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A beautiful sound: Trumpet player Ethan Bensdorf shares his journey from Arts Camp to the New York Philharmonic

Bensdorf, whose talents were heard on the theme song for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, is excited to work with Interlochen students in March.

Ethan Bensdorf headshot 900x600

Ethan Bensdorf

Ethan Bensdorf (IAC 95-00, 02) is a gifted trumpet player whose talents landed him a position in the New York Philharmonic. Once upon a time, though, Bensdorf was a young boy listening to the Guys and Dolls soundtrack. Experiencing the sheer joy of music has always been a high priority for him and his family.

“My dad loved playing music on the speaker, and there was always music playing in my house,” Bensdorf remembers.

It didn’t take long for Bensdorf to start playing an instrument himself.

“I started playing the piano when I was six,” says Bensdorf. “I never really progressed super far because I have very little coordination between both of my hands, and there are a lot of notes on the piano.  I tell people that's one of the reasons why I picked the trumpet—it only has three buttons!”

Finding role models at Interlochen

Bensdorf began attending Interlochen Arts Camp when he was 10 years old. At first, his Interlochen experience was all about experimenting with different art forms. He tried his hand at pottery and took the stage in a theatre class. But things really started coming together when he took a class that allowed students to explore different instruments.

“When we got to the trumpet, it was clear that I could make a halfway decent sound on that one,” Bensdorf remembers. “The instructor told me I was a natural.”

At the end of the class period, students were allowed to choose instruments to take back to their cabins and play. Bensdorf chose the trumpet. The following year at school, he began playing the trumpet in his school’s band.

High school brought with it a new set of concerns, as Bensdorf became more skilled at soccer and had to decide where he wanted to invest his extracurricular efforts.

“Interlochen helped push me in the direction of wanting to pursue the trumpet as a career,” says Bensdorf.

At Interlochen, Bensdorf met people who became his musical role models and encouraged him to excel.

“As a Junior or Intermediate boy, I saw what the high school students were capable of doing at Interlochen and that was an incredible motivation,” says Bensdorf. “To see that and picture myself in their shoes one day made me want to keep coming back to Interlochen to try to be like them.”

After high school, Bensdorf attended Northwestern University for music. He auditioned successfully for the Naples Philharmonic in Florida, and spent some time there. Finally, he took the position with the New York Philharmonic which he holds today.

Ethan Bensdorf in performance (Chris Lee)

Ethan Bensdorf (left) plays with a colleague at David Geffen Hall (photo credit Chris Lee).

From summers in Japan to concerts on the roof

Highlights of Bensdorf’s career so far have included two summers at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Bensdorf also had the opportunity to record the Sunday Night Football theme song for NBC, lending his talents to an iconic fanfare that was heard across the country. He now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music. He’s worked there since 2014.

When COVID-19 hit, Bensdorf found an artistic way to give back to his New York community.

“COVID was a strange time for everybody, but one thing provided a little silver lining: I went up on my rooftop every day at seven o'clock towards the beginning of the lockdowns. Every day for about 57 days in a row I played a different song,” he says.

With a return to his normal performance schedule, Bensdorf is gearing up for new projects. He will join other members of the New York Philharmonic and a select group of Interlochen student musicians to perform in मुक्ति : MUKTI this March. The performance celebrates the legacy of Black liberation. Bensdorf is looking forward to spending time with the next generation of young musicians.

“People who have Interlochen in their blood form a special bond,” says Bensdorf. “Interlochen has this way of bringing people together cross-generationally that I don't think a lot of places are necessarily able to do in the same way. I want to give back to the students in the same way that I was given to as a student.”

When asked if he has any advice for students, Bensdorf urges them to maintain a positive vision for the future.

“I think it's important to go at whatever it is you want to do in an offensive way instead of a defensive way,” he says. “So often, we get really hard on ourselves. We go on our path trying not to make mistakes along the way, instead of trying to create beauty or make a beautiful sound.”

Whether he’s performing from his rooftop during a lockdown or recording the theme for Sunday Night Football, Bensdorf is committed to creating beauty wherever he goes. 

To learn more about Trumpet at Interlochen Arts Camp, click here

Want to hear amazing music by Interlochen alumni in the New York Philharmonic? Check out Interlochen Public Radio's playlist