Rewriting the Story

Graduate student redefines his path at the MSU College of Music.

Paul Rivera (far right) poses with Associate Professor of Trombone Ava Ordman, NY Philharmonic member Joe Alessi; and trombone studio students Sean Biehn, Nathaniel Geiger, Philip Mitchell, Aaron Wright after a master class in fall of 2015.

Whether playing the trombone at home alone or with an entire symphony, music speaks to Paul Rivera like nothing else. He feels music on a visceral level, within his very being.

From overcoming dyslexia and understanding his synesthesia to performing with some of L.A.’s top studio musicians, Rivera has worked hard to be where he is. 

Now, he is a master’s student studying music performance at MSU’s College of Music. And he could have chosen anywhere for his graduate education: Berlin, Germany or California, Seattle or the East Coast. 

“As an artist, you’re always waiting for the bottom to drop out, like failure is just around the corner,” Rivera admits. “But I feel like my two feet are on the ground for the very first time and it feels good.”

Upon discovering he had been awarded the University Enrichment Fellowship—one of a select few given by The Graduate School each year to qualified candidates—Rivera felt “shock, disbelief.”

Rivera shares that initially the news seemed too good to be true, and quickly his disbelief turned to gratitude.

And since coming to Michigan State, Rivera has felt supported, mentored, welcomed. One faculty member even brings his dog chew toys. Rivera admits the relationships he has built here feel like extended family. 

The bottom line? Being a hard-working, determined leader, Rivera is a Spartan.

“This thing is work, but it’s working,” Rivera says with a smile. “There are people, talented people, all over the world looking for exactly what is going on here [at MSU]. I’m so glad to be part of this unique place.”

Rivera has a deep love for film and aspires to work as a studio producer. 

Published as appears from MSU’s Make A Difference Stories: “Rewriting the Story,” December 8, 2016.

For information on how you can support the College of Music students and programs, please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at or by calling 517-353-9872.

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