Kyla Moscovich : Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn : New York, USA
Having graduated at the end of 2014 from the Manhattan School of Music, Kyla Moscovich is quickly becoming one of the go-to trumpet players in New York. Her list of recent credits is an impressive one, having played with big names acts including Demi Lovato, MKTO, and Fifth Harmony; to appearances on The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, Good Morning America and, most recently, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
All this seems a long way from when Kyla first picked up a trumpet at age nine and worked incredibly hard to become one of the most accomplished young classical trumpet players at the time. Punctuated by an early endorsement from Stomvi, Kyla’s early achievements saw her competing in international trumpet guild contests and featuring as a guest artist in music festivals and events both internationally and across the US. But as exciting as these experiences were for a young Kyla, the route of classical was not one of her choosing. And as her success grew, so did the pressure to continue in the genre.
“I was led into the classical world. There were times when I really enjoyed it, but I think it was the positive reaction that I got from other musicians around me that made me continue dedicating my time to one genre of music. I was playing at Carnegie Hall, featured on shows like From The Top, traveling with Stomvi and giving solo concerts, competing in trumpet competitions and so forth. It all just kind of fell at my feet. I was on autopilot. I was just doing all these things (and thinking) this is the only thing that’s getting me somewhere, I need to keep doing it. So I think that’s where the pressure was coming from. I really wanted to broaden my musical horizon and take the alternative route but I just had this plan for myself…it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted, it just needed to happen…it kinda had to”
Although the real-world emphasis was on the classical stream, she was extremely fortunate to be mentored from an early age by jazz trumpet player and music educator, Jon Faddis. He took her education outside of classical music by challenging her playing and creating amazing opportunities for Kyla to gain a fresh perspective on her future music plans.
“Jon Faddis took me under his wing when I was about 12 years old and he’s been kind of pushing me to transcribe jazz solos, listen more, open up my ear, be more well rounded, so I really thank him for not putting me into one category as a classical trumpet player and showing me other genres; having me branch out more. From that he had me playing on a bunch of his gigs with him, and I started playing with people like Russell Malone, Antonio Hart, Todd Coolman, all these world renowned jazz musicians. So that kinda opened up my ear and I thought, “Hm, I don’t only have to stick to one genre. I can genre bend and still use my classical training as a stepping stone to more opportunities. I can still have fun!””
But as much as it was becoming clear that her passion for music was broader than her pursuits to date, the pressure of the default plan she had laid out continued to dictate her playing. And as she headed to college, it proved a difficult weight to get out from under.
“The general plan was to compete, practice excerpts and solos, make myself known in the classical realm, do solo performances around the world, get endorsed, go to school for classical music, get my degree in classical performance, and win an orchestral gig. I even got into Manhattan School of Music for jazz performance, but I didn’t do it. I had a path and plan for myself; don’t break the plan, don’t get off the path. But I really, really, really wish I had done what my heart was telling me to do; because I never got a chance to truly study jazz theory and the history behind the music. I learned it all by ear, thanks to Jon Faddis for telling me to transcribe and do all these mental exercises, but I never really have a chance to study the history or the jazz theory part of it – which I think could have really benefited the writing and composing aspect of my career.”
Flanked by opportunities to expand her playing and capitalise on all she’d learned from mentors like Jon, she would inevitably make some changes during her classical studies. One particularly influential teacher would push Kyla’s thinking in a fresh direction and nudge her into exploring her music in new ways.
“I ended up switching teachers at Manhattan School Of Music because I wanted to do explore other genres of music and because I was struggling with some changes in my playing, and Laurie Frink was known as the trumpet guru, but she wasn’t categorized as a classical or jazz teacher. She taught multiple genres to me; she was basically a fundamental teacher. So she did the fundamentals behind the embouchure, how to breathe properly, and how to make playing easier. I originally went to her because I was having an embouchure problem and having trouble with my range; getting my sound to be where I wanted it to be and how I heard it in my head. But she’s more of cerebral teacher – she gets deep down into how you’re thinking about things. Often times we wouldn’t even play in lessons. We’d talk, we’d go out, we’d experiment with song writing. Whatever we did, I always left those lessons feeling optimistic and happy. So she was one of those teachers and she was helping me find my place and remind me how to have a good time, because quite honestly, there is absolutely no point in being in this line of work if you aren’t having fun”
Laurie’s inspired approach to reinventing and challenging Kyla’s broader musicianship led into a practical application also, and a single suggestion would prove to be the timely and long awaited jump-start she had been looking for.
