UC San Diego's Department of Music

November 03, 2008

  Profile: Ian Carroll, Trombonist

By Trevor Grahl

I first met Ian during a rehearsal of Lachenmann's Zwei Gefüle last April. Showing up early to the otherwise empty hall, I found a trombonist working his way through his part, occasionally scrawling a note on the score. Since I was writing a piece with trombone in the ensemble, I took the opportunity to ask him a few "important" questions. 

"What's the highest note you can play," I asked, "and how loud?"  Ian made no reply, instead blasting out the high C that even some trumpet players have difficulty reaching.

Next time I ran into him was at orientation in September, where I discovered that he's at UCSD, working on his performance DMA. "I'm in love with new music," he grinned, "what a great school to come to for that."

Ian was born in Nashville and grew up in Richmond and Louisville, Kentucky. His parents' LP collection ranged from Berg and Mahler to Braxton and Miles. "I really became infatuated with music. I started composing furiously and locking myself in my room to practice for hours on end." 

During undergraduate work at the University of Louisville, Ian's trombone studies with Brett Shuster marked a turning point.

"Dr. Shuster really let me be my own voice on the trombone and encouraged me to explore all possibilities," he recollects.  "I started to play music with my friends, in groups (Century of Aeroplanes, Chumley), improvising on a weekly basis.  I even played on street corners when possible." 

And though he enjoyed the musical community and friends he made during his time at Louisville, Ian also felt the need to "explore more avenues of creative music in New York or L.A.". He chose L.A. "It was there where I found a school run by artists for artists: CalArts."

If the University of Louisville served as a prologue, CalArts was certainly the next chapter in Ian's evolution.  "I developed a love for free improvisation, Avant-garde and contemporary music, metal, folk, and everything in between." His listening range from Vinny Golia, Wadada Leo Smith, Susie Allen, Ulrich Krieger, to CalArts and other colleagues such as Dan Rosenboom, Gavin Templetone, Qasim Naqvi, Brian Walsh, Stephanie Richards, Cory Beers, Mike Robbins... "There were a thousand more," he says, "and they were all great performers and prolific composers of all types of music."

Ian was drawn to UCSD by the faculty (Dresser, Schick, Steiger, Ung, Harkins, Reynolds, Borgo, Burr and others), and by the fact that there were no grad trombonists, which gives him the chance to help expand performance contexts here.

Here, he is fascinated with the symbiotic relationship between composers and performers.

"UCSD has wonderful faculty and student body, and I love watching what comes out of that. The emphasis is on contemporary music, so I knew I'd feel right at home." Carroll is inspired by interdisciplinary collaboration and new technologies at UCSD.

He studied trombone with Mark Dresser - a bassist. "My lessons are essentially problems that I bring in that we try to solve together, so it really doesn't matter that we play different instruments. We share a passion for improvisation.

"I record myself improvising with some new techniques, then I transcribe the recording, analyze it, and construct a model for these new techniques. I'm looking for ways these ideas can become a part of my own personal language, their melodic, textural, and timbral implications. I bring these ideas to my sessions with Mark and we discuss them, then improvise using what I've learned."

I was pleasantly surprised to hear of this method of pedagogy, since it comes close to the Orff-Schulwerk method devised by German composers Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman. Unfortunately, the system is usually reserved for children and abandoned as musicians enter more advanced study. But, as Ian illustrates: "I feel very comfortable with this arrangement. It's actually not too far away from my previous private lesson experiences.  The only difference is that Mark's not a trombone player."

Is it necessary for a musician to explore so many facets of music?

"It's not for everyone," Carroll says, "but it works for me. I love playing music, I love composing, and I love teaching, and I think the old model of the single-minded orchestra musician is obsolete."

For all the benefits of studying music in a university setting, there are some potential risks. "The danger is not being able to find your own voice because there's too much going on around you. You have to know when to say 'no', and make sure you never become afraid of making mistakes. When there's a problem, then you develop a solution, and this is the very essence of learning."

When he's not immersed in music, Carroll loves foosball, darts, and pool - at Porter's Pub on a recent afternoon, I was destroyed 10-3 in foosball.

Ian is open to any new collaboration opportunity you can imagine and can be reached by email:


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