Cole Bartels ’17, Moorhead
Major: Trombone Performance (Bachelor of Music)

Tell us about what you do.

This fall, I began work toward completing a Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree in trombone performance. The program includes everything from taking academic classes in music theory and musicology, trombone lessons with my professor Mark Hetzler, playing in various ensembles, performing several recitals, and LOTS of hours spent practicing. Oh, and writing a dissertation as well.

As a graduate teaching assistant, my duties include teaching a low brass fundamentals course for undergraduate music education students, teaching applied trombone lessons, coaching chamber ensembles, conducting the low brass ensemble, and assisting with administrative tasks. Working as a TA comes with lots of perks! Mainly getting paid to complete a graduate degree, but I also consider having my own office to be a huge bonus.

As a freelance musician, I play all sorts of different gigs, as well as teach lessons to middle school and high school students. I feel comfortable playing all styles of music, so one night I could be playing with a jazz big band at a bar, the next night playing with a symphony orchestra, and then be playing in a church the following morning.

What is the best part of your job?

In my opinion, the best part of being a musician is the wide variety of things we get to do, and all of the people we get to meet. I find the teaching aspect of my career to be the most rewarding. Helping students get to the next level and achieve their goals is something I love to do. Not to mention, teaching trombone makes me better as a musician myself.

What skills are necessary for success in your industry?

Obviously, musical ability is necessary. No one wants to hire someone that can’t play in time, in tune, or with a good sound. However, that is just a fraction of what is necessary to be successful.

Musicians have to be great marketers. I think of it like I am selling a product. It’s impossible to get gigs and students if no one knows who you are. Establishing relationships with other freelancers, area band directors, church music directors, etc., is critically important, and those relationships need to be maintained once they are established.

Another aspect of career success is personality and likability. If you rub someone the wrong way, they aren’t going to want to hire you back again. You don’t have to agree on every little thing, be it politics, religion, or whatever, but you do need to be a nice person that people enjoy being around.

What was your favorite performance opportunity at Concordia?

It’s hard to pick one specific opportunity, given that Concordia has so many unique performance opportunities. If I had to pick just one, I would say going on tour with the orchestra and the band each year. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to perform a full week of concerts on the road each semester, but it also allowed us to set aside everything else in our busy lives and really devote ourselves to each other, the music, and our audiences.

How did you decide to become a music major? 

I initially started pursuing a music major because I thought I wanted to share my love of music through teaching grade school. During my freshman year, I realized that I was actually interested in sharing my love of trombone with others through performing and teaching the instrument and that I didn’t want to spend my career directing a middle school or high school band. At that time, I changed to a performance major, and ever since I have been focused on becoming the best performer and teacher I can possibly be.

What do you wish you knew in college that you know now?

When I was an undergrad, I had a fairly pessimistic impression of what life would be like as a professional musician. Now that I am a few years removed and working through grad school, my outlook on the state of the field is much more positive. There is a lot of work out there – you just have to find it.

How did Concordia prepare you for your current work?

My trombone professors at Concordia, Dr. Nat Dickey and Dr. Ed Huttlin, prepared me so well to begin working as a freelancer and to gain admission into graduate programs. Their teaching and guidance helped me earn a TA position at the University of Tennessee, where I completed a Master of Music degree in trombone performance and a graduate certificate in music theory pedagogy. My time at UT, studying with Dr. Alex van Duuren, then helped me get to my current position as a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin. I would not be where I am now without my formative years at Concordia.

I should also mention that the academic faculty in the Concordia music department do a wonderful job putting their students through a rigorous curriculum of theory and musicology coursework. I am amazed at the breadth of knowledge I gained in undergrad compared to what many of my fellow graduate students received in their bachelor’s degrees.

Published September 2019