California State University, Long Beach
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Brass Studies Director Frear Trumpets His Programs’ Success

Published: October 1, 2010

After interviewing CSULB director of brass studies Rob Frear, you kind of have to sit down and figure out what you want to write about. His four years (1987-91) playing as the solo trumpeter for the Israeli Philharmonic? Maybe his involvement in competitive bike racing? How about how he works with his dogs, one competitively on herding sheep? Maybe his freelance career playing on motion picture soundtracks such as “Pirates of the Caribbean 3,” “Spiderman 3,” and, oh yes, recent blockbuster “Avatar”? Maybe his playing for legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, country superstar Garth Brooks, or the rock bands Chicago, Cheap Trick, and Yes, just to name a few? What about his 2010 summer job of playing principal trumpet for the “Star Wars in Concert” 60-date North American Tour?

Or, the focus can simply be on his work at CSULB, the path that brought him here, and the students he instructs. Since he teaches on campus, let’s go with that.

In 1981, the Southern California native earned his bachelor’s degree from CSULB, but oddly didn’t major in music as one would expect given the career path he has taken. Instead, he majored in French, but there was a simple reason why.

“All I wanted to do in life at that point was go to the Paris Conservatoire and study trumpet and so I figured I’d better be fluent in French,” said Frear, who said he still speaks the language passably. “I ended up not going to the conservatory though because I had plenty of work here in the states playing trumpet.” His freelance work carried him through quite nicely, something he still continues today if his academic schedule allows.

The road to the Frear’s current position as director of brass studies at CSULB began, in part, with rejection, followed by a helping hand from a mentor.

In the late 1990s, Witchita State University needed a trumpet professor when there was an opening at the last second. Frear was recommended to them by Boyde Hood of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as someone who might be interested in the position

“I interviewed for the job with a bachelor of arts degree, a major in French and no music degree at all and I made the short list, but I didn’t get the job,” said Frear. “That piqued the interest of my mentor (Hood) who teaches trumpet at USC. He called me one night and offered me a graduate assistantship to come there and get my master’s in trumpet so when something like Wichita State came up again, I would have a better chance of getting the job.”

So, in 2000, he started back to school at USC, and graduated in 2003 with a M.M degree. In March of that year, he applied again for another opening, this time at the University of Kansas and was offered the position. However, it was he who turned it down because “the money wasn’t very good,” according to Frear. As fate would have it, however, soon thereafter CSULB’s director of brass studies position opened up.

“I applied for this job, already owning a house three miles up the street in Lakewood and was lucky enough to get it in 2005,” said Frear, who had been an applied trumpet teacher at CSULB since 1997, where he eventually was giving private lessons to 10 students during his busiest period. “I love this job. It’s a good fit for me.”

His dream job, however, would have been playing for the Chicago Symphony, something he once auditioned for, but didn’t get.

That rejection stuck with him, though, Frear noting that he felt the main reason he didn’t get the job was not that he didn’t play well enough, but rather he simply didn’t audition well. He soon realized that was a problem not unique to just him, but most others heading out into the scary world of auditions.

“Not knowing how to audition well myself, a deficiency in my preparation, is one of the reasons I am teaching people how to audition. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to anybody else,” said Frear. “We’re sort of at the front of this. We were interviewing for a new director of strings last year and one of the candidates put forth this idea that colleges need to start teaching how to take an audition. And I went, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s so right’.”

Auditioning is a skill separate from playing in an orchestra or in a band, according to Frear, who wants to see to it that when musicians leave the CSULB program they do so with the ability to confidently audition.

Rob Frear
Photo courtesy of Rob Frear
Rob Frear

“Here, they are performing in front of their peers and basically practicing taking auditions which is really important to be a successful professional at this point,” he said. “You literally have to practice taking auditions, so that’s a big step forward for our program. The fact that they are practicing taking auditions is indispensable to their careers.

“They need to win auditions in order to play professionally,” he continued, “and what they really need is the skill on how to audition so they can do it places other than here. As a matter of fact, competition is so strong now that they need to audition just to get into our program here.”

Frear points directly to the creation of the Bob Cole Conservatory as the main reason for generating stronger competition to get into CSULB music program, thus the need to audition prior to being admitted.

“Yes, it has,” said Frear, when asked if the Cole Conservatory (dedicated on March 7, 2008) has made a noticeable difference in the program. “We’ve gotten a higher quality of student auditioning and because of that the competition has gotten stiffer and stiffer. I can directly relate it to that, the better students wanting to come here.

“That is in correlation with some of the applied teachers I have hired, that people want to study with,” he continued. “I have added a couple of people to our faculty and they are really attractive to our students. They say, ‘Wow, I want to study with that guy.’ Well, to study with that person they need to come to Cal State Long Beach. The fact that our tuition is low compared to others and that we can offer scholarships to the really talented people is very attractive to them because now they’re not getting out of school with $20,000 in student loans.”

Frear noted that when he took over as director of brass studies at CSULB that the brass quintet program was limited, so he has tried to involve everybody in the brass department in a brass quintet.

“It’s a great creative outlet, it’s a great learning process and you learn how to be a musician,” he said. “That’s where you learn to be a professional brass player.”

The last two years, the university brass quintet, now called the Cole Conservatory Brass Quintet, has reached the finals of the prestigious Isabel Coleman Competition held in Pasadena, something Frear said doesn’t happen often for brass quintets.

“It’s a real tribute to the amount of work they have put in and the amount of training they’ve had, and it’s a huge feather in the cap for the university for them to be representing us in the competition,” he said, stating that 14 groups get selected for the competition out of 100-200 applicants who send in an audition DVD.

Last year the winner was a woodwind quintet from the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY) and the runner-up was a string quartet from the Cleveland Institute.

“Those are schools with huge reputations and Cal State Long Beach is certainly in the mix with those schools and that does not go without notice nationally and internationally,” said Frear. “Suddenly our name is out there.”