By: Abigail Chow
Junior Oliver Robinson started his musical career in 5th grade because band seemed like a fun elective. He happened to have a trumpet that was handed down from his great grandpa, so it was kind of a family tradition to play the trumpet. Since then, he’s been playing trumpet for about seven years. He plays in the Jenks High School band, the Trojanaire band, and the Tulsa Youth Symphony Orchestra (TYSO). In the past, he’s played in the honor jazz band and another band called Kind of Collective. Throughout his musical journey, Robinson has excelled at the highest ranks at both local and even international competitions.
Robinson first auditioned for TYSO as a 6th grader going into 7th grade and earned third chair in its top ensemble, the Symphony orchestra. He has been the principal trumpet of the group for four years in a row since then.
Ron Wheeler is the executive director of the Tulsa Youth Symphony Orchestra. Although he doesn’t audition the brass, he could recollect when the judges came to him after Robinson’s first audition for TYSO to tell him how amazed they were.
“I remember them coming to me after the auditions and saying, ‘We’ve got this really young hot shot trumpet player that you won’t believe. He’s only in the 7th grade.’ And they were right. He was a very hot shot trumpet player.” says Wheeler.
“He’s an exceptionally talented trumpet player with a lot of technique, and a real good sense of musicality and phrasing. One of the things about him is that he’s very eager to learn about new things, and he explores his musicality and the world of music in general, so I think that curiosity and that eagerness is going to take him a long way. He’s very dedicated. He’s very hard working. He’s very dependable and that’s a lot to be said for him.” says Wheeler.
In addition to keeping up with school and numerous extracurricular music activities, Robinson began auditioning for national and international competitions. His freshman year, he was invited to The National Trumpet Competition (NTC) in March and placed second in his division. That July, he competed at the International Trumpet Guild conference in Miami, again by invitation, where he was up against students from all over the world, including students from the National Conservatory of Music of China. He won first place in their youth division.
Then COVID-19 happened.
“I was planning on playing Rhapsody in Blue for NTC 2020, the competition I’d placed second in the year before, and the piano part is very difficult. I had to do a little bit of research and ended up getting Lyndon Meyer, the pianist for the Tulsa Opera to accompany me. I went to rehearse with him and man, he just blew me away. He was playing on this jankity upright piano and he made the thing sound like a million bucks. That was definitely my favorite experience performing with someone.” says Robinson.
The competition ended up being canceled the week before it was scheduled to begin because of COVID. In spite of the disappointment of not being able to compete at NTC his sophomore year, Robinson earned first chair of the All State Band that year. This year, he made Jenks history by being the first Jenks musician to make the All State Jazz Band and earned the spot of lead trumpet.
Dr. Ben Hay, the Assistant Professor of Music at Northeastern State University, has been teaching Robinson privately since he was in 7th grade.
“He’s the kind of trumpet player that trumpet teachers always hope for and maybe get a few during their time as a teacher and maybe never get somebody like Oliver,” says Hay. “When Oliver came to me, he was already playing at a very high level for his age. I had just met him and he had some advanced books and I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I wonder how this is going to go.’ And then he said, ‘Well, I’ve been working on the Carnival of Venice.’ Most students start learning their instrument for band in like 6th grade, maybe 5th grade depending on the school district. So 7th grade, one year into playing, and he’s already playing something that a lot of college players can’t even handle. And so I thought, ‘Hmm, I don’t know about this,’ and he played, and it was not perfect, don’t get me wrong, but the meat of it was there and it was already pretty well accomplished. I just tried to not freak out and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be an amazing kid.’”
“One of the things that I really admire about Oliver is that he really does these extraordinary things, in a very casual way, which is one of the best things about teaching Oliver. He doesn’t have a whole lot of ego, even though he is a very special player and he takes critique very well. You tell him something, and he really runs with it. The next time I see him, that issue that we were discussing is markedly better, if not 100% resolved. ” says Hay.
Robinson recently began teaching lessons himself. He teaches about four lessons a week on average. His students are 7th through 9th graders.
“Oliver is definitely the most experienced trumpet player in the high school band even though he is a junior. He has done the most things and is very well known throughout Tulsa and Oklahoma,” says Alexander.
With Robinson’s help, Alexander has moved up a chair in band in just one month.
Robinson’s advice to young musicians is, “Don’t get caught up with reading notes on a page. If you go and look on YouTube of good musicians, none of them are looking at music. Music isn’t in the page, it’s in your soul. Put yourself in a situation like a small fish in a big pond and surround yourself with like minded people.”
“I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a music major before COVID, but now I don’t. It kind of slowed things down. Once COVID hit, I had a little area when I was getting down, but I’m back into it. I think it’s something that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life. I don’t see myself not doing it,” says Robinson.
While Robinson considers playing the trumpet more of a hobby now, his self motivation, commitment, and passion are characteristics that will serve him well as he moves forward.
“It is very obvious to me that he is destined for great things regardless of the trumpet,” says Hay. “He can take that sort of focus and energy and drive and maturity and apply that to whatever and do very very well.”