Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Summer music camp is a high note for brass players

DU is going heavy metal this week, as the annual Rafael Mendez Brass Institute takes over the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

In its third year at DU — and 25th overall — the weeklong Mendez Institute welcomes horn players from all over the country to study with 20 of the world’s top brass performers.

“It’s the type of faculty that comes together for one week that you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says DU trumpet professor and conference director Al Hood. “We have the principal bass trombone from the Los Angeles Philharmonic; we have the principal trombone of the Utah Symphony; we have members of the St. Louis Brass Quintet — they’re all coming with certain expertise you just can’t get unless you travel to go see them and specifically study with them.”

This year’s conference — which runs from July 12 to July 18 — includes 160 students ranging in age from 16 to 62 who’ve come from as far away as Brazil and Alaska to study tuba, trombone, trumpet, euphonium, horn and more.

In the mornings, students take instrument-specific master classes and career seminars that cover everything from auditioning techniques to conquering stage fright.

“They have the top-notch brass players in America out here teaching us anything we want to know,” says 19-year-old Judge Kelly, a trumpet player from the University of South Carolina. “They have these panels where they ask us, ‘What do you want to know?’ and anybody out of the 150 people here can ask whatever we want. We’ve all gotten great answers.”

In the afternoons, students break into ensembles and rehearse for concerts taking place Friday and Saturday in the Newman Center.

“They’re really honing in on it during those rehearsal times then practicing their music outside of that and getting it together in a short time, which is actually very realistic if you’re a professional musician,” Hood says.

The weekend’s student concerts are free and open to the public, as is Wednesday’s faculty recital and a Thursday concert by the Denver Municipal Band. The Summit Brass, an ensemble made up of faculty members, gives a ticketed finale performance Saturday night in Gates Hall.

Originally known as the Keystone Brass Institute and located in Keystone, Colo., the Mendez Institute is now named in honor of trumpeter Rafael Mendez, who played with Rudy Vallee, Xavier Cugat and others in the 1940s and 1950s. Mendez’s twin sons, Robert and Rafael, provide tuition scholarships to all students.

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