James Markey on his career in music
Like many of his fellow orchestra members, James Markey attended the renowned Julliard School of Music; unlike many of them, he did not complete his studies because he was awarded the position of principal trombonist with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the end of his sophomore year. After two years with Pittsburgh, he joined the New York Philharmonic. For the past four years, he has been the Philharmonic's associate principal trombonist.
CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com symphonic music careers chat series, James Markey. We are very pleased to have you with us today.
James Markey: Thank you very much. I'd like to thank you all for attending this chat session, and I'm looking forward to answering all your questions.
CNN Moderator: Is it true that different brass instruments attract different personalities in their players?
James Markey: That's a very good question! I think it attracts certain players, but I think that as players study the instruments, it brings out various areas of their personality. Now, trumpet players may pick up the trumpet because it sounds very brash, but after playing it they discover various areas of the instrument that fit their personality. Dealing with orchestral solos can bring out more assertive qualities in a person's character. As for trombone players, there are solo passages in the orchestra area that are limited. A lot of the work we do is with the rest of the section, so perhaps it brings out a more laid-back quality in the player. Also, working with the section brings out a real spirit of camaraderie. It's not unusual for the trombone players to visit with the trombone players of a visiting orchestra, for instance, after a performance.
From the chat room: How often do you get to work since you are the assistant principal to Joe Alessi?
James Markey: I work a good bit. My job is pretty diverse in that I'm called on to play not only first on many of the smaller pieces, but I'm called on to play euphonium, bass trumpet, bass trombone and second trombone as necessary in order to give relief to those players.
From the chat room: Do you give private lessons? If you do, what is the first thing you talk about with a new student?
James Markey: To answer the first part, I do give private lessons. As far as what I first talk about with a student, I usually listen to them play for five or ten minutes, then we discuss the individual issues that the student is dealing with. I also try to talk about how to strengthen what they're already strong in.
From the chat room: What piece of music best showcases the trombones?
James Markey: Mahlerís third symphony probably has the most extensive trombone solos of the entire orchestral repertoire. However, there are other solos; Ravel's Bolero is one, Sibeliusí Seventh Symphony is another, just to name a few.
From the chat room: My teacher tells me that I take in air very well, but have trouble putting it through the trombone. What exercises do you suggest?
James Markey: As far as putting air through the trombone, I think first you need to make sure that the aperture is relaxed and open inside the rim of the mouthpiece. Secondly, just blow!
From the chat room: How do you balance your hectic orchestral schedule with teaching?
James Markey: Well, the orchestral schedule occupies mostly my morning and evening schedule, leaving time in the middle of the day for teaching. Of course, balance is a problem for everyone, no matter what they do. Between family, job, and other obligations, it can be difficult. However, when you prioritize, it makes things much easier. My priority is always to my family over private teaching.
From the chat room: Do you feel that it is necessary for tenor trombone players to able to double on bass trombone?
James Markey: I feel that's a very good skill to have. Is it essential? No. However, is it useful? Yes, I think tenor trombone players can find it quite useful. For myself, I do it more because it's fun.
From the chat room: Who were your influential teachers? How did they help you develop at such a young age?
James Markey: The first teacher I ever had was my uncle, Robert Demmert, who started me on piano, and later continued with organ instruction. As far as trombone playing, I began in the public schools. My first teacher, Gene Bartz, followed by my high school band director and mentor Lucian Costanzo, were very influential. Following that, there was Mr. Gary Quam, who was my first private trombone teacher, and finally, my wonderful colleague and mentor, Joseph Alessi. I really found my instruction with Mr. Alessi to give me the skills I needed to play in an orchestra, as well as helping nurture my maturation. Those are just to name a few.
CNN Moderator: What does it take physically to play trombone well?
James Markey: To play trombone well, I think more than anything does, it requires you to be totally natural. Certainly, a large lung capacity helps; however, it's not a necessity. Your arm needs to be long enough to reach all the positions, which usually is not a problem with most adults. Basically, physically you just need to be a full-grown adult. :-)
From the chat room: Do you know of any improvising trombonists? I believe there's one -- Lindbergh, is it? Do you improvise? Are there ever any spots in the orchestra repertoire where you have to improvise?
James Markey: There are, very occasionally, places in the orchestra where we are called to improvise, but we find that most often with crossover pieces, so to speak. For example, if the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra does a concert with the Philharmonic, there may be an improvised trumpet solo or trombone solo. However, the vast majority of our orchestral playing is playing what's on the page, but making good sense of it and bringing our own personal approach to it. As far as improvising as a general task, I think it's important that all trombone players have the ability to improvise, because it encourages the creative process, and goes beyond playing what's simply on the page.
From the chat room: Joe has said that he's amazed at your ability to memorize solo works for recital. What have you done to develop that, and how do you approach a piece for recital that you plan to memorize?
James Markey: As far as memorization goes, I begin by trying to hear the piece first, finding a recording, or hearing someone else play it, helps get in my mind the general flow of the piece. Once I have it in my head, I then begin looking at the music. I find that looking at the music bolsters what I've already listened to and the piece makes more sense. However, in the event that I'm studying a piece for which there is no recording, I usually make a recording myself with my accompanist, and then listen to that several times to get it in my ear.
From the chat room: You mention in your interview that you practice about two hours a day now. Was there ever a point in your development that you had to practice more?
James Markey: Absolutely! When I was in college, I practiced a minimum of three, generally speaking, a maximum of five hours a day. However, I find that when you practice that much, it really beefs up your face! In order to maintain an orchestral job, one needs to be fresh and feel fresh. The only way one can accomplish that, I think, is to practice as much as you need and as little as you can. For me, I find that's about two hours.
From the chat room: How important is the study of theory, history, etc. to the overall development of a trombonist?
James Markey: I think it is very important. A thorough knowledge of music theory really tremendously helps the memorization process, and a thorough knowledge of music history allows one to choose effective approaches toward various solos, and orchestral repertoire.
From the chat room: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
James Markey: In my spare time, I really enjoy baking and playing bridge. I would enjoy woodworking if I didn't live in a New York City apartment! And yes, the knitting is true. :)
From the chat room: How satisfying is it to play someone elseís music for a living as opposed to creating your own?
James Markey: I find it very satisfying to play someone else's music. To me, I find it very much like acting. Even though I may not be writing the script, Iím not just reading the words off the page, but actually becoming the character. I think it's very much the same way with music. When I see the notes on the page, I really try to become the music, so to speak. I do like to do a bit of arranging, but I haven't gotten up the nerve to do composing yet. :-)
From the chat room: What pieces do you most enjoy playing?
James Markey: I probably most enjoy playing Brahms symphonies, Burckner symphonies, really, anything that makes use of the trombone effectively, especially in chorale type settings. Burckner was a real genius at creating beautiful lines for the instruments within his chord structure.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
James Markey: Music is a real gift that we have, that God has given us. What's most important is that we remember to enjoy it, because that's what it's here for. When one is studying, oftentimes one can get caught up in elements of their instrument, but it's important to not miss the forest for the trees.
CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, James Markey.
James Markey: Thank you so much for having me! It's been my pleasure.
CNN Moderator: James Markey joined the chat room from New York City; CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat which took place on Friday, April 6, at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
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