Talk about a self-starter. Ever since her son Michael was in eighth grade, Christina Thompson can’t recall one single time that she had to nag him to practice his trombone playing.
“That child would rather play music than play a video game,” she said. “There’s always music going on this house.”
Michael, who turned 18 on Tuesday, also plays the piano and is a guitarist in a garage band with his friends.
But it’s on the trombone that he is extraordinary. In fact, Michael was just named one of the top 10 high school trombone players in all of Arizona.
“He’s a phenomenon,” said Kimberly Schreiber, his band director at Lake Havasu High School. “For him to have started in eighth grade on the trombone and be this accomplished – well, it’s truly remarkable.”
On Jan. 30, Michael will get to strut his stuff at the Mesa Arts Center. He’s playing second chair in an all-state jazz ensemble. It’s an honor for which he had to audition and outplay the stiff competition. Of the 31 trombonists who auditioned, Michael was one of four musicians chosen.
At the concert, the teen will be playing for a tough audience comprised of music educators. The evening event kicks off a conference of the Arizona Band & Orchestra Directors Association.
“There will be about 700 people in the audience,” Schreiber estimated. “It will be good for Michael to be around such high caliber musicianship. It will also be a chance for him to work with Chris Finet during rehearsals. He’s the director of jazz studies at NAU, which is where Michael will be attending.”
A promising future
Michael’s bright musical future began when he picked up the trombone in eighth grade at Thunderbolt Middle School. It wasn’t just any trombone.
“It was my mom’s trombone that she played in high school,” he said.
While that particular instrument has since been retired to a closet in his family’s home, Michael appreciates that it sparked his ambition to be the best trombone player he could be. The hardest part of playing the instrument is the precision it takes to hit the notes, he said.
Schreiber said the trombone is one of the most difficult instruments to learn. Michael perfected his skill of finding the proper notes along the trombone’s unmarked slide. It is different from other brass instruments that require fingering charts or valve combinations.
After graduating from high school in the spring, Michael will pack up his considerable skills and move to Flagstaff to attend Northern Arizona University. He’d like to be a composer, but he knows that creative pursuit doesn’t always put food on the table.
“I’m going to focus more on music education and music performance. I’d like to be a composer, but I’m going to be a band director so I’ll always have a job I can fall back on,” he said.
As he was looking deep into the future, the teen abruptly took a big step back.
“Really, right now, I’m just looking forward to performing in Mesa for the concert, making music with my friends and going to NAU,” Michael said. “A friend of mine, Frankie Hernandez, is also going to NAU. He’s a percussionist. I think we’re going to have good time up there.”