Trumpet student Rachelle Miller (B.M. '19) talks about her love of improvisation—a part of her musical identity that she regards as the “alter ego” to her role as a classical musician. For Miller, improvisation has provided a space to experiment with a variety of sounds and styles and expand her musical boundaries through exciting cross-genre collaborations.
Tell us how you discovered a passion for improvisation.
I think I have been improvising ever since I picked up the trumpet, though at the time, I didn’t really know that what I was doing was a kind of improvisation. When I got to the Conservatory, I heard about Pierre Hurel’s Improvisation Workshop, and took it as a music elective. The class focuses on a non-idiomatic style of improvisation, meaning that it doesn't pertain to a specific style of music. It is a very unique class, and my favorite part of the week. It has given me an environment to explore new sounds and ways to use the trumpet. This semester will be my sixth time taking the class.
How has improvisation impacted you as a musician and trumpet student?
As a musician, improvisation is a meditative experience. When I sit in an orchestra, I sometimes find myself getting distracted by stress and other responsibilities. However, while improvising, the only thing that I focus on is the music and what decisions I make to contribute to it. It has given me a lot of confidence as a trumpet player, because I feel like an individual with valuable ideas to offer to the genre.
What doors has this opened for collaborating with other musicians both inside and outside of the classical music world?
I’ve met so many excellent musicians through improv, and being able to play with them on a regular basis is such a privilege. Some of my favorite performances have been improvising with friends in their recitals. Last semester I joined an improvisational chamber group coached by Pierre, which was a lot of fun. We explore jazz and R&B styles with electronics, vocals, viola, and trumpet. We rehearse every week and are building a collection of music we hope to gig with soon.
Describe your most satisfying performance.
My most satisfying performance was my junior recital in fall 2017. I had a lot of freedom to program pieces that were important to me, and in doing so, I was able to present a really wide range of styles. I performed both standard classical trumpet repertoire and contemporary pieces, and the second half of the program was entirely new music that was either written for me or improvised. I was so happy to show my friends and family all of the music that I have been able to experience during my time so far at the Conservatory.
What advice do you have for brass students coming into the Conservatory?
Play music that you enjoy and that matters to you. You will always sound your best when you are truly enjoying the music you’re performing. Also, expose yourself to new music. There are so many different performances all around Boston to see, and it’s a really great source of inspiration.
What is your favorite thing about the Conservatory?
It’s the amazing faculty. I have felt so supported and encouraged to do what I love. Between the brass faculty and Pierre’s improv class, I have gained a sense of confidence and musical identity that I don’t think I would have found anywhere else.