LAKE TWP. 2019 Lake senior Derek Gullett remembers one moment from his past that directly impacted his immediate plans to attend the Curtis Institute of Music: joining the Lake Band program in fifth grade.
“I thought the trombone was cool looking – it was fun to move my arm. That’s how the rest of my life started,” recalled the quiet spoken senior.
Gullett said it was not a smooth start playing the instrument. “I was not good.”
Fast forward to mid April, 2019: after submitting a recorded performance and completing three rigorous live auditions, Gullett accepted a four-year offer, tuition free, to attend the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
He and a 17-year-old from Portugal were selected from a field of 100 applicants to fill only two open trombonist positions at Curtis, one of the most selective music schools in the world. It accepts only three percent of its applicants.
Curtis is also unique in that it offers tuition-free opportunities to only 175 students in its total enrollment. Talent and artistic promise are the main criteria for selection, and a “learn by doing” approach is used by the faculty, including many that are active, performing musicians.
What happened to cause this dramatic change between fifth grade and Derek’s senior year?
“He took what we gave, and went to the next step,” said Derek’s fifth grade band director and Lake Music Director Rich Kibler. “It’s quite an accomplishment. He is the third Lake student in less than four years who has been accepted into a major school of music.”
The other recent Lake graduates pursuing similar musical paths are Alex Prokop, (2016), trumpet, and Jacob Prokop (2016), trombone, who are attending The New England Conservatory of Music.)
Gullett's improvement was greatly influenced by Kibler.
“He’s so invested in all his students. From middle school to now, that mentality rubbed off on me and inspired me to do this as a career. Mr. Kibler sees every student as his own, and gives so much of himself,” the senior said. “Lake has one of the best music programs. We have very good leaders.”
By his freshman year, because of his continuing improvement and passion for playing, he told his parents, Mandy and Chris, that he wanted to become a professional trombonist.
“They said ‘what do you mean?' They thought I was going into chemistry.”
“Derek was always interested in science in his earlier years. He enjoyed his science classes and teachers. In middle school he thought of going into biochemical engineering. Once Derek discovered band and the trombone, he became so passionate about music that he headed in a new direction,” explained Mandy Gullett.
His parents provided Gullett with additional private lessons during his freshman year. He first studied with Assistant Professor of Trombone Jim Albrecht at the University of Akron for two years, followed by lessons with Baldwin Wallace instructor and Cleveland Orchestra trombonist Richard Stout. Lessons with Stout started midway through Derek’s junior year, and are still ongoing.
“Chris and I could see and hear the difference private lessons were making in his ability to play, as well as his confidence. We knew that we must continue this path to help him with his goal of becoming an orchestra musician,” Derek’s mother added.
In addition, through the year Gullett has participated in countless school and regional bands and orchestras to hone his musicianship. He plays for the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, which will be traveling overseas this summer on tour to perform in Vienna, Budapest, Linz, and Bratislava.
During his Curtis audition in early April, Gullett completed a pre-screening (submitting a video-taped recording of himself playing) in order to make the first cut to be among the top 100 applicants. He next completed live auditions to make the cut to 20 people, then from 20 to six people, before his final live audition to be one of the final two applicants chosen.
During this final live audition, Derek performed the Trombone Concerto by Launy Grondahl.
“I thought to myself ‘I’ve got to show them they want me.’ I felt that was the best audition of my life. I really focused on being calm.”
Father Chris Gullett accompanied him to Curtis, and to three other top music schools where Gullett applied and completed live auditions. He was accepted by each school: last November from the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music; and this past March, from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
“Believe me when I say that I was more nervous at his auditions than Derek was. At Curtis, my heart was pounding like crazy during his auditions there, as I knew how important an opportunity it would be for him to get into such a prestigious music school,” said Chris Gullett.
Next fall, Gullett will start his studies at Curtis. He is taking piano lessons to prepare for his college studies. He ultimately wants to play for a major U.S. professional orchestra, earn his graduate degree in trombone and teach and perform at the university level.
“I, along with the other band directors Jared Cooey, Mark Tryon and Joshua Laux, are extremely proud of Derek and his accomplishment of being accepted into the very prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. Given his sincere passion for music, outstanding work ethic, and his desire to one day perform in one of our country’s top five orchestras, we are confident that he will achieve this goal. We have sincerely appreciated his musical and leadership contributions to the Lake band program. Derek is very fortunate to have parents such as Chris and Mandy Gullett, who with words of encouragement and financial support, have helped him to realize his musical dream,” said Kibler.