HATTIESBURG, Miss.—A 9-year-old Vinnie Ciesielski sits with his brass trumpet in his lap, sheet music for a duet and two tape recorders—their cassettes reeled and ready to record—perched on the music stand in front of him. Pressing the red record button, Ciesielski brings his instrument to his lips, starting the first part of the arrangement. Afterward, he pauses the first device and initiates the second before playing the other half of the duet along to his own accompaniment.
Able to listen to himself perform both roles of the duet at once, Ciesielski then improvises his own melodies over the two recordings, transforming the song into a trumpet trio.
“I was kind of doing multi-track recording when I was just 9 years old. I just didn’t know what I was doing at the time,” Ciesielski, now an award-winning commercial trumpeter, recalls. “I’ve known that I wanted to go into recording ever since.”
Ciesielski’s early interest in recording would evolve into a prolific career. To date, he has worked on more than “6,000 recording sessions, 50 Grammy-nominated and 25 Grammy-winning recordings, and dozens of Stellar and Dove Award-nominated and winning recordings.”
This weekend, the musician will travel to the University of Southern Mississippi, where he will headline the 2023 Southern Miss Trumpet Festival alongside two other world-renowned trumpeters, Alex Freund and USM’s own TJ Tesh. Each of these musicians will lead masterclasses throughout the day and then perform in the festival’s concluding concerts taking place in Marsh Auditorium.
‘A Musical Chameleon’
The Southern Miss Trumpet Festival is an annual event, this year on April 22, 2023, at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Marsh Auditorium. One of its lead organizers and featured performers, Dr. TJ Tesh, describes the event as “a chance to be a pure trumpet geek.” The all-day festival features trumpet masterclasses, ensembles and exhibitions culminating in an evening concert that is open to the public.
TJ Tesh is the assistant professor of trumpet at the University of Southern Mississippi and a primary organizer of the 2023 Trumpet Festival. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Mars Hill College and went on to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California, but his time there was short-lived.
After two years of study at USC, Tesh took to the road to launch his long and successful career as a freelance musician, performing with legendary artists such as Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole and Quincy Jones, among others. He even served as the principal trumpet in Mel Brooks’ hit Broadway musical, “The Producers,” which won a Tony Award.
“I’ve worked long enough as a freelance musician in Los Angeles to know that you better be able to play everything if you want to be able to make it in the industry,” Tesh told the Mississippi Free Press. Tesh refers to this versatility as being a “musical chameleon,” a spirit that Tesh hopes to bring to the Southern Miss Trumpet Festival as well.
“I try to make these things more well-rounded than a strictly classical or strictly jazz festival,” he added. “So, from the beginning, I’ve tried to get the most diverse performers possible.”
Vinnie Ciesielski is a professional trumpet player based in Nashville, Tenn. The Baltimore, Md., native attended Towson University and moved to Nashville in 1992, where he has since recorded and performed with many popular musicians across several genres including Lyle Lovett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen and Aretha Franklin.
One of his favorite memories across his career is when he worked with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. “When I was a kid, if someone told me I would eventually play with the guy who did ‘Dream On,’ I would have never believed them,” Ciesielski said.
‘A 17-Year Residency’
Alex Freund has had a prolific musical career that has brought him across the globe. Originally hailing from Germany, where he attained his education and first orchestral jobs, Freund moved to Mexico following a job offer in 2003.
“What originally started as just an adventurous trip ended up becoming a 17-year residency,” Freund said in an interview. “Two years after my move to Mexico, I founded M5 Mexican Brass.”
Freund’s role in the M5 Mexican Brass Quintet soon became one of the defining achievements of his career. Alongside Oscar Villegas Miranda, Juan Carlos Quiterio, Roberto Carlos Cruz and José Lopez Juárez, Freund has performed in “more than 1,000 concerts in five continents” as a part of M5.
While Freund still tours with M5, he has also been an assistant professor of trumpet at Georgia State University since 2018.
As an instructor he has traveled across the world to teach masterclasses and has developed one of the few accredited collegiate meditation courses, “Mindfulness and Meditation.”
‘Worldwide’ Positivity for Trumpeters
To Tesh, this year’s trumpet festival is different from its previous iterations, specifically with its focus on positivity and self-care.
“One of our performers for the event, Vinnie Ciesielski, is involved in a social-media group called Positive Trumpeters Worldwide,” he says. “And that’s what the whole thing is about: creating a positive community where musicians are supportive of each other. It’s a chance to get associated with musicians who are kind and supportive of what you are doing artistically.”
Positive Trumpeters Worldwide launched in 2020 in response to the isolation of the COVID-19 quarantines. Since its inception, the social-media group has grown to almost 10,000 members.
