When Temple’s director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies began playing music as a child, he was not particularly enthused.
“I was awful on viola,” professor Terell Stafford said.
Stafford stumbled upon what would soon be his passion when he realized his interest and admiration for the trumpet sitting temptingly in his grandparents’ home.
“I loved the way it looked and I loved the way it sounded,” Stafford said. “I was always fascinated with how you could get so many notes out of only three valves. I was addicted to it.”
When Stafford began lessons at age 13 – later than most of his fellow trumpeters – he focused primarily on classical pieces throughout high school and college. Eventually, Stafford was drawn into a strange and different dialect of trumpet music when he had to perform a piece using improvisation. For a musician so used to playing in a structured, exact manner, he said improvising wasn’t easy.
Less than two weeks ago, Stafford represented the music scene of Temple by hosting the “Philadelphia Music Maker’s Program” on WRTI, Philly’s classical and jazz radio station.
With a colleague and close friend, Bruce Barth, Stafford performed several pieces that he felt represented important aspects of his life. On a whim, Barth and Stafford composed and performed a piece “on the spot”– an affirmation that Stafford no longer fears the task of improvisation.
“We didn’t know what song we should play, so we just made one up,” Stafford said. “It was probably more fun than anything we played in the session. I thought I could buy a book and just learn things out of a book and that would help me to improvise, but when I got in front of jazz musicians, they harshly reminded me that that’s not how you do it.”
Comprised of trumpeters, singers, harpists and pianists, the Philadelphia Music Makers program on WRTI aims to educate, entertain and inspire the public through the showcasing of these talented artists who currently reside in Philly.
The episode series airs on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. on 90.1 FM and allows musicians to tell their stories before performing several pieces. Depending on who is hosting the show, the playlist ranges from classical opera by Mozart to the warm, widely performed jazz piece, “Autumn Leaves.”
Stafford moved to Philadelphia to work in jazz duets and quintets, and soon he found himself playing the same jazz music that he’d once found so difficult for Bill Cosby’s television show, “You Bet Your Life.” Motivated by his new career path and pleased by the sights and sounds of Philadelphia, Stafford did not want to travel too far from his new home.
“And then Temple came up,” Stafford said.
Jessica Lennick, a freelance soprano opera singer and member of the program, had to search for her path as well.
“I originally went to college for drama,” Lennick said. “I thought I was going to be a serious theater actor. It did not suit me.”
After a year, Lennick left school and returned home, unsure of what her future held, until her mother convinced her to audition for West Chester University’s music program. Lennick had been singing for enjoyment since the eighth grade, when her music teacher discovered that she had an impressive, four-octave vocal range, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to make a career out of it – until she tried it.
“All of the sudden it was like ‘Of course this is what I was supposed to be doing with my life,’” said Lennick.
After graduating from West Chester and receiving her Master’s degree in Maryland, Lennick was searching for a new home when she acquired an apprenticeship in a Center City opera theater. She jumped at the opportunity to move to Philadelphia and soon became involved in numerous local companies, like the Concert Operetta Theater of Philadelphia.
“In Philadelphia it seems like at every level of experience there is a place for you to be. And there’s so many people creating great music,” Lennick said.
When Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal harpist, Elizabeth Hainen, got to skip school as a young girl to see her father play violin in “The Nutcracker,” she sat by the orchestra pit and obediently watched the ballerinas dancing, until she heard a sound that would change her life completely.
“And I looked down and it was a harpist playing and I really hardly took my eyes off of her, every entrance she played I was just looking at her and not the dancers anymore,” Hainen said.
She soon started lessons, and like Stafford with the trumpet, was hooked.
“I had been playing piano and violin up until that point so I was studying music but really was the harp that captivated me,” Hainen said.
She’d been performing in world-class venues like the Kennedy Center and was about to join the Atlanta Symphony when she found out that she’d gotten into the Philadelphia Orchestra among hundreds of other harpists who’d auditioned.
“It’s the orchestra that chooses you,” Hainen said. “And the city comes with it.”
George Fu, another artist and pianist with the “Philadelphia Music Maker’s Program” was drawn to Philadelphia after being accepted into the Curtis Institute’s music program – an establishment that has been referred to as one of the best in the world.
“The program is an interesting chance for listeners to get to know the musicians in the city,” Fu said. “Philly has a great classical music scene – any city would be proud to have institutions like Curtis, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.”
“Philadelphia is a great place for young musicians,” he added. “It has a world-class art and music scene, a vibrant culture, fun things to do and a lot of food. These are all important things for inspiration, because you have to live a little to make good art.”
Angela Gervasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org