University trombonist wins first place, receives $3,000 at national competition in Albuquerque

Max Filby and Max Filby

Senior trombonist John Gruber almost never got the chance to compete at the national level.

However, a last-minute rehearsal with Laura Melton, associate professor and temporary accompanist, allowed Gruber to advance to the final round of the National Young Artists Competition, where he secured a first place honor and a $3,000 grand prize.

“I was the only education major competing,” Gruber said. “It’s nice for teachers to be able to show that we can perform too.”

Gruber and his current accompanist, Sara Young, won the National Young Artists Competition presented by the Music Teachers National Association in Albuquerque, N.M. on March 22. Along with his cash prize, Gruber was also honored by performing his repertoire at the winner’s concert on March 23.

Gruber and Young had close to a month to prepare for the third round of the national competition. Gruber met Young in rehearsals while collaborating with Gruber’s roommate, Joel Trisel, Young said.

For the final round, Gruber and Young prepared five selections from the baroque, modern and classical periods, according to a University document. Gruber performed his songs in a 40-minute session in front of a panel of judges including members of the New Mexico Symphony.

Before qualifying for the national competition, Gruber progressed through two preliminary rounds, the first in Cleveland in October, and the second in Wisconsin in January. Prior to competing in the NYAC, Gruber had competed in the Akron Tuesday Music Festival as a sophomore.

When Gruber first picked up a trombone in the fifth grade, he wanted to be a pilot and had never considered majoring in instrumental music education.

“I chose to play the trombone because it had no buttons and looked like the easiest instrument to play,” Gruber said.

Gruber began taking private trombone lessons in the eighth grade and started working with Dr. William Mathis, professor of music performance studies, in high school.

“John played in the University’s trombone choir when he was a junior in high school,” Mathis said. “We started working together through weekly lessons.”

Gruber has been involved in the University marching band, Jazz Lab 1, the wind symphony and the men’s chorus during the past four years.

Being a music education major, Gruber is required to learn how to play every musical instrument to a minimal extent. Gruber hopes to be a public school music teacher in Ohio.

“I figured out in high school that I wanted to go into music,” Gruber said, “I want to help young people find something important as a form of self expression.”

Gruber will be performing in his senior recital on April 24 at 6 p.m. in the Moore Musical Arts Center.