into writing the way I do now, which is a lot more song-based and informed by the lyrics and vocal component.

 

  1. How do you balance touring/working as a side-woman with your own daily maintenance on the trombone and your work with your own music as a singer songwriter?  Any secrets of success for fellow musicians balancing diverse interests and busy schedules?

 

It’s definitely a struggle to find time to maintain a routine while touring. And sometimes even when I’m in town, if I’m deep into a writing project and have a deadline coming up, or have to learn 15 songs for an upcoming gig, it’s also easy to let my practice routine fall by the wayside. I also play some other instruments (guitar, piano, and bass) that I try to maintain and improve my skills on by shedding too so I’m often left with the feeling that I wished there were more hours in the day.

 

But with the trombone, I try to stick to similar exercises for a few weeks at a time and then change up my routine every month or so to keep finding new things to work on. I then try touch on those concepts every day even if I’m on the road. Even if my schedule is absolutely insane I make sure to get at least 30 min in before I leave my house or if I’m on the road, allow for at least 30min before soundcheck to have some time to myself to get properly warmed up. I know that’s not a lot, but it’s an achievable goal and so much better than skipping a day and going straight to a gig or rehearsal without feeling warmed up and centered.  Especially if I’m on tour with Trey Anastasio, we often soundcheck for 1-2 hours and the show is around 3.5 hours long, so I am also trying not to tire out my chops by over-practicing on show days. I also like to come up with a routine made up of exercises that kill two birds with one stone – for instance,  where I’m working on slide coordination but in the context of a scale, mode, or pattern, that could also be applied to improvising or theory.

 

  1. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

 

That’s a great question. I do feel some sense of personal responsibility for whatever reason to prove preconceptions about female musicians wrong. Whether it’s from within the band, or the sound guy, or band management, or the audience, there are a lot of instances where my ability is underestimated or my knowledge/experience challenged and I have to say I’m pretty positive it’s because I’m a girl. So I guess I feel this responsibility to be as good as I can be and try and deal with those situations as gracefully as I can. I hope that by modeling professionalism I can change the stereotypes and make it easier for the next generation of female brass players to feel like they’re only being judged on their musical ability and not other superficial factors.

 

  1. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?

 

I think it’s incredibly difficult to make a living playing music, unless you’re interested in commercial and electronic music (and even then, though the path to success may be a little more defined, it’s still hard).  The music business today is so much more about image, social media engagement, and appeal to key demographics than the music that it can be kinda disheartening when starting your own project. But I’ve found opportunities to still be able to stay true to who I am musically while making a living by diversifying the kinds of music I play. I was trained to be a jazz musician, but I studied a lot of funk and rock repertoire and stylings and now I get a lot of work playing as a sidemen and special guest in more established bands, which allows me to fund my solo project and play shows with my band that might be more for the music’s sake than any kind of financial gain. I think especially for horn players this is a really great approach, but it kind of goes against what I was taught in music school, which was that it is better to be the best at 1 one thing/genre. I’ve found that being stylistically versatile has opened a lot of doors for me, though I may not be “the best” at any one thing. Everyone is different, as is everyone’s definition of success. For me, success is being able to make the music that makes me happy and the most inspired while being able to pay my bills and have a well-rounded life.

 

  1. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

 

I wish that I had given myself permission to branch out from jazz a little earlier, and I attribute that largely to the institutional bias that jazz is the most sophisticated and therefore the best genre. That sense of musical superiority held me back from learning about other important American music not to mention musical traditions from outside of the U.S. It took me a couple years of being in NYC to readjust this value system I had been taught in music school and realize that there’s a LOT of really high quality music out there that has nothing to do with jazz. Harmonic sophistication is just one element out of so many ways that music can be rich and run deep and looking at the music world as a whole with an open mind only brought me to a greater variety of opportunities.

 

  1. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.

 

Laurie Frink’s teaching method really changed my life in terms of brass technique. I was lucky to study with her while she was still alive but I know a lot of teaching materials about her method are floating around the internet and I really recommend checking it out. It helped me play in a healthy balanced way where I was able to endure long and loud gigs without hurting or burning out my chops. Her technique made it possible for me to maintain good technique no matter what the musical situation or nature of the music, so I could go straight from a New Orleans brass band gig to playing Brazilian choro for instance without any chop readjustments.

