Honing the horn


A calming, cool echo of a horn can be heard in a certain Los Lunas neighborhood on any given afternoon.

That sound involves mutes, slides and something called “blue juice” the player uses to hone his craft.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia High School student Roman Gonzales holds his silver trumpet at his Los Lunas home. Gonzales is a member of three bands at the school and holds several awards.

Often it comes from the trumpet of Roman Gonzales, a sophomore at Valencia High School, who has earned high accolades for playing the only instrument he has known.

Roman, 16, seems unsatisfied with winning awards at both regional and state competitions, and says he wants to be one of the best players that rank with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie.

“I just want to be the best,” Roman said.

In the sixth grade, Roman was convinced by his music instructor that the trumpet should be his instrument of choice.

Since then, he hasn’t stopped playing his silver Bach Strad horn.

He practices for four hours a day when he has band, and two hours each day during his off time. Playing the trumpet has come easy to the high school student, and his skills may have come from family genes.

His mother, Loretta, said other members of their family played the trumpet and two of those instruments were handed down to Roman and his sister, Carolyn, 15.

Roman is first chair in both jazz and concert band, and his sister sits close by as a second-chair trumpet player. The two also play in the school’s marching band and have 11 medals between them.

On some occasions, the siblings say people think their sound comes out of one individual instrument.

“It’s fun,” Carolyn said. “I like sitting next to my brother. I like having duets with him. Whenever we come together everyone is so shocked because we harmonize so (well).”

Roman’s competitiveness came after he wanted to become a better musician than a fellow classmate while he was a student in Gallup. He eventually surpassed his classmate and has been in the top spot at his school ever since.

But that great sound doesn’t come without hard work.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Roman Gonzales, 16, and his sister, Carolyn, 15, show off their brass. Both Valencia High School students have won a combined 11 medals for the school’s band program.

Roman has asthma and sometimes has attacks at times when he needs his breath the most. Once, he had an asthma attack on the day of a marching band performance.

“I just told him if he couldn’t play, it would be OK,” Carolyn said.

Roman said he “always” plays.

Still, Roman said he practices “a lot” and has memorized six to seven of his solo songs on his own.

He has learned the trumpet over the years and uses four different mutes and keeps his slides open a certain amount to make sure the sound comes out just right. He swears by a trumpet oil called “blue juice” to make sure his valves are functioning property. The oil keeps the valves from rusting.

He even washes his trumpet in the bath tub to keep the instrument clean.

“There’s a lot you can do with (the) trumpet,” Roman said. “It’s a very versatile instrument. You can play jazz, you can play classical.

“There are a lot of cool things about the trumpet. It’s one of the harder brass instruments to play.”

Next year, Roman said he wants to compete at the National Trumpet Competition in Arlington, Va., where judges, such as Doc Severinsen of “The Tonight Show” fame, have judged the competition.

Roman has received advice from local musicians such as Brynn Marchiando, a trumpet player with the New Mexico Philharmonic.

Marchiando is the principal trumpet of the Santa Fe Concert Association, Opera Southwest and acting principal trumpet of the Santa Fe Symphony. She has also performed with the Santa Fe Opera and the Chatter Ensemble, according to the group’s website.

Roman said to get better, he wants to take techniques from other well-known musicians. He said he has been to several concerts of Dave Koz, a smooth jazz performer who plays the saxophone.

Playing the trumpet, he says, allows him to improvise and change-up his sound by putting a metal mute at the end of the instrument’s bell or striking one of the three keys.

“That’s the style of music I want to play,” Roman said. “Really, that’s what I’m focusing on.”

His efforts must be working.

Recently, Roman received a pamphlet to attend a summer music program at Harvard-Berkley. One day, he aims to go to The Juilliard School to perfect his craft.

To do that, Roman knows he must continue to practice on a regular routine to become the best. So far, instructors at the University of New Mexico took notice by offering him free lessons for the next school year.

For now, the trumpet player said he plans to continue his normal routine and continue to find his next challenge. He said analyzing sound is part of getting to the next plateau.

He wants to eventually teach music to local elementary school children during his off time.

Every day he has reminders.

Pictures of Miles Davis and Marsalis hang in the hallway where he goes upstairs to his room and plays for hours at a time.

Roman said he wants to impact people such as the jazz greats of the past and present have done.

He plans on sending an audio tape of his music to representatives at the national competition with the hopes of being selected to perform in person and compete against others from different countries.

Roman has done solos, mixed trios and played with entire bands at Valencia High School and is confident he can achieve greatness.

“I want to compete and be the best,” he said.

-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.