Successful trombonist returns to UI


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In a short period of time, Paul Pollard has done what many aspire to achieve. Yet the classically trained trombonist, now a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, has remained grounded in his roots, hoping to inspire pupils in preserving their own voice.

“It’s important that musicians do what I do to play [chamber music] to keep them fresh as artists,” he said.

Pollard will perform at 7:30 p.m. today at the University Capitol Centre. Admission is free.

The concert will be the first time since graduating in 2000 that he has visited the University of Iowa after an eventful decade of promotion and success.

Arriving in 1993 as a graduate student, the artist set aside academic studies to tour with famed Broadway director Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1995. After two years of touring, Pollard returned to the UI to finish his doctorate in music in 2000.

Subsequently taking a short-term position at the University of Northern Iowa after graduation, in 2001, Pollard’s career flourished. When his wife landed a position at an international elementary school in Hong Kong, Pollard auditioned for a trombone position at the prestigious Hong Kong Philharmonic, considered to be one of the foremost conservatories in Asia. He was awarded both a performance and teaching spot, and he trained prospective musicians for the next six years.

“The students of Hong Kong really hunger for information and education,” the Georgia native said. “It was very fertile ground.”

He and his wife learned to acclimate themselves to the customs of their new home. Both learned to speak Cantonese and adopted Chinese mannerisms. Pollard credits his students for exposing him to the local culture.

“You become a citizen in the place you live in,” the 39-year-old said, and his family became Chinese in a way.

After playing and teaching in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Pollard heard of an opening for a bass and tenor trombonist in the New York City Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. He eventually became one of only five trombonists in the ensemble.

“It’s like if you were a baseball player and then go to being a shortstop for the Yankees,” UI music Professor David Gier said. Aside from Pollard’s ambition to travel and perform, Gier said, positions of this caliber only come by every 25 to 30 years for trombonists.

“All the stars would have to line up,” he said.

Pollard’s homecoming, however, was not easy.

After being abroad for nearly a decade, the Pollards experienced a huge culture shock upon returning home. Absent from the events of Sept. 11, along with their unfamiliarity of the Northeast, they had difficulty in becoming accustomed to the city and the country, which had changed dramatically during their absence.

“We came back almost as non-Americans,” he said.

Pollard may soon find a similar scenario in Iowa City — many of the UI music facilities are still damaged from the 2008 flood.

Although he is not familiar with his performance site, he is honored to return, and he hopes that the music school will return to its grandeur.

“It’s just really sad when you consider how many great musicians that graduated and walked the halls there,” he said. “It has affected a lot of people’s lives.”

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