As doctoral trumpet student Alexander Freund (D.Mus, year 3) puts it, an essential part of being an artist is the “never-ending search for growth.” In Freund’s case, this search led him to a long association with the M5 Mexican Brass and a teaching position for 11 years at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Michoacán. In the past few years however, he moved to Montreal to study at Schulich under Prof. Richard Stoelzel, and most recently, he’s acquired a new position as professor of trumpet at Atlanta’s Georgia State University. We spoke to Freund in a recent email exchange about all of the steps in his musical journey, studying at Schulich, and more.
What motivated you to come to do your doctoral degree at Schulich after holding your teaching position in Morelia for quite some time?
There were several factors, which were in such synergy that they all magically appeared at the right moment to lead me to Montreal, Prof. Richard Stoelzel and Schulich.
First, although a tenured teaching position brings a certain amount of security, I had never lost my eagerness to develop my abilities and to broaden my horizon. At the time, I was also looking for ways to be more efficient in my own performing, inspired by the wise words of my good friend Martin Hackleman (the stellar Canadian horn player who performed with the Canadian and the Empire Brass): "If you can do the same thing with less effort, then it's already better.”
Second, during 12 years of extensive touring and hundreds of outreach activities in North America with the M5 Mexican Brass, I was asked quite frequently why I don't teach at a university in the U.S. or Canada. I started asking myself the same question.
In 2013, I first visited Schulich with the M5 Mexican Brass to record the album M5 on Tour at the famous MMR studio. A few years later, I invited Prof. Stoelzel (who I had met 8 years before in Berlin) to the 2015 Merida International Brass Festival in Mexico, and he had just started his position as trumpet professor and Brass Area Chair at Schulich. It was then that he invited me to study the D.Mus degree with him at McGill, a degree that’s nowadays a requirement to be able to apply for top-notch teaching jobs. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
When I decided to start my Doctoral Degree at McGill, everything came together and suddenly fell into place!
In what ways have you changed or developed as a musician in your past two years at Schulich?
All my early training and career was focused on orchestral playing. During the last 14 years, I’ve played more than 1000 chamber music concerts with M5 Mexican Brass. However, I could count the number of solo recitals or solo performances with orchestra that I did during that time on four hands.
Getting involved as a student into a university environment 15 years after finishing my master's degree was frankly quite strange at the beginning. Not only because most of my student colleagues are 20 years younger than me, but also because I frequently traveled back and forth between Montreal and Mexico to visit my family and newborn son.
However, at Schulich and in Prof. Stoelzel's studio, I had plenty of opportunities to train my "soloist muscle" through weekly studio recitals, regular masterclasses, the Soirées Musicales series and the annual McGill Concerto Competition – I went for it all. Consequently, I’ve played more times as a soloist with orchestra in the past two years than during many years before! Also, Prof. Stoelzel introduced me to some fresh approaches of instrumental technique and gave me a new understanding of my body while performing. This certainly is changing my playing to be closer to what I was looking for – more efficiency, more elegance, more musical and technical possibilities...one never stops learning!
How does the research you do here as part of your doctoral studies inform your career as a performer and teacher?
There’s an endless list. During the first half of my degree, I focused on the impact of meditation and meditative exercises on both performing and studying music. As a meditation practitioner and teacher myself, this subject is very dear to me. Interacting with students today and being part of the daily university life (which is quite different than in the 90’s), gave me the certainty that high stress levels are a very hot topic and that meditation is an effective coping strategy to deal with it. Special thanks to Dr. Isabelle Cossette, who introduced me to research methodology and prepared me to conduct further research on this subject in my future position at Georgia State University. I’ve been working on a research blog about meditation, music and science, which I elaborated under her guidance. It goes without saying that using this tool in my own teaching is an uncommon but very beneficial addition to the tradition of western education.
As a performer, I started a research project about an East German trumpet concerto, and my research will culminate in the concerto’s American premiere 35 years after Konradin Groth (my teacher at the College of Fine Arts in Berlin) played the world premiere with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Since being at Schulich, I'm engaging in projects that I had no idea would interest me two years ago!
Alex Freund will be performing as a soloist with the McGill Wind Orchestra on February 2, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. in Pollack Hall. Read more about the performance and get your tickets here.