Welcome back to our spotlight series! Our last article highlighted band director Joe Getsi (if you missed it, click here – to read it), and this month our focus is on professional musician Alan Suska. Originally born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Alan now resides close to Nashville in Hendersonville, TN. A musician of many instruments, Alan plays the trumpet, cornet, flugel horn, and piccolo trumpet. He has been playing music for 48 years, 40 of them as a career professional. A graduate of Duquesne University, he holds two degrees of a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and a Master of Music (Trumpet).
- Please share a brief overview of your background and education in music, as well as which instrument(s) you play.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, I began playing trumpet in the 6th grade, and in my 8th grade year I was fortunate to take advantage of a program offered through the public schools named the “Centers for Musically Talented.” I continued to attend every Saturday through the school year through my senior year of high school and received a private lesson, had a theory class, played in a small ensemble class, and also attend a “Discovery” class. In that Discovery class, we had the opportunity to hear various professional ensembles- often from the Pittsburgh Symphony, as well as perform for the other students. I was also selected via audition to attend the inaugural “Governor’s School for the Arts” in the nation during my junior year of high school. Both of my college degrees were attained at Duquesne University. I became a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony in 1975 and was fortunate to participate in a Bicentennial tour along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and a tour in Europe in the summer of 1977. I moved to Nashville to continue my career in the spring of 1980.
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional musician, and what steps did you take to achieve that goal?
By my junior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to play professionally. I then dedicated myself to practicing with that goal in mind. I took my private lessons seriously and attend Pittsburgh Symphony concerts as often as was possible. Listening to other professional musicians became a major priority.
- What are some experiences you had in school band class as a child that helped shape you into a future professional musician?
My experience began in 6th grade when I started playing the trumpet. We had a teacher come to the school once per week to give group lessons. Beginning in the 7th grade, I participated in the school orchestra. That was my first opportunity to play along with other instrumentalists. I loved playing with so many other players, all focusing on a common goal.
- Do you perform within a certain genre of music? How has your musical style evolved from the start of your career to now?
I started playing orchestral music in the 7th grade. In high school, we had an orchestra as well as a Jazz Band. That was my first playing introduction to the jazz style. Being so infatuated with music, I began listening to all styles of music, including “Progressive Rock.” The horn bands “Chicago” and “Blood, Sweat and Tears” had a huge influence in my desire to play professionally. The music written and played for the “Looney Tunes” cartoons also fascinated me.
- Share a favorite memory you have from performing.
I was fortunate to play Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony live on Bavarian Radio while touring Europe with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony.
- Describe your musical influences, past and present.
Doc Severinsen was the trumpet player I wished to emulate. I also listened to Maynard Ferguson and Bill Chase- amazing trumpet players. Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears (as previously mentioned), Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Emerson Lake, and Palmer and Yes were major groups that I listened to. Currently, I listen to Gordon Goodwin’s “Big Phat Band” whose lead trumpet player is Wayne Bergeron, along with Sting, Steely Dan, and various Christian music artists.
- What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a professional musician?
One of the largest challenges I believe all musicians face in today’s musical climate is fighting the discouragement of not working as much as might be needed to provide for the family. That discouragement can wreck the love one has for music. Recognizing that making a living doing what one loves is not common and needs to be appreciated- not taken lightly, and be thankful for the opportunities that you are presented with.
- Which venues do you frequent and which is your favorite to perform at?
I play at nearly all of the hotels and convention centers in the surrounding area for a variety of contractors and clients. I regularly play at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) as well as various concert halls. The challenge of playing live Broadway shows with just one rehearsal at TPAC is possibly my most enjoyable, exciting and challenging musical opportunities.
- Please describe to us what a typical work week looks like for you.
I teach the 6th grade band along with the 7th and 8th grade bands at Overbrook School at 7:56 a.m. Following, I teach private lessons at several public schools as well as the University of the South for the remainder of the day dependent on the day of the week. On Sunday afternoons, I rehearse with the Capital Brass (brass quintet), and on Monday evenings I rehearse with the Establishment Big Band. Friday evenings I might have a playing engagement, with additional playing opportunities on Saturdays.
- How do you keep yourself motivated in your journey to playing music on professional level?
Recognizing how blessed I am to be able to play music for a living, I wish to honor God by continuing to be prepared for those opportunities.
- What goals do you have for your music career in the future?
I wish to share my passion for music with young, budding musicians so they might be willing to follow their hearts and love of music without ceasing.
- What advice do you have for young musicians who are just starting to learn how to play an instrument?
I suggest they find a private teacher and practice, practice, practice. We all should also listen more to various music genres and go to live music events to continue to be inspired.
- Are there any misconceptions you believe that the general public has about career musicians?
That we are second class citizens who skip out on obligations and don’t have a stable family life.
- What insight can you offer to those who are interested in becoming professional musicians?
Practice, practice, practice, and listen, listen, listen. Don’t be tempted to give up when things seem to get a little tough. Many of the musicians that have become successful didn’t give up when it was tough to stay focused on their goals, especially if those close to them tried to discourage them from continuing. I dare say that there are many that might have become successful if they had continued to work hard just a little longer.
- What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
My hobbies include playing golf, racing my car (legally), playing with my grandchildren, and traveling around the world serving others through musical mission trips.
Alan is a proven testament that if you stick to your goals and develop your talent, you can lead an exciting life and career immersed in the music that you love. Thank you Alan for your words of wisdom and valuable insights!
- Practice, practice, practice! As Alan suggests, finding the right teacher (read our blog about how to do that here) and being consistent in your practice (we also have an article about that here) are key to developing your skills.
- Listen, listen, listen! Take a page from Alan’s book and take as many opportunities as you can to attend performances of musicians that inspire you, and experiment with a variety of musical styles and genres.
- Don’t give up when things get tough. Following your dreams and doing what you love for a living is a challenge and will not always be smooth sailing. Find a mentor and community of people that support your interests and goals and don’t be discouraged by those who would look down upon you for persevering your desire of becoming a professional musician.
If you have suggestions of questions you’d like to see answered from future musicians and instructors featured in this series, drop us a note on our Facebook page or send us an email!
Written by Laura Whitlock