May 5, 2022

MSM Spotlight:
Meet classical trumpeter Themba Pieterse (BM ’25)

Themba Pieterse (BM ’25) studies classical trumpet at MSM and talks with us about the brass program at MSM, his freshman year, and what’s making him happy right now.

Born in New York, Themba lived on the east coast of the United States and in Australia, before arriving in Albany, New York, where he began playing the trumpet. Since then, he has taken advantage of every musical opportunity that has come his way, falling in love with the instrument and its commanding presence in all types of ensembles. He hopes to forge a career performing in orchestras, and, in particular, for musical theater productions. Aside from the trumpet, Themba loves photography, traveling, and trains!

“From my professors, other trumpet players, and just other friends I have made during my time at MSM, I really feel I have found my MSM family here.”

Themba Pieterse (BM '25)

Tell us about how you are enjoying the brass program at MSM?

Themba: The brass department at MSM is like one huge family. We perform all types of music together, from symphony concerts to smaller chamber concerts. We focus on the more intricate parts of our playing, such as the technical side of our instruments, as well as musical concepts – for example, the phrasing, expression, and intent.

I love how supportive the environment is at MSM, especially among the trumpet students. We all push each other to become better players, but there is also a real sense of community. We play duets and trios together and perform excerpts for each other, also hang out outside of school! The supportive environment makes it easy when we play for each other; there isn’t the need to worry about every mistake. We all root for each other, and that brings a feeling of comfort that allows us to get more into the music, without added peer pressure.

Why did you choose to study at MSM?

Themba: One of the main reasons I chose to study at MSM was because of the faculty. Naturally, they are all brilliant musicians with amazing careers, but what really caught my eye was their love for music and what it can bring to the community.

We are all well aware what the COVID-19 pandemic did to the performing arts. Performances were cancelled, halls were closed, and music came to a silent halt. People began to understand just how important live music was after it had essentially disappeared under COVID. My professor Ethan Bensdorf also understood this and for over two months played nightly performances for his neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan. These performances were accompanied by the clanging of pans, honking of car horns, and applause from everyone who could hear. That understanding and commitment to music is something I fell in love with at MSM, which is why I chose to attend the school.

Themba Pieterse (BM '25, back row, five in from left next to President Gandre)

What would you like to tell anyone interested in studying trumpet at MSM?

Themba: I’d say this applies to more people in general, than just people studying trumpet: something I would like to say is that you will be playing your instrument a lot. From rehearsals and performances, to your own personal practice and just playing with friends, you can sometimes be playing for five or six hours a day. Some days you definitely feel those hours, but if you love trumpet, or any instrument, this is the perfect place for you!

How are you enjoying living in NYC? Why do you think it’s important to study here?

Themba: I love living in New York City. There is so much to explore and engage in less than a 15-minute subway ride away from campus. So many people to meet, and so many musical opportunities to take part in. MSM is also in a great spot in New York. Morningside Heights is a relaxed neighborhood but still very close to places downtown, such as Times Square, Lincoln Center, and Central Park. You’re able to have that busy New York City life during the day, but then when you come back to MSM, you’re back in a quiet neighborhood, nothing keeping you up until 3 AM, it is the perfect middle ground!

For anyone wanting to be a professional musician, I think New York must be the perfect city.  We have almost everything a musician could want here. The orchestras, the opera, Broadway, the jazz scene, chamber music, the list goes on and on. A lot of that is accessible for students to go listen to at reduced prices, or even get the opportunity to preform and get paid for your work. Half of what I have learned while being at MSM has been through living in New York! I don’t think my musicianship could have grown this much anywhere else.

“I love how supportive the environment is at MSM, especially among the trumpet students. We all push each other to become better players, but there is also a real sense of community.”

What have been some highlights from your year so far?

Themba: The performances I have been able to take part in have been a highlight for me since I arrived at MSM, and there have been a lot of opportunities to perform here. I’ve been able to perform some new works, but also some baroque music, which has allowed me to grow in my musical styles as well. I love playing and performing, and MSM has given me the opportunity to really perform in many different areas. Just last week I had my first gig at Easter, in which I had to play only piccolo trumpet, which I had never done before, but it was an amazing opportunity, and I was able to make some money from it too!

Some other notable performances besides my Easter gig was being able to play both Brahms Symphony No. 3 and Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart. Even though I don’t necessarily play a lot on those pieces, the music is gorgeous, and being able to help create that is the reason I love music so much.

What is making you happy right now?

Themba: Apart from music, the people that I have met at MSM make me endlessly happy. I know I have found people that I am going to be friends with for the rest of my life, from my professors, other trumpet players, and just other friends I’ve made during my time at MSM. I really feel like I have found my MSM family here, and it hasn’t even been a full year yet! I love music, but sometimes it is nice just to go out and explore and have fun in the city, and I have found people who I love to do that with on top of being able to play music together. They complete my experience here at MSM.

What do you have coming up for the rest of the academic year and this summer?

My jury is looming! Wish me luck! That is at the forefront of my mind right now. However, I also have a lot of other opportunities to perform that I am looking forward to. Over the summer I am playing in some musical theatre pits and potentially going to a trumpet workshop as well. Those opportunities are going to keep me very busy, and then before I know I know I will be right back making more music here at MSM.

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