Top brass: Western alumnus leads trumpet master class as member of U.S. Marine Band

Contact: Erin Flynn
Brent Proseus plays the trumpet standing up during a concert.

Staff Sergeant Brent Proseus performs with "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Band)

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—From brown and gold to red, white and blue, Staff Sergeant Brent Proseus, B.M.'20, has had quite a career crescendo. The Western Michigan University music performance alumnus made a grand return to campus as a member of "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, which performed Oct. 23 in a packed Miller Auditorium.

An official portrait of Brent  in his U.S. Marine Band uniform.

Proseus

"It was pretty surreal. I hadn't played in a large ensemble on the stage in Miller Auditorium since fall semester with the Western orchestra in 2019," Proseus says. 

It was a full-circle moment filled with nostalgia for the trumpet player who joined the official band of the commander in chief in 2022. 

"One of my favorite things about the Marine Band is some of the artists we get to play with. I played under Jennifer Hudson, Shania Twain, Yolanda Adams, Andy Grammer. And obviously playing for the president is pretty cool," he says. "And we get to tour the country and see all of the different venues. … We're basically ambassadorial dignitaries representing the United States whether we're on tour or in house."

Earning a spot in one of the most prestigious musical organizations in the country is a testament to the hard work he put in as a music performance student at Western. In fact, when he arrived on campus as a transfer student a handful of years ago, he wasn't even sure a performing career was in the cards.

"I had a lot of issues with my playing when I came here that I had developed from trying different warm-up techniques," he remembers. "I didn't have a lot of faith in what I could do as a player."

Brent Proseus stands next to a Western student holding a trumpet.

Proseus teaches a master class at Western.

That changed when he started taking lessons with Dr. Robert White, associate professor of trumpet in Western's Irving S. Gilmore School of Music.

"When I came here, I had a lot of questions about a lot of things. It took Dr. White two full years to instill in me that sense of consistency and professionalism that I knew what I was doing and that I can play," remembers Proseus. "I was going through a lot emotionally, so he was also there for me as a mentor, helping me with life, giving me advice about what I should do next and if I should continue to pursue music. He really helped pick me up off the ground and gave me a sense of confidence again."

Proseus also fine-tuned his skills as a member of the University Symphony Orchestra and University Jazz Orchestra, getting a number of opportunities to play before large audiences and alongside world-renowned companies like the Moscow Ballet.

"It's still one of my favorite memories to date," says Proseus, recalling sitting on a platform that rose up to meet the stage. "I was at the very back, so the stage was right behind me and I could look in the sound shields and see the dancers behind me. It was really cool being part of a traditional orchestral performance."

Proseus also spent a summer performing in a band on a cruise ship. He appreciated the flexibility of his professors when the gig ran longer than expected and he was delayed in returning to classes the next fall semester.

A group of students sits in chairs in a classroom while a student playing trumpet stands at the front next to Proseus.

Proseus said it was "surreal" to be back in the classroom in Dalton Recital Hall, this time as an instructor.

"Career advancement-wise, they knew it was more important for me to get out in the field and get experience and then let me catch up with my academics," he says. 

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 came with career uncertainty, but White was once again ready to boost Proseus' confidence and challenge him to stay the course. He connected him with a graduate assistantship at the University of Cincinnati where he went on to earn his master's degree in jazz studies in 2022.

"The fact that he worked so hard to get his focus back and his confidence in what his goals were and then immediately walking into lockdown, you know, there's some irony there," says White, uncertain at the time what the pandemic would mean for performing artists. "But it's really gratifying to see Brent in arguably one of the most coveted and secure positions in performing that exist in this country; it's really something."

"Sometimes you have to give credit to the work you've been doing, the heart you've been putting into your work," Proseus says. "I feel very lucky to be in the position I am."

A crowd stands in front of the White House.

The U.S. Marine Band plays at the White House. (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Band)

The position also gives him the opportunity to give back to the next generation of performers. In fact, the morning after his performance at Miller Auditorium, he was back in the classroom in Dalton Recital Hall, where he'd spent many hours as a student, teaching a masterclass to current Broncos alongside other members of the United States Marine Band.

"A lot of memories flooded into me as I was walking through the halls," he says. "Not so long ago, I was in these students' shoes, so I came in with the same mentality that I wanted to receive, which is to help them out with some ideas."

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band is continuing its fall tour across the midwest. More information and tour dates are available on the band's webpage.

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