Trumpet student excels in classical performance

Gause earns multiple fellowships, seats in prominent orchestras.

Michael Gause, a doctoral student in trumpet performance at the MSU College of Music.
MSU associate professor of trumpet and head of the trumpet studio Justin Emerich (right) works with Michael Gause in the studio.

Sitting up late watching YouTube seems typical for most teens. For Michael Gause, it was a window to who he felt he could be.

“I always knew I wanted to be like the people I was watching on video,” says Gause. “In high school, it never occurred to me that I might never get there. I had just jumped in and kept going.”

Gause’s trajectory as a classical trumpet player has been on the rise since his high school days playing in the band in Texas. A first-year doctoral student in trumpet performance at the MSU College of Music, Gause is heading out for several highly-selective, immersive opportunities in the world of classical performance.

First up is a summer fellowship with the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colorado. Come fall, Gause will perform a season with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as one of two African-American Orchestra Fellows.

“Michael is the first trumpet player ever chosen for the fellowship with the DSO,” says Justin Emerich, MSU associate professor of trumpet and head of the Trumpet Studio. “He is also one of four trumpet players accepted into the NRO this summer. The program is extremely selective, and places him among about 80 musicians from top music conservatories and orchestras in the country.”

Gause’s achievements don’t end there. In between practice and studies at MSU, he became the first trumpet player to win the MSU Honors Competition in 35 years, and was a semi-finalist at the 2018 National Trumpet Competition Graduate Solo Division. He was accepted into the prestigious Aspen Music Festival and School—but had to forego his full scholarship because of his demanding schedule. In the past year, he was appointed third trumpet in the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, and principal trumpet with the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra.

“I have always heard that it’s easier to make it into the NBA than to get into a trumpet section of a major orchestra,” says Emerich. “Michael is extremely thoughtful, organized, prepared and always has a plan for his next step. He also has a beautiful sound on the trumpet and plays with ease. That’s why he’s having so much success.”

Gause was among the students in the trumpet studio that had the chance to learn from visiting artist Billy Hunter, Jr., the Principal Trumpeter of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Classical allure

Gause didn’t always play trumpet with finesse. In fact, he didn’t much like the instrument or brass in general when he was required to take band in 6th grade.

“I didn’t have a strong interest in any band instrument,” he says “But when they did the typical instrument testing, I got a poor score on everything except trumpet. The band director told me that was what I was going to play.”

Gause wasn’t invested in music. He didn’t much care about the band. But his parents made him practice and he started to get decent. Building confidence, he began practicing on his own—nothing real serious, he admits, but enough to continuously improve.

Things changed the year he moved from Georgia to Texas with his mom and sister. He laughs that ‘Yes, it’s true, everything is bigger in Texas,’ including music programs in schools. Bands were more organized. They were larger and engaged in competitions. And more students took private lessons—something he hadn’t done before.

Emerich observes Gause rehearsing.
Michael Gause (left), a doctoral candidate in trumpet performance, rehearses with Assistant Professor Justin Emerich. Gause, who has earned two prestigious fellowships, is representative of the high quality of students in the College of Music.

“As far as my mom was concerned, she had this plan that I was going to be an engineer,” says Gause. “So when I told her I was going to be a musician, she was kind-of upset. But she did a really good job of supporting me, and made sure I got the lessons and opportunities I needed.”

Gause went on to make All-State band twice, the Honor Band of America and to play in the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio. When it came time for college, he earned a full scholarship to the University of North Texas in Denton. He directed a few high school bands after graduating, then was recruited by trumpeters Scott Thornburg and Robert White into the master’s program at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. With his sights set on a doctorate, he looked 80 miles down the Interstate and auditioned at MSU.

“Some people want to be teachers, or play in a jazz band or chamber group,” says Gause. “My end game has always been to play in an orchestra. I knew it was on me to make that happen, so I came to Michigan because it felt like the right decision to get me there. I also had the chance to study with three great trumpeters and professors—two at Western, and one at MSU.”

Gause attributes his recent successes to the combination of his family and friends, high school and collegiate teachers, and to the support he’s received at MSU. He’s inspired by the quality of musicians in the trumpet studio, as well as by the constructive criticism and guidance he receives from Emerich—a renowned trumpeter and educator with extensive performance experience.

“Every time I think I’m all set, that I’m ready for the next semester or coming year or even to take a break, Professor Emerich tells me ‘don’t take your foot off the gas,’” Gause says. “He pushes me to do more, and sometimes seems to get more excited than me when things happen. That’s kind-of cool.”

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