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Q-and-A with alumnus Jonathan Reycraft, who returns to IU with Trombones of St. Louis Symphony

Nov. 4 schedule includes Prebys Amphitheater performance, Jacobs School of Music masterclass

Nov 3, 2020

Jonathan Reycraft, who graduated from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 1998, will return to campus Nov. 4 to perform and teach.

Reycraft is the utility trombone with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the chamber ensemble Trombones of the St. Louis Symphony. Previously he performed as assistant principal trombone for the United States Naval Academy Band.

Jonathan Reycraft
Jonathan Reycraft.Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

The Trombones of the St. Louis Symphony will perform at 3:30 p.m. at Prebys Amphitheater on the Bloomington campus. This free performance is open to IU students, faculty and staff. Tickets are not required, but guests will be asked to register upon arrival.

Reycraft answered questions about his skill and history, his memories of IU, and the Nov. 4 performance and masterclass.

Question: What is the utility trombone position?

Answer: My predecessor had played second trombone, but it was decided the trombone section wanted more flexibility. The chair became more of a low brass position. I now play second trombone and bass trombone parts.

Q: What attracted you to playing trombone?

A: It started with me being connected to the first instrument I played, the violin. I was a violinist until age 7. I think the similarities between violin and trombone, how to move the bow and the slide to achieve the notes, was part of the connection.

I had wanted to play trumpet, but I needed braces, and trumpet wasn’t the best option. I settled on the baritone horn, and I started writing valve combinations and playing by ear. Trombone came quite a bit later, at the end of middle school, and it was because I wanted to fit into a jazz band.

Q: What makes trombone enjoyable to perform?

A: The trombone has the potential for a vocal sound, and that vocal nature of a quartet is one of the reasons trombone quartets historically have been used to support voices. It’s a lyrical instrument, even though it isn’t always used that way.

Q: The Trombones of the St. Louis Symphony arranges and commissions music to build the repertoire for the quartet ensemble. What key attributes make it trombone music?

A: More recently, we’ve had pieces that are sonically drawn out; they aren’t busy kinds of pieces. At the same time, we’ve performed Tim Myers’ “Alarum,” which is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells”; Tim is also the SLSO’s principal trombone. It’s non-stop for four-and-a-half-minutes. So, we perform both ends of the spectrum.

Q: What are some pieces that will be performed on Nov. 4?

A: We’ll perform St. Louis composer Kim Portnoy’s “Le Tombeau de Justin Wilson,” a light, short homage to a Cajun chef who was big in the 1970s and 1980s. He had a catchphrase, “I guarantee.” It’s a three-movement piece good for a variety of occasions.

We’ll also perform a piece that we premiered in February, prior to the pandemic, by Carrie Magin called “Tale Teller.” I think it’s very effective and works well by establishing immediate drama from the outset.

Q: What are your thoughts on returning to IU? What memories do you have?

A: The strongest memory I have is the camaraderie during my first few years at IU, across the different degree specialties from people studying at the bachelor’s and master’s level. I was an eager person, and still am, so I was generally eager to get some opportunities. I made the change from a music education major and was shaped a lot by the broad spectrum of people in the different studios at that time. And yes, I look forward to returning for the food, to get back to Mother Bear’s Pizza.

Q: What will you enjoy about the masterclasses you’ll be teaching to Jacobs School of Music students?

A: I’ve kept up a little bit with the IU trombone studio. Almost all the professors have changed since my time. It’ll be interesting to see, compared to the experience of being in school in the 1990s, how the approach to instruction is the same and different. My colleague Gerry Pagano and I will do the in-person classes.

I’ve kept manuscript books with exercises that I’ve done, as well as counterparts to those exercises. During this time of dormancy during the pandemic, I recorded the exercises using the Acapella app and putting them on Finale. And now there are minute-long versions of these duet warmup counterparts that time has afforded me to get organized. I look forward to sharing those in the masterclass.

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