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Have Trumpet, Will Travel

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September 7, 2005

When Steven Levitin wanted to find a trumpet teacher for his daughter Rachel, then a junior in high school, he decided to call Northwestern’s School of Music to see if any advanced-level graduate students might be interested in the job.

Contacting Northwestern was a logical step, he said, because the University is well known for having a quality music school.  And, he reasoned, students studying music at the graduate level at any major university are usually interested in earning a little extra money by playing in the community and/or giving lessons.

“I was referred to someone in the department who literally had a rolodex of students,” Levitin said. “I told them I had a daughter in high school who played a lot of jazz music and was planning to study music in college. I also asked for a more experienced teacher.”

Dorothy Wyandt, who runs the School of Music’s Musician Referral Service, suggested he call Amy McCabe, a graduate student studying trumpet.

That was two years ago. Levitin said he is more than satisfied with the referral. Not only has McCabe been a wonderful teacher, he said, she has also been an inspiration to his daughter.

“Rachel now aspires to hit a high F or a high G like Amy can,” he said. “She’s a much better trumpet player all the way around because of this experience.”

Each year, Wyandt said she receives about 1,000-1,500 calls for referrals from people in the Chicagoland area who are looking for an individual or group to perform. The requests vary from couples wanting an ensemble to play in their wedding to parents looking for music teachers to church music directors needing an instrumentalist for a Sunday service.  Students also play for private parties, receptions, funerals, musical productions and corporate receptions.

“We get loads of calls from churches,” Wyandt said. “We could have a trumpet studio for 150, and we could get them all a job for Easter.”

So far, Wyandt has about 250-260 music students and young alumni in her rolodex. Before she will refer them to someone in the community, she asks them a series of questions about their interests and talents.  She also asks that they get a recommendation from a music faculty member and counsels them on making a good impression, dressing appropriately, writing contracts and keeping records, among other things.

Generally, Wyandt said, she gives callers the names of three people to contact, if possible, but she emphasizes that her program is just a referral service. She does not schedule performances or negotiate fees.

Most of the students and young alumni see this service as a way to get experience and make some money while they are studying or auditioning for different positions, Wyandt said.

Amy McCabe signed up with the service in the fall of 2003 because she thought it would help her make some contacts in the community. It did. In addition to teaching trumpet lessons, she has also played in a lot of weddings and church services. She has even played for a high school madrigal dinner. 

It is not unusual, she said, for her clients to call her back. A church in Downers Grove asked her to play at a Christmas service, and the music director continues to call her to play for other services and various weddings, McCabe said.

Lillian Wang is a third-year graduate student at the School of Music and a violinist. She and the members of her string quartet, Virago, often get calls to play for weddings in the area. After they settle on a date, Wang, the group’s coordinator, sends the clients a brochure, a CD of the group’s work and a contract. When the contract is signed, Wang and her group help the clients determine what kind of music they might like at their wedding.

“The clients are pretty impressed with how professional we are,” said Wang who has received numerous thank you notes from her clients. 

In her 28 years of referring students, Wyandt said, she has received only a handful of complaints and only about logistical issues. “Generally, people really like our students,” she continued. “I get many call backs.” 

Sandra Groseclose, the director of catering and social events for the Westmoreland Country Club, is a repeat customer.  She hires several students each year to sing at a series of candlelight dinners during the month of December. The students go from table to table caroling to the members and their guests.  Often, the members, many of whom are Northwestern alumni, choose to come when the Northwestern students are performing.

Groseclose has also hired the students for other Westmoreland parties.  She says the students are reliable and professional.

“I will definitely continue hiring them in the future,” she said.

Anyone interested in more information on the Musician Referral Service can call Wyandt at 847/491-7485 or email her at d-wyandt@northwestern.edu

Topics: University