5 Questions with Kenneth Thompkins

We got a chance to catch up with Endorser Kenneth Tompkins, a featured performer at at this years International Trombone Festival in Muncie Indiana.

A native of Severna Park, Maryland, Kenneth has served as Principal Trombonist of the Detroit Symphony since 1997, when he was appointed to that position by Neeme Järvi.  Thompkins’ recent solo release, Sonatas, Songs, and Spirituals, has been hailed as “inspiring” (Dr. Irv Wagner), “gorgeous,” (James Nova), and “creative” (Weston Sprott).

Tell us about your early years, why did you choose the trombone?

The Baltimore – Washington D.C. area is rich in music and culture. I was very fortunate as a young musician to be exposed to incredible musicians in the Militiary Bands, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Annapolis Brass Quintet. There were a lot of opportunities for young musicians to play in youth orchestras, bands, and jazz ensembles. Early on I started playing trumpet in the fourth grade and quickly moved to playing euphonium and a bit of tuba. My band director in middle school told me that he wanted me to play the trombone when I was in seventh grade. He let me borrow an instrument and beginning trombone method book over the summer and I have been playing trombone ever since. 

What was your most memorable performance?

Some of my most memorable performances have been while the DSO has been on tour. It is wonderful to tour, but it can be difficult to perform after travelling all day long. Many times I have played concerts on tour with very little rest or food. Neeme Jarvi loved to tour and saw it as a wonderful opportunity to expose the world to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Jarvi had particularly fine interpretations of the music of Shostakovich. Whenever we performed Shostakovich with Jarvi it was extremely memorable.

You’ve been invited to perform and conduct master classes at many music schools, what is the most frequently asked question? Any tips for young trombone players?

Most younger musicians are curious about my life as a musician. They frequently ask about my favorite composer, where I went to school, how much do I practice and how to practice.

I would advise any young musician to spend a lot of time mastering the fundamentals of great brass playing. Developing great fundamentals will enable any musician to be able to concentrate on making music instead of technique. 

How often do you use Lip Renew?

I use Lip Renew very often. I make sure that I use Lip Renew during and after a particularly tiring session of practice or rehearsal. I want to make sure my chops feel refreshed the next time I pick up the horn so Lip Renew is great for helping to reduce lip swelling.

Your 2017 release, Sonatas, Songs, and Spirituals, got great reviews, what’s next?

I am continuing to explore new music and commissioning composers to produce new works for trombone.There is so much great music for trombone that I have not played so I always have something that I am working on. I feel very fortunate to be performing in a great orchestra, perform masterclasses throughout the country and perform solo repertoire.