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Student Profile: Ethan Bensdorf

November 14, 2006 | by Stephen Anzaldi

School of Music senior Ethan Bensdorf won First Prize in the 2006 Armando Ghitalla Trumpet Competition, a national competition sponsored by the Armando Ghitalla Foundation.

Bensdorf, who grew up in Evanston, was selected from among more than 100 trumpeters. He received a $7,500 cash award -- one of the largest prizes available to trumpeters -- and a guest appearance with the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts.

At Northwestern, Bensdorf is one of 22 trumpeters who studies with Professors Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, as well as Christopher Martin, who is principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO).

Bensdorf has been a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, performing as principal trumpeter under James Levine and was for two years a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the training orchestra for the CSO. In 2005, he was one of four students selected by Northwestern to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

How did you come to play the trumpet?

When I was 10 years old, I went to the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in northern Michigan. My mother and sister (who is now a professional oboist) had attended before me. I returned for seven summers, but at first I didn't play anything. That first year, I took an instrument exploration class and tried a different instrument each day. My trumpet instructor told me I had a natural talent for it. I taught myself how to play "Tequila."

Why did you choose Northwestern?

The reputation of the teachers here is extraordinary. Northwestern students have been winning all the major orchestral jobs. Barbara Butler is my trumpet mom. She's always there for me, very nurturing and willing to help out. And her students are her main priority, which isn't the case everywhere.

What kinds of non-music courses are you taking?

I've taken a class in writing about children in the Holocaust. I went to a conservative Jewish day school for nine years, and I've always been fascinated with the subject. I'm taking another class this year on race and gender and the Holocaust.

What do you plan to do when you graduate in June?

I'm going to take a year off and move to Chicago. I'll take auditions as they come up and make money gigging, just to sort of test the waters.

Do you have any interesting gigs lined up?

I played recently with Sufjan Stevens, the indie rock musician from Detroit. And I'm playing next month with the Temptations in Waukegan. I've also had calls to play in the CSO's contemporary music series.

How did the Temptations gig come about?

Their trombone player, Jeff Merriman, also went to Northwestern. He called and asked if I could play with them.

How would you try to convince a child to take up music?

I actually did some work in high school out of the Merit School of Music, which is dedicated to providing music education to children of low-income families. I made a movie for third- and fourth-graders about all of the different brass instruments. I tried to show how much fun these instruments are because I feel like fun is a key to learning.

What will you do with the money from the Ghitalla prize?

I'll use it for tuition and to fund audition trips around the country.

Are there many classical music fans among people of your generation?

Unfortunately, I don't think most people my age are really into classical music. I'd say they don't mind it, but certainly not enough people actually go out and support the orchestras.

Do you have any ideas about the future of music?

Not really, but I've seen this robot online that plays the trumpet. I don't know much about it, just that it exists and it's scary.

Topics: University News, People