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Five Ways to Keep Your Chops in Shape After College

This post from tubist Genevieve Blesch has some great tips on how to keep your playing up after graduating and even features a bonus Five things to cover in each practice session.

Genevieve Blesch is a freelance tuba performer and educator in the tri-state area. After spending her freshman year at The Ohio State University studying with James Akins, she received her bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s degree in tuba performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she studied with Alan Baer. Genevieve frequently performs with orchestras, quintets, school ensembles and marching/pep bands. Noteworthy clients include The Pennington School and Patriot Brass Ensemble. Genevieve teaches private and small group lessons in central New Jersey. Orchestras that Genevieve has performed with include Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonietta Nova and Gateway Classical Music Society. Outside of music, Genevieve teaches Japanese and pursues her interest in technology.

Thanks Genevieve for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!  Continue reading

Five Things I’ve Learned about Working in a Male Dominated Profession

Alia Kuhnert pic'15.jpgAlia Kuhnert began playing trumpet at age ten in her home town of San Francisco, going onto  major in trumpet at the San Francisco School of the Arts High School. Alia attended the Summer Brass Institute in ’12 and ’13. As a fellow she collaborated with Joseph Alessi, principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, Øystein Baadsvik, international tuba soloist, and Thomas Hooten, principal trumpet of Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alia is a graduate of the New England Conservatory where she majored in Trumpet Performance and performed with NEC’s Philharmonia, Wind Ensembles, Opera, Jazz and Chamber Orchestras. Committed to education, Alia teaches trumpet at the Harmony Program, a program whose mission is to reach underserved communities in New York City public schools. She is the trumpet faculty at Cazadero Music Camp in California. Her principal teachers include Catherine Murtagh, Michael Sachs, principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra, Ben Wright of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tom Siders of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Kevin Cobb of the American Brass Quintet. Alia is currently pursuing her MM and DMA in trumpet performance at Stony Brook University, studying with Kevin Cobb.

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Five Habits Musicians Should Practice Daily – Michelle Bingheim

This week’s Five Things Friday reveals a new perspective in the Brass Chicks community – featuring a post from Michelle Bingheim, a trumpet player and music therapy student, on five habits we should all practice every day.

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Michelle Bingheim is currently a senior at Western Illinois University. Michelle comes from a musical family and developed a love for music at a young age.  She began her music study with piano, but the trumpet eventually won her over.  Michelle continues to study trumpet and participate in ensembles while earning her degree in music therapy.  She enjoys performing with a variety of ensembles and has developed a special love for playing in brass ensembles/bands.  Michelle plans to become a board certified music therapist upon graduation and serve clients in a special education setting while still pursuing her love of playing trumpet. Outside of music, Michelle enjoys consuming coffee, binge-watching Netflix, spending time with her family, being active at her church, and giving back to her community.

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Interview with Bella Tromba

We are so excited to continue last month’s theme of interviews with inspiring women-led ensembles and feature the London-based trumpet quartet Bella Tromba.

Portrait shoot. East Dulwich. Sunday 5 June 2016.

Bella Tromba hold a unique position in the UK’s chamber music scene, offering a pioneering performance style and a commitment to programming outstanding brass repertoire.

Bella Tromba have presented recitals at Cheltenham Music Festival, South Bank’s Purcell Room and recorded for BBC Radio. Opening night concerts at the St David’s Cathedral Festival, Cambridge Music Festival and Wymondham Abbey Music Festival were performed to sell out audiences and they have been featured on the cover of Classical Music Magazine and Brass Herald.  Continue reading

Interview with Natalie Mannix

We are so excited to continue our September theme of celebrating inspiring teachers with our interview featuring trombonist and educator, Natalie Mannix. 

Natalie Mannix, principal trombonist of the Delaware Symphony, is an avid soloist, chamber musician, orchestral performer and educator. In fall of 2016 she began her current position as Assistant Professor of Trombone at the University of North Texas after teaching 8 years at Towson University in Baltimore. Previously, she was a member of the United States Navy Band in Washington, DC for over 9 years where she performed with the brass quintet, concert and ceremonial band.

