Lately, radio listeners all over the world -- from the U.S. to Italy to Taiwan, Thailand and Japan -- have been getting a dose of Grand Valley through their speakers.

Trumpeter Richard Stoelzel, an associate professor of music at Grand Valley, has been causing a stir with his new Albany Records release Born to Be Mild, which has received nationwide airplay, with heavy play on public radio stations in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin and Florida. Meanwhile, Stoelzel's students continue to make their own marks on the trumpet scene.

On Born to Be Mild, Stoelzel said he wanted to feature the trumpet's lyrical side -- hence the "mild" reference in the title. The album was recorded in Grand Valley's Cook-DeWitt Center in 2003. It features five premiere recordings of works composed by James Stephenson III, Louis Stewart and Eric Ewazen -- including three pieces written specifically for Stoelzel.

One of the pieces making its debut on Born to Be Mild is Ewazen's "Grand Valley Fanfare," which was commissioned for the inauguration of President Mark A. Murray in 2001. It is performed by Avatar Brass, a group founded by Stoelzel in 1993 that serves as Grand Valley's ensemble-in-residence. Stoelzel said Ewazen, who is on faculty at the Juilliard School of Music, is "one of the foremost composers of brass works, now."

Also on the record is Stephenson's "Sonata for Piano and Trumpet," which was written specifically for Stoelzel. The pair became friends when both were playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra. Stephenson is currently with the Naples Philharmonic in Florida.

"I believe that this piece is actually going to be a huge staple in the trumpet repertoire," Stoelzel said. "It's well- written, with beautiful melodies and lush, romantic harmonies."

Stephenson is arranging three of the tunes on the CD for solo trumpet and band, which Stoelzel will premiere later this year with the Grand Valley Wind Ensemble.

Stoelzel hails from Auburn, in upstate New York. He studied at the University of Louisville and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master's from the University of Connecticut. He spent time playing cornet in the U.S. Coast Guard Band. As solo cornetist for one of the elite presidential bands, he performed often for former presidents Bush and Reagan.

A career as a trumpeter wasn't a foregone conclusion, Stoelzel said. Just like many youngsters, his first desire was to play drums. "I still do a lot of air drumming," Stoelzel said.

But drums weren't an option for a student in the fourth grade, when students at his school began to participate in band.  "Being the impatient person that I still am, I decided to take trumpet as a second choice. That's where I began," he said.

Stoelzel said he was inspired by listening to the likes of Phil Smith from the New York Philharmonic, Charles Schlueter of the Boston Philharmonic and Rolf Smedvig of the Empire Brass. "Growing up listening to them play was a huge role in my sound development," he said. He also cited jazz screamer Maynard Ferguson as a huge influence," adding that he had posters of Ferguson on his wall as a youth.

But the biggest influences on Stoelzel have been his own teachers: Leon Rapier of the University of Louisville, Dan Patrylak from the University of Connecticut, and Jim Thompson of the Eastman School of Music.

"Each one of them is like a father figure and is an incredibly positive teacher," Stoelzel said.

He spoke particularly fondly of the late Rapier.

"I remember coming over to his studio and listening to him warm up and trying to remember what he did, to take that to the practice room and try to sound like him," Stoelzel said.

He also continues to work with Patrylak, who engineered Born to Be Mild. Those positive experiences with his own teachers have led Stoelzel to value the process of teaching the next generation of trumpeters.

"When I took my first major job at the Harid Conservatory, my objective was to attempt to take young talented musicians and to do my best to mold them into not only the best performers but also good people," he said. "Many times, conservatories can breed a great trumpet player but not necessarily always someone who's willing to be a good citizen, as well."

Since Stoelzel came to Grand Valley in 2000, the trumpet program has flourished.

One former student, Dorival Puccini, went from Grand Valley to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. Another, Steven Marx, went on to the Eastman School of Music. He points to Marx and Puccini as examples of the success of his teaching philosophy.

"They're already out there, and they have always been very helpful to people," he said. "They're competitive; they want to get a job, too. But they're not too busy to listen to younger players and help them become better."

Grand Valley had a good showing at this year's National Trumpet Competition held at George Mason University. Two of the 24 ensembles accepted to participate as semi-finalists were from Grand Valley. One, under the direction of Stoelzel, won second place. In the solo competition, of the 23 selected semi-finalists, four were from Grand Valley -- and this year Grand Valley is the only school to have two students advance to the finals.

For the past five years, a Grand Valley student has been accepted to compete in the finals of the prestigious International Trumpet Guild Orchestra Competition. This year, Robbie McCabe of East Granby, Connecticut, was selected to compete in the finals in Bangkok, Thailand. It is the second year McCabe has been selected as one of four finalists out of a pool of hundreds of young trumpeters from around the world. Stoelzel himself won the grand prize in the 1986 competition.

But while the kudos are great, he said it's the music that's important.

"It's not just trying to be No. 1. Success is not necessarily being No. 1 at what you do, but it's really achieving the best results possible for you," Stoelzel said.

To hear selections from Born to be Mild, visit

Page last modified July 29, 2011