Trumpeter Stephen Burns joins DePaul School of Music, brings fresh ideas


Courtesy of Stephen Burns

Stephen Banks poses with his trumpet. The acclaimed musician will be joining DePaul’s School of Music as an adjunct professor of trumpet performance.

Standing tall in the afternoon sun, the Chicago Fine Arts Building reflected the hustle and bustle of Michigan Ave. in its windows. Inside, on the 9th floor of the performance hall, is the Fulcrum Point New Music Project suite — also known as the office and studio of internationally renown trumpeter, Stephen Burns.

Burns will join theDePaul School of Music faculty next fall as an adjunct professor of trumpet.

“DePaul is one of the great schools here,” Burns said. “I wanted to explore the intersection of traditional music education with what is the future of classical music, what is the future of jazz, what is the future of what I call new art music, and what is the future of pedagogy and how we integrate mindfulness and meditations into curriculum.”

Burns, a Massachusetts native, grew up in a big Irish family. He was exposed to music at an early age, and his mother was an ardent trumpet player.

One day, Burns and his family climbed into the attic, and while sifting through knick-knacks and old treasures, Burns discovered his mother’s old trumpet. He put his lips to the mouthpiece, and the brassy ‘toot’ of the horn erupted through the instrument.

From that moment on, Burns immersed himself within the world of music and made huge leaps —  in his career and on his trumpet.

He was accepted to The Juilliard School by age 17 and studied under a number of acclaimed conductors, composers and performers. He won the school’s concerto competition at 19, performing the Jolivet Concertino at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

By 1981, he was the first solo trumpeter to win the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, resulting in debut performances at The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and The Hollywood Bowl. He won First Prize at the Maurice André International Competition for Trumpet in France in 1988.

Burns has performed in the major concert halls of New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Houston, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Venice. He has even performed at the White House.

Burns said his international experiences will translate into his teaching at DePaul through metaphor and analogy.

“If you can paint the picture of standing on the ridge of an Alpine mountain and the Matterhorn is in the distance, what does that sound like?” he said. “And what does that sound like when it comes back? That’s inspiration — and imagination.”

His European tours have taken him to Italy, France, Spain, Finland, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Switzerland for guest appearances with orchestras, as well as recitals and performances on radio and television.

Committed to new music, Burns has written for trumpet, electronic music, chamber music and symphony orchestra. Further, he created the Fulcrum Point New Music Project.

The project combines classical with contemporary music and created an adventurous studio that is committed to connecting “people of all generations and cultures through programs that inspire understanding, health and common values. Fulcrum Point welcomes and celebrates diverse, creative energies that enrich society through the arts,” according to its website.

The conductor, trumpet virtuoso and composer swung open the door to his Fulcrum project office, revealing his studio space filled with trumpets, mutes and sheet music covering every surface in a neat and orderly fashion. He demonstrated how to meditate and explained the importance of musicians’ awareness and mindfulness. Burns said to find a comfortable seated position, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on the knees and sitting tall and proud. Focus on connecting to the breath, he said. The breath is “grounding” and reminds Burns to reflect on gratitude.

“A real artist connects with their vulnerability and expresses from there,” Burns said.

Burns looks forward to teaching new concepts and theories as well as immersing himself in the camaraderie that comes with becoming a part of the trumpet studio at DePaul. He said he is excited to make an atmosphere that is “collegial, fun and ambitious.”

“Stephen Burns is a huge acquisition for the DePaul trumpet studio,” said David Cohen, an adjunct trumpet professor at DePaul. “He is an incredibly accomplished and seasoned performer with ample experience in trumpet pedagogy and new music conducting. The DePaul trumpet students have a great opportunity to learn from him in private lessons, studio class and ensembles.”

For students, the addition of Stephen Burns brings structure to the trumpet studio environment.

“I knew Stephen Burns’ name before I started school at DePaul and knew he was a great educator in the Chicagoland area,” said Robert Obrochta, a sophomore in the music school. “I expect Burns to bring a sense of confidence and order to the trumpet studio.”

Stephen Burns is known internationally for his artistry, musicianship and pedagogy. But what stands out the most about Burns as a musician and as a person is his unshakeable connectedness with the world around and within him.

“It’s about connecting with inner expression,” Burns said. “It’s about connecting with beauty and appreciation for what it means to be human. Birds sing. Dogs bark. People make music.”