Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My family for sure, especially my mother. She’s an oboist and taught oboe, flute, and piano lessons at home as I was growing up. Hearing music all day in the house and having her guide my music education was critical. My father and older sister are also very musical. My grandma is also a great pianist, and she gave me my first trumpet!
As for what inspired me, it was the realization that music was the most challenging thing I could do. For better or for worse, I decided I wanted a career that would always push me further, and music is what I was involved in that provided the best option for life-long learning.
In terms of trumpet playing specifically, my undergrad teacher, Dr. Marty Hodel, was a huge influence. He taught me how to teach myself, established my fundamentals, and fostered my creativity. I could go on for a very long time on important musical influences but some of the other really big ones are Chris Gekker, James Thompson, Joshua MacCluer, Tom Smith, Dave Hagedorn, and Timothy Mahr.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Probably balancing all of my musical interests. I play classical, contemporary, jazz, and popular music, and I also compose and teach full-time. There’s never enough time in the day to give each one the time it deserves, so it’s a juggling act and I have to prioritize whatever is most pressing while keeping everything else up to a professional standard. This challenge reached its zenith in 2019-2021 when I was an adjunct professor at three different universities in Washington D.C. and Maryland (each one hours apart from the other) while simultaneously gigging and writing. Between work and raising my young twin daughters, it was a hectic time.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
‘Paradigms’ is my debut album, so that would be it my favourite recording by default. On that record, I’m very particularly proud of Three Miniatures and Postcards from a technical perspective – there are lots of challenging virtuosic passages in those pieces, and I’m really happy with how cleanly they came out, while maintaining musical direction. Musically, my favorite pieces are Two Scenes and Nocturne. They are haunting and magical compositions, and I love those performances from everyone involved, too.
In terms of live performances, I loved premiering my original trumpet concerti — 3ɟutures for trumpet and orchestra with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in 2019 and Organ Mountain Fantasia with the NMSU Wind Symphony in 2022. I also love playing jazz, and I recently headlined my first jazz festival – the FIMUS Jazz Festival in Brazil – which was a total blast.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
As this record, Paradigms, shows, I am quite adept at playing Anthony Plog’s music – I feel like I understand his musical language. Solo-wise, I feel very comfortable with neo-Romantic works, like the Arutunian concerto, and piccolo trumpet. For jazz, I probably feel best with 60s post-bop. And brass quintet is really a mainstay of my playing career. too. But I really love playing everything, from orchestra to musicals to reggae to chamber music.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Some things that particularly help my composing and mental preparation for a performance are meditation, yoga, hiking, camping, biking, and just getting outside in general. And of course, my family – I think about my kids and their future a lot when I’m writing especially.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I almost always try to play new repertoire. There is so much wonderful music out there to play, that I don’t often want to play something I’ve learned before. Plus, I think it’s more challenging and makes me grow more as a musician to have to learn new material every year. I vary the genre of music I program, too. For instance, last year my big recitals were a solo recital and a brass quintet recital; this coming season, I am going to do a jazz concert and a mixed chamber ensemble recital. I also try to find common thread to tie programs together. For example, at a jazz festival in Brazil that I just played in, I did a sort of history of American jazz trumpet players – tracing the music of some of my favorite players. That gave a logic to concert. And I of course try to think of balance and flow – making sure each program has a good balance of fast/slow, happy/sad, avant-garde/accessible, etc.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
No huge preference. I mean, the National Cathedral is amazing, I loved playing in the Esplanade in Singapore, and the halls at Eastman were great. I am really happy with how the acoustics turned out in Paradigms, so I’ll give those venues a shoutout – Pealer Hall at Frostburg State University and Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
It’s hard to say for sure, but my take is that classical music struggles to grow because it too often feels very disconnected from our contemporary lives and culture. I mean no offense – I adore this music – but Classical and Baroque music I think can sound haughty or bourgeois and oblivious to the state of the world and our technology-driven lives. I think programming needs to be more adventurous, and composers need write music that has deep meaning – it can still be experimental and abstract, but I think should avoid too much of the clinical, mathematical, process-driven music of the hyperserialists. Along those lines, I think we need to relax concert culture. At least some of the time, we should allow clapping, cheering, laughing, etc. during a performance. Maybe let people bring pets or something, use more multimedia, etc. Orchestras face a conundrum – keep programming the favorites to keep the same folks coming, or push the envelope to potentially grow and risk losing everything. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think do best when we play to win – not when we play not to lose.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
That’s actually a pretty easy one to answer. Lots of great memories, but the most intense concert I played was my first professional orchestra gig. Back in 2013, I was living in Singapore, and had taken an overnight bus to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to meet up with a couple of fellow trumpet players in the Malaysia Philharmonic. When I arrived early in the morning, I got a call saying one of the MPO’s trumpet players had to fly home for a family emergency, and they asked if they could fill in. The concert was that afternoon. I had no rehearsal and sight-read Swan Lake on a C cornet that I had never seen before with MPO and Moscow Ballet. I wouldn’t say I nailed it, but my goal was just to not step in any holes; and in that endeavour I succeeded. It was a thrill to play with that group and to watch the amazing dancers on stage.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
That’s a tough question, but I suppose if you can make a living doing what you love, that’s what’s most important. As all musicians know, that can be really hard to achieve. Our field is very competitive, of course, and it requires years of costly training. But the other challenge for many of us is just figuring out exactly what we want to do. I’ve always loved so many different aspects of music (different styles, instruments, writing, playing, etc.), that it took me a long to time to realize I wanted to be a music professor. I thought for a long time that I wanted an orchestra or military band job because those positions are held on such a pedestal. But after working with enough orchestras and meeting lots of military musicians, I realized that for me, I would feel very hemmed in, creatively. I’d rather perform less often but retain more artistic control over the performances, and teaching allows me to do that. It is also the perfect avenue for me to share my enthusiasm for diverse forms of music and music-making.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Learn to love the process. If you love performing, but not practicing, this isn’t the career for you. We’re in the practice room 10:1 vs the stage. It can be hard to find but there’s a deep joy that can be found in the shed, so if you can find that and get satisfaction in daily incremental progress, you’ll be set. Also, ear training. Do as much playing by ear, transcribing, and deep listening when you’re still a young music student. Good aural skills will take you at least as far as solid technique, and yet it never gets emphasized enough in applied lessons.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to be a tenured associate professor (and would be happy if that was where I’m currently at – New Mexico State University). I’d like to have a few more albums under my belts (I really enjoyed recording), including one or two records of original music. I’d also like to have finished a method and etude book that I’m working on. Overall career-wise, I want to be playing great music, happy, and hope my family is still healthy. I’d also like to live in a country where human rights are protected and climate change is addressed seriously so my kids can have a future.
What is your most treasured possession?
Besides the obvious music gear (trumpets, piano, guitar, stereo, headphones, record collection, etc.), maybe my hoodie leather jacket. I spent more than I should have on it in Florence, and I adore putting it on every timde.
What is your present state of mind?
It’s hard not to be cynical these days, living through a pandemic, with the Supreme Court tearing away our rights, mass shootings every day, and unaddressed global warming. However, I remain optimistic that we will some day get through this and make the world a better place. And I, perhaps naively, still think music will play an important role in that revolution.
Dr. Jacob Dalager is an international soloist, recording artist, award-winning composer, and Assistant Professor of Trumpet and Jazz at New Mexico State University. Prior to joining NMSU, he was based in the Washington D.C. area and on faculty at The Catholic University of America, Frostburg State University, and Frederick Community College, teaching trumpet, jazz performance, theory, and history, music theory and ear training, and American popular music.