Talent Show: Young trumpet player hopes to turn pro

Talent Show: Young trumpet player hopes to turn pro

June 12th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

John Burton has performed with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra for four years. Earlier this year his trumpet playing was recorded for National Public Radio's "From The Top" program.

John Burton has performed with the Chattanooga Symphony...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


Age: 17.

School: Rising senior at Walker Valley High School, Cleveland, Tenn.

Siblings: Brothers Brian, 28, Mark, 24, and Ben, 16.

Favorite music to play: Gustav Mahler and baroque composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Fridric Handel and Antonin Vivaldi.


John Burton, 17, has received numerous awards for his trumpet playing, including being recorded this year for National Public Radio's "From the Top" (see related article at top of page), reaching the semifinal round of 2011 National Trumpet Competition and winning the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Youth Concerto Competition in 2010. This week, he is attending the prestigious high school band and orchestra camp at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

To hear John Burton play the trumpet is like peeking into his mind. At least, that's how he hopes it comes across.

"I don't want people to be impressed by how many notes I'm playing or how fast I'm playing," the 17-year-old said. "I just want to show them that I can play something beautiful and musically express myself.

"If I mess up a lot in a performance but express what I want to say musically, I'm perfectly fine with that."

Any mistakes John has made, however, have been overshadowed by his successes.

He has performed in the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra program for four years, the last two as the youth symphony's principal trumpet.

During the last few years, John also has started to participate in a circuit of high-level competitions.

In 2010, he won the CSO Youth Concerto Competition with a rendition of Johann Nepomuk Hummel's Trumpet Concerto. He played the piece four times with the CSO as well as with the youth symphony in 2011.

On April 26, John performed Joseph Edward Barat's Fantasie in E-Flat at the Tivoli Theatre during a performance recorded for National Public Radio's "From the Top" series. The show featuring that performance airs today on WSMC at 10 a.m. and again Sunday at 2 p.m.

John also submitted performances of the Hummel concerto's second and third movements to the National Trumpet Competition. He was selected as a finalist and traveled in March to compete in the finals at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

In late May, John's playing earned him a scholarship to attend the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Columbus, Ga. There, he won first place in the senior division of the conference's youth competition.

This week, he is attending the prestigious high school band and orchestra camp at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, on a scholarship.

John said he became convinced that playing the trumpet was his life's work shortly after picking it up in sixth grade, long before he began winning awards.

Early on, the instrument was a constant source of frustration as he learned to control his playing, but that was only so much fuel on the fire, he said.

"I like to see progress," he explained. "Now, I'm struggling on smaller things than I was then, but there's still that frustration of getting things right."

John's mother, Fredda Burton, is a flutist and teaches music at Oak Grove Elementary School near their home in Cleveland, Tenn.

Even as a child, she said, John was obsessed with mastering whatever he set his mind to. He taught himself to ride a unicycle and to juggle, the latter of which he did so well that he twice performed at Riverbend.

With music, however, the passion was clearly lifelong, Burton said.

"He wants to do it. I do not ever see him dropping it," she said. "It's part of who he is."

John met his instructor, Tina Erickson, three years ago during a concert involving both the CSO and the youth symphony. At the time, she and John were separated by several chairs, and she didn't get to take the measure of his technical abilities.

When he came to her for lessons the following year, however, she said she recognized something rare in him.

"The thing that stood out at first and to this day is his enthusiasm for it," she said. "He just cannot get enough. The truth is, it's infectious. He keeps me inspired as well."

John said he is committed to pursuing a career as a professional trumpet player, a goal Erickson said is well within his grasp.

"With many kids, I would say, 'OK, but let's have a fallback position,' " she said. "With John, I'm not even talking about that. I think he's going to get it."


Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.