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Undergrad Takes Top Prize in National Trombone Competition

Drew Kilpela

A trombonist in the jazz studies program at Michigan State University has become the second trombone student from the College of Music to win the Trombone Symposium Michael Rath Jazz Solo Competition held annually at Texas State University.

Andrew Kilpela, an undergraduate from Okemos, Mich., took the grand prize at the seventh annual competition that is part of one of the premiere performance and pedagogical conferences for trombone. Kilpela was among three finalists selected from numerous applicants, and performed for a panel of judges that included internationally renowned clinicians and artists.

“It was awesome to be selected,” says Kilpela. “It was my first competition in college, so it really helped build my momentum.”

Kilpela began taking private lessons from Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone Michael Dease as a senior in high school, and chose to attend MSU as a result. He says that Dease played an enormous role in helping him to prepare for the competition.

“I felt really relaxed when I performed because I felt like I had done the work necessary to succeed,” says Kilpela. “It was clearly true that Professor Dease and MSU had prepared me really well.”

Dease says that Kilpela was the youngest of all the competitors, which is indicative of his hard work, abilities and his unique earthy sound on the trombone.

“I was proud and excited for him,” says Dease. “Whether he won or lost, I was happy for him to get the experience to meet top players in his age group, and then to go and work with guest artists at the festival. I knew he would come back wiser and more experienced.”

Kilpela received a R100 trombone donated by Michael Rath Trombones and secured MSU’s spot as the only college to have won the competition multiple times. Alum Jerrick Matthews, (MMUS ’14), took the top award in 2013. The MSU College of Music also had strong representation at this year’s conference with Alex Larionov and Daniel Parrish—two jazz studies students from Dease’s trombone studio—serving as alternates.

After wrapping up the third year of his studies, Kilpela will travel to Anaheim, Calif., this summer to serve as lead trombone in the 2017 Disneyland All-American Collegiate Band.

“Successes like Drew’s are a reflection of the serious fun that we have here in the jazz studies area,” says Dease. “It’s a testament to a culture our leadership has created that enables students to work and relate to places and people all over the country and the world.”

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