Music Mondays

One of my most rewarding things to do through photography and music is to meet new people. Sometimes those people are 18 and some are 81. Each and every person has something interesting about themselves even if they think it's just a quirk. Musicians are great to photograph too! sometimes we make faces that become part of the music. I personally watch musicians' expressions just as much as I listen to them! It is one of the joys of experiencing live music! Each Monday I'd like to feature a musician that I've had the chance to photograph. In Matt's case he was part of a performance at Penn State University that my son was also a performer. Matt impressed me from the first note I heard him play!

Tell Us About Matt Neff

"I attribute my musical ear to my dad! My earliest memories are of him with an FM radio - he would have it tuned to a jazz or classical station. My dad worked on Conrail as an engineer, but was an avid music listener and played clarinet in local bands. I picked the trombone around age 5 because my older brother did not want it..."

"I just finished nearly 28 years of a career in the US Navy Band in DC. While I was there I got to play trombone in just about every musical situation you can imagine! Concert and Ceremonial Band 17 years, Commodores Jazz Band 10 years - also performed with the Navy Band Brass Quintet about 8 years and even played in a horn line for a rock group on a couple dances before the band created their current group (Cruisers). All the while in DC I got to collaborate and play with MANY ensembles - symphony orchestras, dance bands, jazz bands, chamber brass, solo recitals, recording sessions.... It was a pretty busy place to be! I am fortunate to be one of the newest members into North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh. I began my next chapter in January and was loving the opportunity to play through some new repertoire! Also fun to get to know more musicians - hear their stories and figure out all our common friends/ experiences. I am looking forward to getting past all this craziness and back to playing with others!"

Who do you most like to collaborate with?

"Most of my arranging/ and composing is centered around trombone. Though I’ve done a bunch of brass quintet, and a few string/ chamber works - about 90% of my stuff is for trombone quartet or trombone choir. The trombone community is a broad, tightly connected family —- so I often have collaborations going with many great trombonists across the country at any given time! My original source of inspiration was and still continues to be my college quartet and college trombone choir. The Nittany Trombone Quartet (NTQ) was formed in 1988 with Dr. Bruce Tychinski, Dr. Jon Moyer, Sean Reusch and myself. NTQ met and formed at Penn State University where we all studied with Mark Lusk. We have remained friends since, and have continued to perform together! NTQ did a Christmas CD a few years ago and have plans to do another recording of hymns/spirituals that we will each arrange."

Do you ever sing in the Shower?

"Yes! Occasionally - and in the car when I was commuting. A lot of times when I am working through specific passages - especially with difficult articulations or melodies - if I can get them ‘in my ear’, or ‘on the tongue’, things are a lot easier to put together when I practice! I learned how to double/ triple tongue by singing through tunes in the shower/ driving/ cutting the grass...!"

Where have you performed?

"With the Navy Band I toured the entire CONUS! I’m pretty sure I was to every state! The bulk of our performances were in / around DC. Concerts on the Capitol Steps, Navy Memorial; ceremonies at every monument in the area - Arlington Cemetery.... recently my performance have shifted to N.C.! NCSO performs primarily in Raleigh at Meymandi Concert Hall - but they also perform in venues across the state - Chapel Hill, Southern Pines, Wilmington - to name a few! I was very much looking forward to our summer series at Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary - beautiful ‘on the lawn’ concert series for summer! Will be something to look forward to once we get past these crazy times!"

Goal is to perform? Be sure to experience it all, play in everything! But be sure to know something about all the instruments, be an avid listener, and know how to teach! Your hardest student is always yourself!

What Famous Musicians Do You Admire?

I have met and played for a handful of famous folks - always fun and cool to name drop - but as far as admire? I have a weird list. My list is made of friends and people I know - I take such pride and pleasure in saying these are my friends - this is what they are doing and how good they are at doing it!

My quartet buddies - Bruce ‘Dr T’ is trombone prof at University of Delaware - has been killing it! Dr Jon - in addition to working and leading the music programs in York PA, also teaches adjunct at 2 colleges. Sean (is almost a Dr!) has a national reputation for his private studio - he has placed students in nearly every top conservatory and college program. All while being a top call freelance performer in southern-Cal. I run into a ton of PSU/ Lusk alums across the country ( of course they are all younger!) they are all active!

The entire trombone section in Atlanta Symphony this year is made up of former Navy Band mates and friends - Nathan Zgonc, Jeremy Buckler, Brian Hecht. Other band friends that got out and continue to thrive - Bill Thomas in Tonhalle Orchestra (Zurich); Dr. Natalie Mannix (UNT); Dr Dave Perkel (Towson University)

I’ve had meals, drinks, and phone calls with some of the top trombonists in the country.... and though our interaction is casual, I do make a mental note of ‘how cool it is to be chatting with so and so!’

What is the Most Trouble You've Gotten Into?

Not gonna get that one! But this is one of my stories I enjoyed... (I attribute my musical ear to my dad. Also my sense of humor/prankster side.)

Early in my Navy career I was playing with the Concert Band. We were in rehearsal and I was bored so I was running my mouth to Jim Armstrong, Mike Schmitz, and trying to not get caught by principal Jeff Knutson.... CAPT Ralph Gambone was on the podium. I had not noticed but he was getting more and more pissed as he progressed through a piece. We always got along, and for whatever reason I amused him, but he was old school Italian and had a temper. Well, he finally had enough.

He stops the band and fires back - ‘MU1 Neff where are we?’ - I quickly scanned the page of rests to try and figure it out... then squeaky voice, half a question say ‘letter M, sir...?.!..?’ NO! THAT’s NOT WHERE WE ARE! he snapped/ yelled back. Then silence.  Then he said ‘well, actually you’re right...’. (like it was incredible)... so I stood up with my hands clasped together, shook them in the air and took a bow!  

“SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP.”   ..... yes, sir. 🙂

Best Advice?

Best advice given to me?

Jack Sears - If you can sing it, you can play it.

Mark Lusk - Put the music first.

Bob Snider (leadership advice) - Great leaders Give credit, Take blame.

Advice to give an aspiring musician? 

Have a plan! Work/practice/ study like crazy! 

If your goal is to teach, learn, experience it all! But be sure you spend time becoming a great performer! 

Goal is to perform? Be sure to experience it all, play in everything! But be sure to know something about all the instruments, be an avid listener, and know how to teach! Your hardest student is always yourself!

Lastly, as you apply to or audition for jobs - DO NOT sell yourself short! Musicians are TOO self critical - yes, that’s how we get better... but be sure to focus on what you do well! Sell your best self! I promise the little things that bug you probably will not even be noticed!

What's Next?

Just sold my house in VA and bought a new place in N.C.! Looking forward to setting up the practice studio and eventually getting back to performing! Can’t wait to settle in with John Ilika, Jonathan Randazzo, and Seth Horner (low brass section) and all the members of North Carolina Symphony! Cheers!

Want to be the next musician on "Music Monday?"

One of my passions is to capture each and every person's true personality that I photograph. If you'd love a session that is fun AND produces some excellent photos of you, set up a consultation session right now and let's make it happen!

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