'Trekkie' trumpeter goes boldly into Cleveland Orchestra's summer

The Cleveland Orchestra's new assistant principal trumpeter Lyle Steelman was inaugurated at warp speed during his first concert with the ensemble in May, a program of movie music. Steelman generally likes movie music, but one piece on that program put him in the spotlight.

"I'm a pretty hardcore Trekkie," says Steelman. "I don't speak Klingon and I don't go to conventions, but I've seen every episode of every version of the series. I'm not very proud of that. Soundtracks don't come up often, but in my first week, the concert included music from Star Trek. The principal trumpeter knows how much of a Trekkie I am, so he let me play the first trumpet in that piece."

Steelman is not alone among orchestra members in having that geeky affliction. He says horn player Richard Solis, who sometimes wears a little Star Trek chevron pin on his lapel, "was very glad to make my acquaintance."

Playing first trumpet in the Star Trek piece in his orchestra debut was a boost to his confidence and a great introduction to playing with musicians he's looked up to for years. He grew up in Euclid, where he began playing trumpet in fifth grade. He attended Euclid High School, played with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra and studied trumpet at Baldwin Wallace with James Darling, who was then a Cleveland Orchestra member. After earning a master's degree from Southern Methodist University, he landed jobs with the National Repertory Orchestra and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. He became principal trumpet with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in 2006, while occasionally working as a substitute for the Cleveland Orchestra. This January, when an opening in the trumpet section came up, he felt ready to audition and got the job.

"I think the thing that shocks me the most is that I never thought I'd be good enough to play with this orchestra," he says. "These guys were my idols. I go to work with my heroes."

There's no movie music on the programs this weekend as the orchestra performs its annual free concert of patriotic music on Public Square Thursday and its first concert of the Blossom season Sunday. But Steelman is looking forward to great trumpet parts nonetheless. The concert on Public Square will conclude, as usual, with Tchaikovsky's "1812" Overture.

"As far as the '1812' Overture, the last five minutes is all about the trumpet," he points out. "It's such a heroic- sounding instrument, and Tchaikovsky took advantage of that. It's hard not to let the adrenaline get the best of you."

Sunday's concert fetes two American composers, with excerpts from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Aaron Copland's Old American Songs. "They're two fantastic composers for trumpet," says Steelman. "Copland is very challenging harmonically. It's really great to play first trumpet on all this stuff."

There's plenty of great trumpet material later in the Blossom season too. Steelman will play first trumpet in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. "It's one of the big pieces for trumpet," says Steelman. "There are a couple of passages from it on every trumpet audition. They're having me go right at it. That makes me feel confident."

But there's another concert that puts a different kind of shine in his eye. "In August, we're doing a sci-fi spectacular with George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu. We're pretty excited about that."

"Geeked" might be the appropriate word.


More by Michael Gill


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