Trumpets are his life

By Edith Zeldes
For the Journal Inquirer
February 4, 2005

Playing the trumpet is as natural as breathing to James Ackley of Manchester. Even before entering the fifth grade, Ackley showed talent in music and was playing percussion instruments in school, following up with performances on the trumpet. Even though he excelled in math in high school in his native Ohio, and was interested in engineering, he followed the advice of his mentor there and entered into the world of the trumpet.

“My teacher told me if I had any doubts in the future about playing the trumpet, I would regret them. He said, ‘You don’t choose to be a musician, music chooses you.’ I totally agree with that and went with my heart. I went straight into music in my senior year, and the trumpet became the focus point of my life,” Ackley says.

Ackley is continuing his lifelong love affair with the trumpet, beginning his fourth year as assistant professor of music in trumpet performance and chamber music at the University of Connecticut. He is also director of the university’s brass and performance departments, as well as conductor of the UConn Trumpet and Brass ensembles.

“I have great students. I conduct their concerts and they are fantastic to work with,” Ackley says.

“We meet once a week for performance class and then individually for private lessons — all part of the curriculum. They are multi-talented in and out of the music field. I have a lot of respect for them. They usually do more than I expect them to do.”

One of Ackley’s students is junior Lucas Burdick. “Mr. Ackley definitely asks a lot from us and expects us to work very hard,” Burdick says. “We perform our concerts in Von der Mehden Concert Hall on campus. It’s notable that Mr. Ackley performs in many public recitals. Listening to him then, is just as much a learning process as classroom experience.”

Ackley’s talents also extend to being trumpet soloist with the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale. Ackley became involved with the organization when he was advisor to the wife of MSO conductor Lewis Buckley when she was at UConn pursuing her master’s degree in French horn performance.

“Mr. Buckley would attend our recitals when I was soloist and he was extremely gracious to contact me,” Ackley says. “I jumped at the chance to work with him. He’s your consummate musician — in theory, history, and music making. He’s at the top of the game and a really nice guy.”

Ackley’s most recent performance with MSO was as trumpet soloist in Hayden’s “Trumpet

James Ackley
James Ackley

“The movements were very uplifting,” he says. “It was the first time a composer wrote for the trumpet with chromatic lines throughout the composition. It was composed in 1787 for Hayden’s friend, Austrian Anton Weidenger, who was considered the first trumpet player with a career as a soloist.”

As part of his MSOC community involvement, Ackley instructs a master class in trumpet for students in Manchester public schools — working, in part, in conjunction with Keith Barry, coordinator of music for Manchester school as well as conductor of the Manchester High School Band.

“One of my teaching methods is to have students play with their worst possible posture and then again with their best possible posture, and show how that relates to sound,” Ackley says. “We discuss the differences of the two sounds. They were very impressed. I do that because the music is set through sound or the lack of it. When they notice the difference, especially in the positive sound, it stays with them.”

“James really did a wide range of teaching to all the students in the band,” Barry points out. “He did a nice job of making important musical connections to all instruments, not just trumpets.”

“Hopefully, I can continue my career as a soloist and teacher,” Ackley says. “My wife and family have always supported me. They allow me to do all the things I do. My oldest son, Kevin, 7, has a propensity for math and reading. My youngest, Joshua, 2, definitely likes to dance and sing and carries the same pitch singing along with my trumpet playing.”

One of Ackley’s current interests lies in Latin folk music, which he arranges for several ensembles. He has recorded many CDs for numerous Latin American symphony orchestras, plus international TV, radio, and movie scores. As an international trumpet solo artist, he has appeared with many Latin American and United States orchestras.