Punxsy native to perform at Carnegie Hall with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in May

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Kirk Ferguson’s music career began at a young age, until one day, he made a realization about what he wanted to do with his life.

“What kind of happened was, I knew I wanted to go into performance, and my goal was to be the best trombonist in the world,” said Ferguson, a 1999 PAHS graduate visiting family in Punxsy this week. “And the best players play in orchestras.”

Ferguson — son of Keith and Melissa Ferguson and the grandson of Verna Stewart and the late Charles Ferguson, and Clifford and Diana Bair — has found his musical home as the assistant principal trombonist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Before moving to Milwaukee last September, he served as principal trombonist with the Spokane Symphony; co-principal trombonist with the Malaysian Philharmonic; and associate principal trombonist with the Honolulu Symphony.

He is also a former member of the River City Brass Band in Pittsburgh and has performed with the Seattle Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Akron Symphony, the Wheeling Symphony and the Lincoln Center Festival.

May 11, he and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of the “Spring for Music” series, which sees orchestras from across the country performing to a younger audience.
This will mark Ferguson’s third time playing at Carnegie Hall, as he performed there twice as a student at The Juilliard School, where he earned his master’s degree.

Ferguson said he was inspired to play music through one piece in particular.

“Initially, I wanted to play trumpet because of the Indiana Jones theme,” he said. “Both my parents were in the band in high school, and my dad did a lot of organ work, and I took piano when I was about five or six. So it was just kind of assumed that I would go into band.”

Ferguson wound up playing trombone for his fourth-grade band instructor Ginger Momyer, because there was a trombone at home, and “they thought I was better suited for trombone. You always need more trombones,” he said.

Entering high school — when the PAHS bands were directed by Scott Taylor — Ferguson thought about becoming a music teacher, and he eventually began taking lessons with some college students at IUP.

“One of the guys said you do not have to be a child prodigy to make a living in music,” Ferguson recalled. “You kind of work your way up. So from about age 14 or 15, I decided that if it was a possibility, I was going to go for it.

“But I did not know what the music was like,” he said. “When I was 16, I went to summer camp at Susquehanna University, and one of the instructors introduced me to Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony; that’s when it really clicked in.”

Ferguson earned his bachelor’s degree from Duquesne University, having auditioned for a spot at the university’s music performance program before nailing it on his second audition.

Over the last few years, prior to coming to Milwaukee, Ferguson found temporary jobs via different Web sites and ads through musicians’ unions.

Most orchestral music is written for three trombones, and larger orchestras may have up to four trombones, he said. On average, there are only three to six open spots for trombonists in the United States.

Ferguson also said some musicians may find an orchestra in their late 20s or early 30s, and remain with that group until they retire.

Performing as a member of an orchestra is indeed a full-time job, Ferguson said. Depending on the orchestra, the musicians could see four or five rehearsals — sometimes six — a week, as well as two to four concerts per week.

“It’s a busy job,” he said, adding the schedule in Spokane was a little lighter. However, during that time, he was also serving as an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University. He has also taught at Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and the University of Idaho.

Ferguson said it is different to hear a piece of music on a recording, and to be performing it live.

“It’s a really cool thing when you’re in that moment, you just sort of push everything else aside, and I don’t think it’s much different from playing quarterback,” he said. “Where you’ve got to be very aware of what’s going on around you, and there’s a certain amount of accuracy. You have to be very mentality centered.”

Trombone parts, however, at times take a back seat to other parts in an orchestra.

“Even in some of the heavier works, if we play 50 percent of the time, that’s a lot,” Ferguson said. “We have a lot of rests, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Most composers make the brass a little heavier, then put some more introspective parts in the middle. Brass is really what gets people out of the seats at the end of the show.”

Ferguson and his wife, Mary — who is pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at Indiana University — like to travel to Punxsy about twice a year.

Also, Ferguson, along with saxophone player Leo Potts, is studying the Lindeman Sovel approach, which seeks to create an awareness in the individual of how his or her sound is being played rhythmically relative to the resistance of the tube length and the notes on the page.