“Troy Dowding and Josh Rzepka are really the guys who started Positive Trumpeters Worldwide, but they brought me in, and I happened to come up with the name,” Ciesielski says. “It is a safe place for people to ask questions and a safe place for people to post videos, no matter where you are in your career as a trumpet player.”
On top of being an internationally renowned trumpeter, the other featured performer for the 2023 Trumpet Festival Alex Freund is a certified Ishaya meditation instructor. At the opening of the Trumpet Festival, Freund will lead the attendees in a group mindfulness session.
“Touring as a musician is very demanding on the body,” Freund says. “One of the main reasons that I got into meditation 11 years ago is that I needed a tool to keep myself balanced on such a busy schedule.”
Freund urges those skeptical of meditation for its spiritual or religious associations to consider it as a secular tool for self-improvement, especially important for musicians.
“Mindfulness is an experiential thing,” he says. “It is not just a philosophy and is certainly not just religious. It is a tool that you can add to your trumpet playing or your musical playing in general.”
Over his career of teaching masterclasses, Freund has noticed in his personal experience that opening with a group meditation session seems to lead to notable improvements in students’ productivity and engagement.
“Quite some years ago, I taught at a festival in Mexico, and I convinced the organizers to open every day with a one-hour mindfulness session,” Freund says. “After the first session, the whole course felt like we were already on day four. Everyone was so connected and open with one another after.”
‘Permission to Love Popular Music’
Ciesielski’s musical style will also contribute to another distinction between this year’s Trumpet Festival and those of years past, as Ciesielski actively performs what he and Tesh refer to as “commercial music.”
“Commercial music is really all over the map,” Ciesielski explains. “It includes classical, jazz, rock, pop and country. The large part of my career has been in Black contemporary gospel”
That said, Ciesielski does not limit his repertoire to these specific genres, as he often works with other styles as needed, demonstrating the flexibility necessary for performing as a commercial musician. “I appeared on two records that were nominated in the polka category at the Grammys, so I’ve been kind of all over the place.”
Tesh believes that Ciesielski’s success in the commercial music industry makes him a valuable performer and teacher for the Trumpet Festival.
“His repertoire and career are part of an industry that we don’t really talk about as much as we should in academia, so having him here to perform and talk about this field of music will be great and different from previous years,” Tesh says.
While working as a commercial musician might seem like a lofty aspiration for many, Ciesielski argues that performing commercial music is a viable career alternative to orchestras for young musicians who want to pursue a career in music performance.
“I remember someone told me early on in my career that, at that time, there were probably around 600 trumpet jobs in symphony orchestras across the world and that, every year, only about 10% of those open for audition,” Ciesielski says. “There are hundreds or even thousands of people who apply for those jobs, so the market is very narrow.”
Furthermore, even when a musician attains one of these orchestra positions, Ciesielski argues that few orchestras offer living wages for musicians outside of their principal chair. “Some of them might offer $10,000 to $12,000, some might get up to $25,000, but there’s not a lot better than that,” he explains. “Many principal chairs can offer $60,000 to $100,000 a year, but those positions are highly coveted.”
Ciesielski will perform at the festival with his group, Vinnie and the Hitmen, a band of nine horns and a rhythm section that specializes in instrumental covers of pop, rock and R&B songs.
“What we hope to do with Vinnie and the Hitmen is educate the next generation of musicians and give them permission to love popular music,” Vinnie says. “I want these students to understand that even if you are going to be a teacher, you still have to learn how to play ‘Mustang Sally’ or ‘Uptown Funk.’”
Of course, not all the performances at the Southern Miss Trumpet Festival will include commercial music. For Freund’s performance, he intends to introduce Mississippi to the works of Paul Wiggert, a romantic German composer who has gone unnoticed in many studies of classical music.
“You will find absolutely nothing about him on the internet,” Freund asserts. “I want to play his Trumpet Concerto in D-flat major, which (to my knowledge) has certainly never been performed in Mississippi before.”
Tesh, Freund and Ciesielski will also engage in various group and solo performances throughout the day, such as with the University of Southern Mississippi Jazz Lab and even with one another, though final arrangements for the schedule are pending and subject to change.
The 2023 Southern Miss Trumpet Festival will begin on Saturday, April 22, at 8 a.m. with registration and check-in taking place in the lobby of Marsh Auditorium, inside the University of Southern Mississippi’s Fine Arts Building at 111 Southern Drive in Hattiesburg. Registration is $30. The evening concert is open to the public and will begin at 5:30 p.m. For further information about the 2023 Southern Miss Trumpet Festival and to register ahead of the event, click here.