Kicking some brass

She’s been playing the trumpet for more than half her life. From orchestral transcriptions, to Tejano, a traditional hybrid of country and Mexican music— the 35-year-old has crisscrossed the United States with some of North America’s most prestigious brass bands—performing everything from jazz to classical. And although her talents have transported her to the doorsteps of many impressive musical venues, she calls Cincinnati her current home, and Northern Kentucky University her present passion.

“I love playing music, but I also love teaching it,” said Dr. Raquel Rodriquez, assistant professor of Trumpet. “I’m lucky that NKU affords me both those opportunities.”

Rodriquez grew up in the small Texas town of Kermit, where oil and high school football are kings. She displayed a knack for music-making at an early age. But it was during a trumpet lesson, administered by her grandfather, where the family discovered the enthusiasm and talent pent up in the young girl, and how that precociousness could one day land her far from the arid, oil-well susurrus of her hometown.

“I had a passion for the trumpet early on,” Rodriquez said. “And it was through playing which gave me the ability to stand out in a small town.”

But more than standing out, the ability to play the trumpet allowed Rodriquez the opportunity to attend college, eventually leading her to graduate with a bachelor, master’s and doctorate degree in music. The degrees and musical talent ultimately gave way to a stint in teaching that spanned across universities in Kansas and Oklahoma.

“I really wanted to see how far I could go in my education and to also see how good I could get at playing,” Rodriquez said. “But I also wanted to become a professional musician.”

And it would be touring with the Synergy Brass Quintet (touted as one of the busiest brass ensembles in the country) that Rodriquez gained a sense of what playing professionally was all about. But it was also while touring in which she was reminded of how she longed for the days in which teaching music was her chief vocation.

“I taught at universities in the past and wanted to really get back to affecting young, outgoing minds,” Rodriquez said. “It was during this time that NKU was doing a national search for a music department position.”

Rodriquez applied for the job, and eventually got it. And although the conclusion of last semester marked her first year at NKU, her position is one which requires the donning of many hats, to include: teaching applied trumpet, brass methods and beginning conducting. On top of that, this spring she will conduct the Concert Band (which is made up of students from any discipline of study at NKU, in order to afford them the opportunity to play in a college band).

In conjunction with teaching these days, Rodriquez is still highly engaged in the brass band experience, traveling with a Kansas City-based ensemble called the Fountain City Brass Band, where she plays the cornet (a trumpet-like instrument).

“Raquel is a passionate musician, and a person for that matter,” said Lee Harrelson, artistic director and solo euphoniumist in the brass band.

The group, which recently embarked on a prestigious tour of the United Kingdom, in which they competed in various high level brass band competitions, returned with top honors in the Scottish Open Brass Band Championship.

“We are the first American band to ever win a major competition on UK soil,” Harrelson said. “All of us were very excited to go there and win,” Rodriquez said. “But for me teaching is where I currently want to be. It is the best job in the world.”

Story by Jeremy Jackson