She has appeared as guest artist and clinician at colleges and conferences throughout North America, including the 2016 and 2013 International Trombone Festival, the International Women’s Brass Conference, the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and the American Trombone Workshop. In addition to frequent performances with the Baltimore Symphony, Natalie has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Opera and Kennedy Center Orchestras, the Washington Trombone Ensemble, the Monarch Brass, Stiletto Brass and several regional orchestras and brass ensembles. A new music advocate, she has commissioned several works for trombone and continues to perform and promote music by emerging composers.  Continue reading

Five Things To Keep in Mind as a Music Student

We are very excited to feature Bri Ihasz – a french horn student with some great things for all of us to keep in mind about music.

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Bri Ihasz is currently a junior studying Horn Performance and the University of Michigan. The daughter of two musicians, Ihasz grew up surrounded by music in a small town south of Buffalo, NY. She absolutely loves the Michigan School of Music, but she’s also involved in other activities, such as being a part of the marketing team for a local independent record label and being a sister of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. She hopes to one day move to LA and either find work playing in lab orchestras or working for record labels.

Thanks, Bri, for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!

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Denise Tryon interview

In honor of school starting up again, throughout September we will be featuring interviews with inspiring teachers of the women’s brass community. We are so excited to present Denise Tryon as our first interview of the month. Thanks again Denise for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!

A native of Roseville, MN, Denise Tryon joined The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2009 as fourth horn. Previously the fourth horn of the Detroit Symphony (2003-2009), she has also held positions with the Baltimore (2000-2003), Columbus (1998-2000), and New World (1995-1998) Symphonies and has participated in the Colorado Music Festival and the Pacific Music Festival. An accomplished solo performer, Tryon has performed recitals in Sweden, Norway, Poland, Japan, and the United States.

“Denise Tryon’s command of the lower register provides the strongest foundation of sound for a horn section, and yet, her sound is supple and flexible.”
—Yannick Nezet-Sequin, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra

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5 resources for audition season – Kate Amrine 9/1

We are approaching the beginning of the semester and the beginning of the freelancing season! I hope you have all had a great summer and are now gearing up for something exciting this year. Maybe that might include an audition! Here are five resources that might be helpful to you this year and beyond throughout your audition path – whether it is a school placement audition or your first orchestral audition.

1. Bulletproof MusicianI know this website has been mentioned before on Brass Chicks but Noa Kageyama does a great job at outlining many helpful tips related to performance anxiety, music, and mindset. This article includes tips for future auditions related to your preparation beforehand.

2. Audition Hacker – This is a great website that addresses many aspects of audition preparation – from practicing tips to concerns about what happens during the audition. Check out the articles here.

3. Crushing Classical Podcast featuring Denise Tryon – Denise Tryon (former Fourth Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra) is a master of the low horn and orchestra auditions. This interview describes her audition path and includes several helpful tips! Denise Tryon also runs an audition workshop to help students prepare with mock auditions, masterclasses, lectures and more. Check that out also!

4. Angela Beeching’s blog. Angela’s blog is so incredibly helpful on a wide range of topics including performing, speaking, marketing, and networking. Since the earlier points in this post are more about the physical aspects of playing and how/what to prepare, I knew a post on how to boost productivity would be super helpful to make sure we all stay on track in our preparation.

5. Find out what it’s like on the other side of the table — the panel! If you know someone in the organization, you might be able to find out an extra tip or two about what they could be looking for. Set up a mock audition with friends and alternate who is on the panel taking notes. You will learn SO much from being on the other side of it. Here’s a very interesting interview featuring Maxine Kwok-Adams – 1st violinist (I know, I know…this is Brass Chicks) in the London Symphony Orchestra. This interview with Maxine describes what it is like from her point of view on the panel – everything from what they may be looking for, common mistakes, and other tips.

Happy practicing and audition preparation 🙂 Got any other good audition tips? Reach out to us on our Facebook page and let us know. We would love to hear from you!