Baylor Alumnus Assumes Principal Trombonist Position in New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

June 12, 2018
News - John Romero
John Romero

Baylor alumnus John Romero will soon begin performing as principal trombonist with the famed Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Contact: Whitney Richter, Director of Marketing and Communications, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, 254-710-7539
Written by: Gary Stokes, Office of the Vice Provost for Research

WACO, Texas (June 12, 2018) – This September, when the world's premier opera performers take the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York's Lincoln Center, they'll have a Baylor Bear backing them up.

Baylor Class of 2014 graduate and Longview, Texas, native John Romero has been selected from a highly talented and competitive group of aspiring musicians to serve as principal trombonist with the Met orchestra. A world-class musician who has arranged and performed classical and jazz compositions, Romero has appeared as a soloist internationally.

Romero arrived at Baylor supremely confident in his talent and ability. The first week of classes, he approached his eventual mentor, trombone professor Brent Phillips, to audition for a position in his trombone studio, a group of outstanding student musicians Phillips recruits from throughout Texas and around the country.

Romero Video Bourgeois with BSO and John Romero mvt 3

“I literally look for these students for years — people don't just 'walk on' in my studio,” Phillips said. “John was not on my radar and had not auditioned for Baylor. He was determined to study with me and play in this studio. I explained that all the positions were full and scholarship money is gone. I was willing to hear him play, of course, and to my surprise, he sounded fantastic. There was such an ease to his playing, and the rest is history.”

Romero has performed in all the Baylor instrumental ensembles, beginning with the Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Baylor Symphony Orchestra, Baylor Jazz Ensemble, and of course the Baylor Trombone Choir. He also accompanied the Baylor Men's Choir and was selected to perform a solo to the Irish folk tune, Dúlamán, an accomplishment he is particularly proud of.

Early on at Baylor, he and three fellow trombonists formed the Bearbones Trombone Quartet. The group traveled to Washington, D.C., for their debut performance where they won the National Trombone Quartet Competition at the Eastern Trombone Workshop hosted by “Pershing's Own” U.S. Army Band — regarded as one of the premiere U.S. military bands. The hundreds of professionals and faculty in attendance marveled at Romero's arrangements.

As a student in Baylor's School of Music, Romero won numerous honors, among them the Baylor University Concerto competition, the Big XII Trombone Conference Tenor Competition, the Eastern Trombone Workshop's Division II Tenor competition, the Robert Marstaller competition at the 2013 International Trombone Festival in Columbus, Georgia, and the Larry Wiehe competition at the 2012 International Trombone Festival in Paris, France.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in trombone performance, Romero earned a master's degree from Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston. In 2016, he auditioned for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and was offered their principal trombonist position. Just two years later the FWSO granted him tenure.

Being invited to audition for the Met orchestra is an immense honor; the Met chooses only the most highly qualified applicants based on resume or recorded audition. Candidates endure several days of live auditions, all performed behind a screen so the jury won't be swayed or distracted by appearance or other factors. Candidates are asked to play five or six orchestral excerpts from a major symphonic repertoire. Those receiving a majority vote from the jury advance to successive rounds. Romero played excerpts from all genres of orchestral music, in all registers, dynamic ranges and styles from Mahler to Mozart and Beethoven to Alban Berg. After the fourth and final round, Romero was the last musician standing.

“The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Lincoln Center in New York City is widely heralded as one of the top professional orchestras in the world,” said Dr. Gary Mortenson, dean of the Baylor School of Music. “To audition into that orchestra is one of the greatest achievements any musician can ever attain. By its very nature, opera is a collaborative art form that requires tremendous flexibility between the orchestra in the pit and the singers on the stage. For [Romero] to come through all the rounds of the competition and to prove his excellence and knowledge of the repertoire under the microscope such a process requires, is a testament to his control, his artistry, his understanding of the repertoire, and to the training he had all through his musical education. It is also a tribute to his dedication, perseverance, and commitment to do the hard work, over a very long time, to come to a place where he could stand out and be selected against all of the talent present at the preliminary and final auditions for this prestigious position.”

Baylor Vice Provost for Research Dr. Truell Hyde expressed similar admiration for Romero's accomplishment and for what his success contributes to the university's standing.

“Reaching back as far into our history as one can, music has been absolutely central to Baylor's mission and character as a Christian institution,” Hyde said. “That's as true today as it has been at any other time. [Romero's] selection to the Met is further evidence that Baylor's reputation for turning out truly exceptional musicians is well deserved. Congratulations are in order all around.”

As a professor and mentor, Phillips offers a teacher's — and a Christian's — perspective on raising up talented young musicians like Romero:

While I believe that studying music may open many doors for students to pursue creative work outside of performance, I am a bit old school — I want my performance majors to win jobs. I believe Baylor is an ideal proving ground and hotbed for musical talent. Baylor trombone students have won jobs across the country and hold major teaching positions. This is in fact the case with many studios at Baylor. This is not about my teaching, but rather the cultivation of work ethic, honest assessment and, above all, an understanding of where you ascribe value, worth and significance. If your orbit is only around trombone and your last performance, your orbit is too small. I want my students to place their trust and self-worth in the living God and understand that, ultimately, the missed note, the final audition round and the principal position is a testimony to your faith, not the capstone, end-all, egocentric goal you die for; that does not define you. Yes, we work tirelessly to develop our skills and invest our talent, but ultimately God deserves the credit. He gives us the strength and focus and is sovereign — win or lose.