“I kind of hit a plateau with my playing, wasn’t really having much fun anymore doing that stuff and I was trying to find a way to still play trumpet but not want to throw it out the window all the time. I think every artist in one way or another goes through that phase, or at least most do. Luckily I was studying with the best person to guide me out of that funk. One day Laurie turned to me and said, “I can see that you’re bored out of your mind. I can see that you’re struggling with having fun, so how about we switch it up a bit – I have an idea”. She gave me a line 6 fx pedal, an amp, and a mic, and said, “Go home and have fun, call me tomorrow and tell me if you are still bored”. Long story short, I wasn’t bored anymore. Effects pedals have become a big part of my playing today thanks to Laurie. She really helped me find my voice as an artist”
Her study to complete her classical degree was still in motion, and in addition to the complexity of balancing the styles while finalising her degree, the last year of her study would create more real-world questions for Kyla. Her fellow students were beginning to gig and develop networks outside of college but, as this wasn’t happening for her, it was causing some profound trepidation. And as she neared the end of her course and stared down the realities of finding her way in the NYC music scene, she seriously contemplated leaving a professional life as a musician behind.
“College prepared me for nothing outside of the walls of the school so I thought about going back to study something else. I was going to do veterinary medicine (and) do a complete 180. I was concerned about money. I was always going to play music, but I needed a foundation; I needed something that was going to be my backup. Then I was looking at going to Mercy College or LaGuardia for veterinary medicine – cause my father is a veterinarian – and I started working with him and thought, “This is great, how about I get a degree and make this a thing”. I’ll be able to pay my rent, blah blah blah…this’ll be fantastic. And then all of a sudden I graduated, and people started calling me for gigs. And now it’s like, okay, I have to make a big decision; do I really want to do what I want to do, which is music? Or do I want to make money and not do what makes me happy. So, I obviously chose what I wanted to do: music”
The gigs started to flow, the network quickly strengthened, and she fully embraced the teachings of Jon and Laurie by working in a range of genres from hip-hop and jazz, to quintet and orchestral. Comfortably adapting her years of training to each style with the understanding that embracing variation is key to being a successful player in New York; and this necessity is the balance that she’d been searching for for years.
“You have a thing – my thing was trumpet – but what can I do with it? I realised that I’m one of the most indecisive people on the planet so being one of the most indecisive people on the planet, I can’t really decide what it is I want to do. Which is also great, because I don’t have to choose, that’s something that I realised recently; I don’t really have to decide, so I need to stop stressing about making up my mind as to what I want to do and kinda just go with the flow because some of the most well off musicians, particularly here in New York, aren’t just doing one genre. They play everything”
In addition to the daily realities we all face, the endless challenge of any musician or artist is ensuring time to sit on your own and work on the essentials; to practice your craft outside of a professional environment. And given the opportunities her career has offered to date and the obvious growth live performance and collaboration provides, it’s understandable that this essential time becomes less of a priority. But she’s aware of the need to ensure the foundation that has brought her to this exciting world is maintained.
“I lose track of when I can sit down, play my long tones, do my fundamentals, flexibility exercises…when can I really sit down and do that, instead of focussing on being the best trumpet player in the world… For me that’s been the biggest issue – how do I manage my time as an artist, while also being able to manage my practice times, my writing time, as well as balancing my social time and my network time. How do I do the social media thing but also get out and support other musicians who are doing the same thing that I’m doing? How do I make connections with people who can benefit me musically, help me with my path and what I’m trying to get to as a musician?”
At only 23, working solidly as a horn player in New York City alongside some of the best musicians in the world is an incredible place to be. The future plans are a little fuzzy at present, but that’s perfect for someone riding the wave of opportunity as it comes; broadening her experience, developing her network, and simply enjoying the playing as it happens. She’s comfortable a few steps from the front edge of the stage as part of the band for now, but given her background in solo performance and drive to continue developing her original compositions, it will be interesting to see how the patchwork of styles she enjoys daily will shape her music and identity down the road. But until a time where she’s headlining gigs with her own tunes, it’s simply exciting to see her play music she genuinely loves with likeminded musicians; forever searching to create those head-shaking, never to be repeated moments that need to be experienced to be truly understood.
“I really wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my incredibly inspiring friends and mentors. I am so thankful for both the people who have supported me along this journey and encouraged me, as well as the people who told me I’d never be a successful trumpet player. I couldn’t be happier doing what I love”
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Also check out her website www.kylamoscovich.com