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Trumpeter James Vaughen spreads joy with music

Trumpeter James Vaughen debuted as assistant principal trumpet with the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago.

URBANA – Trumpeter James Vaughen found his calling for performance while growing up in Champaign. IPM News Morning Edition host Kimberly Schofield spoke with Vaughen about his path to becoming a professional musician. 

Vaughen is a trumpet player who grew up in Champaign and graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and recently finished his debut as assistant principal trumpet with the Grant Park Orchestra in Chicago. Vaughen grew up with a mother who was a professional musician, but he says he didn’t get serious about the trumpet until after he joined the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra in Champaign.

James Vaughen: I started to be around more young musicians and then heard about a youth orchestra in Chicago that then I auditioned for, because we actually thought that my family might be moving to Chicago. And turns out, we weren’t moving to Chicago, but I had gotten into the program. And so my mother managed to make the trek up with me every Sunday for all four years of high school, and occasionally, on weeknights, to take me to rehearsals.

Schofield: Vaughen says one of the reasons he stuck with performing was because of how playing the trumpet made him and others feel.

Vaughen: There’s nothing quite like the joy of performance is very special. That I think is the drive that drives a lot of people and definitely drove me and inspired me.

Schofield: That inspiration led to all of the music you’re hearing throughout this story. And the person who inspired him the most was his mother, who would take him to retirement communities and nursing homes to spread the joy of music.

Vaughen: We just go wherever there was a piano and would show up and play a concert. And sometimes there would be a fair amount of people that seemed excited to have us there. Sometimes we’d show up and they scheduled a movie night, and we were playing for like three people and you know, nobody seemed excited, but it was amazing that sometimes the worst circumstances of those performances sometimes yielded the most impactful performance…experiences of seeing an audience be moved by something. I think that time in high school playing with my mom, those concerts are what made me be like, “Wow, this is literally like magic.” You can walk into a space, and it can feel dark and depressing, and you can bring music into that space and suddenly transform it into something completely new.

Schofield: After high school, Vaughen had to take some time off from pursuing a formal education in trumpet due to medical issues. He took a gap year and worked for AmeriCorps in Mississippi, where he taught in an after-school program at an underserved public school. Aside from the rewarding experience of helping the young students, the time away allowed Vaughen to explore the trumpet in a healthy and sustainable way.

Vaughen: It was a nine-hour workday and then have the time outside of that to just practice and practice being -instead of the work- being the fun and the experimentation and getting to sort of explore without the pressure of having performances or having a lesson or having to learn anything…sort of explored how to relearn how to play trumpet. And that year, then, auditioned again for music schools. And then that was when I got into Curtis.

Schofield: He says for the future, he can see himself continuing to work professionally in an orchestra, while also working on solo projects.

Vaughen: I’d love to have a stable job in an orchestra. On the side, I will be able to be doing projects that I’m excited about. I’m really passionate about trying to commission more pieces for trumpet, being able to pursue more creative projects more on the side because I do enjoy playing an orchestra. I was just thinking, sitting, resting for… it was a long passage of string music that the brass we’re not playing in… thinking how special it is to have a job where I’m just getting to listen to music is pretty cool. And I’m really hoping I’ll be able to continue to find meaningful projects wherever I end up being based, especially with education and even in and outside of music. The time I spent in Mississippi, I think, felt like the most meaningful part of my life. Being able to actually see change and feel like I’m making the world hopefully a bit of a better place.

Schofield: Up next? Vaughen travels to Germany next month for The Aeolous International Competition for Wind Instruments. Next year, he will be playing a principal position with the Indianapolis Symphony in Indiana. All of the music you heard today featured the trumpet playing of Vaughen.

Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield

Kimberly Schofield is the host of Morning Edition and covers arts and entertainment for Illinois Newsroom. When she is not covering the arts, she is performing in plays and musicals or running the streets of CU.

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