The motto of Atlanta’s Stephenson High School is “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This weekend, a longtime dream of the members of the school’s trombone choir and an Eastman trombone professor will come true. The Morris Trombone Institute, made up of students from different schools in the Metro Atlanta area (including Stephenson) and Dr. Calvin Morris’ students at Morehouse College, visits Eastman for a master class and a concert on November 20 and 21.
The current makeup of the trombone choir is seven students from Stephenson, two from Stephenson Middle School, two from Morehouse College, and one each from McNair and Duluth High Schools.
It sounds like a natural match up, but it took four years to come together. In March 2018, Eastman trombone professor Larry Zalkind attended the Music for All National Festival in Indianapolis, where he was a clinician. He recalls, “I heard this great student trombone choir from the Atlanta area. I was shocked by how they sounded considering their age. I led them on a few tunes and the kids were correcting my conducting mistakes because they’re that good!”
Zalkind immediately decided that this “one of a kind” group was definitely good enough to invite to Eastman. He made arrangements with Quentin Goins and Dr. Calvin Morris Jr., the ensemble’s directors, and the young musicians to visit Eastman in the spring of 2020 – just before both schools shut down completely during the different stages of the COVID pandemic.
When it was eventually rescheduled, previous sources of funding were no longer available, so Zalkind, in his words, “started knocking on doors to make it happen.” He received some financing from the Admissions Office, then a grant from Eastman’s Equity and Inclusion Committee. “The momentum picked up,” he says, and several more departments contributed to reach the necessary amount. “Funding begets funding!”
The students leave Atlanta at 5 p.m. this Friday on a Greyhound bus, arriving at 9 a.m. on Saturday: the beginning of a busy schedule here. On Sunday they’ll occupy Kilbourn Hall all day, for a master class with professors Larry Zalkind and Mark Kellogg in the morning (open to the public; see below) and a three-hour rehearsal in the afternoon. Their hard work that day will be rewarded with a taste of Rochester: garbage plates for dinner!
Monday morning the students will tour the school, and Monday afternoon they will be guests at sessions of the IML and MTL. The concert will be on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m., also in Kilbourn Hall – a varied program in which the groups will alternate, then unite for the finale, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.”
Zalkind wants the Atlanta students to show their stuff during their visit, but he also wants to foster relationships between them and Eastman students, starting with a pizza party on Saturday. He recalls growing up as a talented young musician in a poor household. Scholarships and other kinds of help enabled him to attend conferences and clinics. “Those scholarships are not as readily available to kids today,” he says, and he is glad Eastman is willing to support young and disadvantaged musicians.
“We are excited about our visit to the Eastman School of Music,” says Stephenson’s Director of Bands Quentin R. Goins. “The persistence of Professor Larry Zalkind has been amazing. The growth from the MFA National Festival propelled our students mentally into another realm of musical possibilities. With all of the students in the 2018 choir that gained the first experience with Professor Zalkind now high school graduates, we have an all-new group of trombonists that have kept the trajectory moving upward.
“Dr. Calvin L. Morris is the trombone pedagogue that has planted the seeds of inspiration, watered, and nurtured these young trombonists. He has a ‘no excuses’ approach to musical achievement and that will be on display as we visit.
“We thank Professor Zalkind and those that have supported his vision for us to visit Rochester, New York. It will be a great experience for our students.”
Eastman Trombone Choir and Morris Trombone Institute
Sunday, November 20
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Monday, November 21
Larry Zalkind, Tyler Ricks, Ben Jorge, Quentin Goins, Calvin Morris, conductors
Music of J.S. Bach, Lauridsen, Piazzolla, Wagner, Sondheim, and others