Little did he know at the time, but seven years ago when Sean McCusker picked up the trombone just to look cool in front of one his friends, that it would be the start to a musical career that has already seen him tour the country as part of exclusive jazz ensembles.
The Lower Moreland senior traveled to Florida at the end of March with the rest of the school Jazz Band to compete in “Festival Disney,” where LM took first place in the competition in its division, and placed second overall out of all 17 ensembles.
And the great opportunities for McCusker don’t end there. After returning from Indianapolis for “Jazz Band in America,” he’s once again on the road to participate in the All-State Jazz competition, earning him Patch’s Whiz Kid honors this week. He’ll be one of 20 state finalists chosen to perform.
McCusker, who found out last February he was accepted into the prestigious group, is away for three days, as the ensemble will wrap up the trip with a Friday night concert.
The soon-to-be high school graduate has encountered many music instructors during his playing days. But when he met Sean Jones, a Grammy Award winning trumpeter and composer from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, that’s when his viewpoint of music changed.
“It was probably a turning point in my musical career because it made me change my perspective on a lot of things, and made me approach music in a different manner,” McCusker said, who first started playing cello when he was 10-years-old. “Just in the way I practice, and how music – it’s not only about learning skills and notes – but it’s very much an emotional thing. And a combination of technical skill and, it sounds corny but, the soul behind the music is what makes the music great. That’s the difference between a mediocre player and a great player.”
McCusker’s participation in “Jazz Band in America” was also a big moment for him as he realized the joy he got from playing. It also really opened his eyes as to what being a professional musician was all about.
“That was another one of those points where it just made me go, ‘Wow,’” McCusker said. “It was amazing. The thing about that band, we were treated as such as though we were professionals. It wasn’t like the school band where we have to spend hours on the same thing. We can all play and just enjoy it. There was no stress or pain to it.”
McCusker first got into music at the age of 10 when he played the cello. The move to trumpet was actually the cause of one of his childhood friends.
“Actually it was one of my friends, I was trying to be cool and follow him,” McCusker said. “He wanted to play trombone. I really liked it, and he ended up hating it. I stuck with it and did middle school jazz band and it just progressed from there.”
McCusker has turned an interest in middle school jazz to a possible future career in music as he’s headed to Temple University next fall. He will study music education, where his passion for the subject will carry him through his collegiate years and hopefully to the professional level.
“As a music education major, I’m going to be trained to be a music director like Mr. Stroup, but I still plan on keeping up my playing and working hard,” McCusker said. “The thing about music is, you don’t need a degree to play, where other fields you need all kinds of qualifications.”
Do you know someone who is worthy of being a 'Whiz Kid?' Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make a suggestion.