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Hitting the High Notes

Photo by Noah Thompson '17.

Photo by Noah Thompson '17.

Morgan Bates ’18

Morgan Bates ’18 loved playing the trumpet, and she had enormous talent, but she didn’t practice much on her own—until a disappointing district-band audition during her first year in high school motivated her to step up her game. By the next year, she not only qualified for district band, but she also competed at the regional and state levels, and by senior year, she was a member of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band. Once at Dickinson, Morgan set a new goal—to master the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto—which she performed last year, along with the Dickinson Orchestra.

Morgan recently received a scholarship to attend a national trumpet conference, and she'll perform at the conference along with fellow trumpet ensemble members, including Ian White '19 (classical studies, economics), Caroline Snyder '19 (anthropology) and Miranda Lape, a local high-school student who takes music classes at Dickinson and plays second chair to Morgan in the Dickinson Orchestra. It's a close-knit group; Morgan was Ian's first-year mentor, and she collaborated with Caroline, a fellow FY mentor, to present last year’s music Pre-Orientation interest group. 

Below, Morgan describes the experience that changed everything, the day she knew she wanted to be a music major, her experiences teaching music for the first time and the class that inspired her to hear everything anew.  


Music, with a religion minor.

Clubs and organizations:  

Dickinson Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Dickinson Improvisation and Collaboration Ensemble (DICE), Chamber Music, Music Society, Music Majors Committee, Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice (student leader), Tritons (tour guides) and Queer Peers


John Montgomery Scholar; winner, 2015-16 Concerto Competition; Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Band; Alpha Lambda Delta and Dean’s List.

Favorite book:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.

Favorite movie:

The Silence of the Lambs.

On choosing a major:

It’s kind of a funny story. I enrolled as a potential political science/pre-law major with an intention to minor in music. I was awarded a music lesson fee waiver as a part of my John Montgomery Scholarship, and a few weeks after enrolling, trumpet professor [Contributing Faculty in Music] Jeffrey Wohlbach contacted me to set up a trial lesson. We met over the summer for what happened to be my very first trumpet lesson. I was so flabbergasted and exhilarated by the progress that I was able to make over the course of the lesson that when Professor Wohlbach asked me if I had ever considered majoring in music, I said, “Sure, I would consider it,” offhand. I think it took that single lesson to show me that trumpeting was more than just a hobby; it’s my passion, the one thing in my life that pushes me while making complete sense to my head and my soul. I wound up declaring my major just weeks later.

Favorite place on campus:

Weiss 212.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Garlic pepper chicken with parmesan rice (known to many students as “cheesy rice”).

Favorite class:

A 300-level music seminar called Canonical Outsiders, taught by [Associate] Professor [of Music] Amy Wlodarski. The course focused on the musicological canon and its exclusions on the basis of diversity. We explored compositions by African American, female and LGBTQ composers. In addition to the complex readings and writing assignments, each of us faced a unique array of personal challenges, since the topics presented were relevant and relatable. As a class, we had brilliant class discussions, designed posters and podcasts to present our research to the public and helped coordinate last spring’s concert, Black Music Matters: Performance as Social Activism. I haven’t listened to music in the same way since that semester.

As a kid, I wanted to be …

At the age 8, I was absolutely certain that I would be the president of the United States.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I plan to attend graduate school for trumpet performance and receive a master’s degree, then pursue an master's and Ph.D. in musicology, with an emphasis in feminist and queer studies. The ultimate dream is to play in a professional symphony orchestra before or while teaching trumpet performance and/or musicology at a college or university. I also plan to keep the possibility of divinity school or seminary on the back burner. I have keen interests in comparative world religion and theology. I’d love to explore those topics further. For now, however, I am able to learn more about these topics through my religion minor and interfaith work with the Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice.

Most important thing I’ve learned so far:

Let your experiences shape you. As a first-year student, I remember thinking that I knew exactly who I was. It didn’t take long to realize that there was a lot more to discover, since I still had a lot to experience. It took a while for me to let go of my expectations for myself and allow new experiences to help me fully understand who I am and what I’m destined to do with my life.

On choosing the trumpet:

I began playing the trumpet in 6th grade after playing saxophone for a year. Something about the trumpet's sound was simply alluring to me. Once I started, I couldn't put the horn down.

Photo by Carl Socolow '77

Photo by Carl Socolow '77

On changing her playing by changing her mindset:

In Pennsylvania, we have district band, then regional competitions and then all-states. I didn't practice very much on my own until a district band audition changed my mind about my entire approach to trumpet. I scored a 61—out of 200 (to get into district, level, you need 130 or higher). I felt legitimately embarrassed for the first time in my life.

At that moment, I realized that I had a long way to go as an instrumentalist. I practiced every night until the next year, when I made districts for the first time. I went to regions and all-state the following year and then was a member of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band my senior year. Essentially, anything I have ever accomplished as a musician was the aftermath of one bad audition. Once I changed my mindset, I finally understood that humility and hard practice are prerequisites to improvement as a musician.

Proudest accomplishment:

My performance of the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto with the Dickinson Orchestra. I had heard the piece midway through my first year and set a goal to learn it before I graduated college. I never expected to have the opportunity to play it with a full orchestra a year later. I used every rehearsal to make my performance stronger and connect my sound with the orchestra. By the final performance, everything fell into place.

On teaching music for the first time:

This past summer, I had the opportunity to serve as a counselor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan. Blue Lake is unique in that it integrates music performance and education into college-aged staff members’ experiences. I was consequently able to perform as principal trumpet in the camp’s staff band and brass quintet, connect with and play alongside of faculty and teach trumpet fundamental technique classes to our youngest campers. Since I have very limited teaching experience, I was really thrown into the deep end; however, I discovered that while it’s extremely difficult, I really enjoy teaching and troubleshooting different pedagogical ways to understand the process of music making. I was able to apply liberal-arts concepts, especially coordinating different subject areas to help my students understand big ideas with ease. Essentially, my education at Dickinson gave me all of the tools to perform a job for which I had very little background knowledge. Overall, I learned a lot about myself throughout the summer, and I left the camp fully transformed and inspired by my students and coworkers.

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Published January 26, 2017