This month’s 20 on 20 features John Sebastian Vera, Principal Trombone at the Pittsburgh Opera, the River City Brass Band, and current Acting Principal Trombone of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Vera is also co-creator of the Third Coast Trombone Retreat (podcast coming soon!), and Professor of Trombone at Slippery Rock University.
1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started?
I started piano when I was 7, my mother and grandmother are/were both wonderful lifelong pianists with perfect pitch so I felt the pressure. I’ll just say I’m more suited for one note at a time. I started on a used King peashooter trombone when I was 11.
2. Could you describe what would be your perfect day?
Waking up early, meditating, great coffee with a friend, exercise/workout in some way, brainstorming/writing new ideas, practicing something that challenges me or just makes me feel good then getting on a plane and flying somewhere I’ve never been!
3. Most memorable performance?
Oof that’s tough, I’ll list a few:
-Nutcracker run with the Washington National Ballet at the Kennedy Center
-Shostakovich 5 with the Buffalo Philharmonic and conductor, Michal Nesterowicz
-Mahler 7 with Malaysian Philharmonic
-Getting to play on James Markey’s solo CD with my heroes as a grad student
-Outreach concerts in Haiti and Bangladesh
-Performing with Nelly and the Pittsburgh Symphony
4. Significant teachers/mentors in your life?
All of my teachers had some sort of impact on my playing and even more so on the person I’ve become in their own different ways and when I listen to recordings of myself I hear a little bit of all of them. Jon Bohls, John Kitzman, Edward Zadrozny, David Finlayson, and James Markey.
5. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it?
Kayaking in the summer, cross-country skiing in the winter.
6. Favorite symphony?
Gorecki Symphony No. 3
7. Who was the last person that made you cry and why?
Man, we’re getting personal here! I’m not ashamed to say I teared up when my hero Dirk Nowitzki retired. They didn’t make it easy with all the tribute videos and articles. He inspired me greatly.
8. If money was no object, what would you buy?
Now we’re talking. Eliminate debt for anyone in my family, give my friends who are running music schools in Haiti everything they need, and then travel year-round!
9. One thing most people don’t know about you?
I’m a lot more introverted than people realize, I fake it pretty well.
10. Opera or ballet?
Opera, duh, although the ballet repertoire is incredible and some of the most underrated music ever written.
11. First job?
Model train shop.
12. Favorite sports team?
All Dallas teams , plus Everton FC in England.
13. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be?
14. Coffee or Tea?
Coffee in the morning, lavender tea at night.
15. Favorite book?
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
16. Favorite movie?
Before Sunset/Before Sunrise/Before Midnight.
An older brother, Robert and two half-sisters, Deana and Cindy. I’m definitely the least successful of the family. So proud of all of them.
18. Favorite piece to play?
Jeremy Howard Beck’s “Awakening” for four trombones and “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt.
19. Least favorite piece to play?
La Traviata, I know, I know. one of the greatest operas ever, but the trombone part is often waiting hundreds of measures for a buildup and just playing a loud whole note chord to do the process all over again. I get a lot of books read during those operas though.
20. Dogs or cats?
Dogs every day. I’m scared to like any cat photos on social media for fear they’ll take over my feed.