20 Questions with Hakeem Bilal

Proudly hailing from Washington, D.C., Hakeem Bilal is an internationally sought-after performer and teacher. Recent highlights include performing at the Indianapolis 500, and masterclasses in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Beijing, China.  Mr. Bilal holds degrees from The Peabody Conservatory and Carnegie Mellon University, and is the Assistant Professor of Trombone at West Virginia University. Hakeem has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and West Virginia Symphony. He also serves as the Bass Trombonist of C Street Brass, a member of River City Brass, and the MC of Beauty Slap. Prior to his appointment at West Virginia University, Mr. Bilal was on faculty at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started? 

I started band in 3rd grade and chose the trombone because it was so much bigger than me. I remember playing on a Bach 36 in high school before I switched to bass trombone when I was 16. I used school-owned instruments from 3rd grade through my first year of college and was finally able to purchase my first instrument on eBay at that time. It was a Yamaha 613 Rotor bass trombone that came with an extra D slide that I never used. Lots of good memories on that horn!

2. Could you describe what would be your perfect day? 

It’s June. I am standing on my back-patio smoking beef ribs and entertaining friends and loved ones. Cold beverage in my hand, and a smile on my face. I’m able to get a great session in on my trombone and I have time to play video games without consequence. Dare I say I’ve won multiple matches of Call of Duty: Warzone and NBA 2K. I have a musical performance in the evening, and I get to sleep in the next day. 

3. Most memorable performance? 

The first time I performed for a massive crowd at the Indy 500 with my band Beauty Slap. What a crazy experience! We were featured on a moving stage that drove around the track just before the big race started. Hearing both the roar from 300,000 people and the starting of the engines are sounds you can never, ever forget. It was so hot on the track that our audio equipment began to melt and malfunction. That part wasn’t fun but was quite memorable. 

Another memorable performance was performing Mahler 9 in Carnegie Hall with the Cleveland Orchestra. My family came up from Washington, DC and it meant a lot to have my mom see me on stage with one of the world’s best orchestras. 

4. Significant teachers/mentors in your life? 

I’ve had so many great role models and teachers impart their knowledge and wisdom over the course of my career. Randy Campora, David Begnoche, Denson Paul-Pollard, Pete Sullivan, Anthony Mazzocchi, and Murray Crewe have all had a major impact on my development and mindset in life. It’s an honor to share the wisdom of my teachers with my students at WVU. 

5. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it?

Golf. I really want to get good enough to where I am not the worst person within my group of friends. 

 6. Favorite symphony? 

Sibelius 2 (Bernstein) or Alpine Symphony, (Karajan) depends on the weather. 

7. When was the last time you cried, and why? 

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I cried more in 2020 than any other year in my life. The last time was during an episode of Great British Baking Show. One of my favorite contestants was voted off and I was not prepared for it. Still makes me sad to this day. 

8. If money was no object, what would you buy? 

I’d buy so much land; I mean like an obscene amount of land. I’d build a compound for my family in the mountains. I’d also track down as many vintage Bach trombones I could find and buy them. 

9. One thing most people don’t know about you? 

I was a semi-professional PC gamer in high school (before e-sports were a big thing) and used some of my winnings to help purchase my first bass trombone. 

10. Opera or ballet?

Opera. So much excessive drama. 

 11. First job? 

I was a bartender throughout my college years but my first full-time job I won was with the River City Brass Band in 2013. 

12. Favorite sports team? 

I am a Washington fan; Wizards, Football Team, Capitals, Nationals, DC United. It used to be downright shameful to be a Washington sports fan but now things are looking up! I will also root for Pittsburgh teams from time to time, especially The Riverhounds Soccer Club.

13. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be? 

Prince. 

14. Coffee or Tea? 

This is the toughest question so far. I love and drink coffee just about every day (shoutout to commonplace coffee), but I have recently gotten into the art of brewing tea. I really appreciate the restorative and meditative mindset achieved during teatime. If I could only have one though, I would choose coffee.  

15. Favorite book? 

Kopprasch. No… Grigoriev Tuba Studies 😆

16. Favorite movie? 

The Usual Suspects. Also anything with Jim Carey.

17. Siblings? 

I am the youngest of four siblings, two sisters and a brother. My older brother is also a musician and was recently featured in Rolling Stone, Vice magazine, and the Washington Post. Mom and Dad are very proud parents. 

18. Favorite piece to play? 

Mahler 2 – I think it is every brass player’s dream to play the low brass chorale in Mahler’s 2nd symphony. Really exciting and passionate music. I can’t listen to it while driving anymore because I will start to speed.

19. Least favorite piece to play? 

Bolero – So repetitive but it still has good moments.

20. Dogs or cats?

Dogs from here on out. I once rescued a cat in undergrad and that was my first pet. His name was Private Sox and I promoted his rank every month he didn’t mysteriously poop in my belongings. By the time he passed away 10 years later he was promoted to Commander Sox, master of the litterbox. I miss that little guy, but I look forward to getting a rescue dog as my next pet.

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