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A trumpet teacher’s musical journey

When he took piano lessons in Kindergarten, Matthew Ebisuzaki didn’t like it. “I was a terrible pianist. I just couldn’t play. Four years later, I took up the recorder and that was different. In 4th grade, I chose the trumpet.”

Even then, Ebisuzaki didn’t know right away that he’d grow to love it. There might be a lesson in there somewhere – to experiment, yes. But also, to stick with something long enough to give it a chance. That trumpet started Ebisuzaki’s musical journey. 

He graduated from the San Francisco School of the Arts and earned his BA from the Curtis Institute of Music and went on to earn his MA in Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, all prestigious schools.

Ebisuzaki is quick to downplay the prestige angle. “It doesn’t change who you are, but those schools do help on a technical level. They help with the discipline music requires.”

He continued, “I never thought I’d become a teacher. My mom has been a teacher for over 30 years, and I said I’d never be a teacher. I saw how much of an effort it takes.”

Matt conducting a class at Venetia Valley School, home to ELM’s wind and brass program

Matt conducting a class at Venetia Valley School, home to ELM’s wind and brass program

What he didn’t see, that spurred his mother to work so hard for her students, was the time inside a classroom. “Now, I know. That moment when a kid realizes they can do something they couldn’t do before – that spark of accomplishment makes it all worth it. The world opens for them. You can’t teach that. You can only guide the process and hope it takes hold.”

“People don’t want to struggle to learn and they don’t want to look a fool, but learning can be hard and requires discipline.” He admits, “I’ve discovered that just about every one of the students I teach at ELM is very strong-willed. How they love drama, which is why they can excel at music.”

With a smile, he adds, “Each has strong opinions they aren’t afraid to voice. I love it and it drives me crazy!”

He first discovered ELM through a friend who taught here and was interested in developing a brass program where the focus started off right away with the fundamentals, leaning towards air production and sound, not just technique. He explained, “I met my coworker and we hit it off right away, there is a real gel there. Jane is also really open to ideas about building the program and finding ways to give the students as many opportunities as they can to express themselves and perform for others.”

Musicianship is an important element of music education at ELM

Musicianship is an important element of music education at ELM

Ebisuzaki stays enthused for a number of reasons, “Most of the brass players at ELM I've seen since day one, which means they know the answer to almost every one of my questions. Take the question of air. The old school way of playing has a lot of roots in muscling it. This is not the way I teach, at all. Each student is always asked to play relaxed and with a full stream of air to support a healthy sound. The students who progress quickly are encouraged to help other players learn what they have learned. It is a very communal environment.”

“I've seen a couple students who found a core friend group at ELM, who don't usually have classes together and I see they’ve have enjoyed playing music together, as well. One in particular has had so much growth. This student, at first experienced a constant fear of failing every day and evolved to become one our most dependable players. Having a program where students can make mistakes and then learn to recover from them gives the students an idea of what it feels like to overcome a challenge and persevere.”

When he isn’t teaching, Ebisuzaki is either performing as the Principal Trumpet with the Santa Cruz Symphony, subbing in symphonies throughout the Bay Area, giving private music lessons, or playing in one of several collaborative groups, like Luminance and Brass Over Bridges, in addition to playing for house parties and celebrations.

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He admires a variety of musicians, showman and entertainers like Henry James and Louis Armstrong, who clearly loved their work. On a more contemporary note, Rick Braun makes his list of who he listens to for pleasure and inspiration.

On his off time, as an ardent motorcyclist, you’ll find him zipping around on his Honda Hornet 919 or his Triumph Trophy, clocking twenty to twenty-five thousand miles a year, his trumpet strapped to the back of his bike.  

A highlight of his life so far, was getting to meet someone he greatly admires, the composer John Williams, and to play with him. “He is the happiest, spryest, nicest guy you could ever meet,” Ebisuzaki explains, “and his energy and enthusiasm taught me that if you do what you love in life, nothing else really matters much when it comes to your health and attitude.”

As for his future plans, his quintet won an Aspen Fellowship and will be heading there this summer to the Aspen Music Festival and School, considered one of the top classical music festivals in the US, for their 8-week summer program.

At some point, Ebisuzaki hopes to create a group with a number of his favorite musicians and local San Francisco super stars and make something magic happen, along the lines of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. A group that will have people in tears and dancing, all at the same time.