Jeremy Berkman is the Principal Trombonist with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, a sessional instructor of trombone and chamber music coach at UBC, and will be performing with the Vancouver Bach Choir in Downing’s Phantom of the Opera. I spoke with Berkman about his career as a performer and as an educator.
Photo from touchofbrass.net
What is it like being the Principal Trombonist in the Vancouver Opera Orchestra?
“I have a very privileged position in the sense that I have one of the best seats in the house…There’s lots of scenes that come back and forth, tension that happens on the stage, and it’s echoed or complemented in the pit.
“We’re a bunch of freelance [musicians], so we have lots of jobs and other passions, and that makes for an exciting group of people…It becomes a very enjoyable social [and] musical activity…What’s so wonderful is that my colleagues are unbelievably, incredibly intelligent and interesting people.”
What is a typical practice like with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra?
“The singers show up five or six weeks before the production, and they start working with the director. [We, the orchestra,] come in two weeks before opening night. We learn the notes that we have without the singers, get together with the singers in the rehearsal room…have a week of production nights in the theatre, and then we open up… In this business, you’re often playing in rehearsal and performing that same day or the day or two after, so you don’t get to live the piece…If you get a chance to think about it over a couple weeks, then [the musical piece] really becomes part of you. It’s a good process.”
How has working with the Vancouver Bach Choir on Downing’s Phantom of the Opera differed from working with the Opera Orchestra?
“[With the Bach Choir] there are only about eight of us instrumentalists. We’re playing music that Andrew Downing composed to accompany a film that was originally silent…[Downing] has taken those moments of silence or those moments of drama and created a musical score for today. It’s neat to sit there, watching a film that’s [around] 90 years old, but hear music that was composed fairly recently. It connects the past and the present, and hopefully the future.
“What’s cool about this particular group of [instrumentalists is that] the Vancouver Bach Choir pick[ed] [musicians] from different genres…so it’s a collection of really fascinating, creative people from different places…It’s very different than what we all do in the rest of our professional lives.”
Berkman says audiences can expect to be “surprised” and “overwhelmed by the film as well as the music [and setting of] the Orpheum.” It’s an experience that you “can’t get at home.”
How does your role as a trombonist compare to being a sessional lecturer at UBC?
“I’m really involved in the students’ creative growth: growing as people and growing as artists. And that’s really exciting.
“I’ve got to be careful not to teach them how to be the best trombonist [they] could’ve been 30 years ago, but how to be the best musician and artist [they] can be today. I have to be really relevant and aware of what they’re interested in and what they’re concerned about. What I’m doing is trying to match that together, and that’s a fun little puzzle. That’s what I do.”
Which do you prefer? Performing or teaching?
“To teach is actually to perform…If you look at all the teachers you had and think about what made them special, it was, as well as the material they imparted to you, the way they [taught]. That’s in a sense what a performance is. It’s imparting information in a way that is both enlightening and entertaining.
“The whole package makes an exciting professional life, and I wouldn’t want to do [just] one of [performing or teaching] full time.”
If you weren’t playing the trombone, what instrument would you choose to play?
“Right now, it would probably be piano. But in my youth, it would be a guitar.”