Musician Kameron Whalum of Memphis has visited a lot of places in his career as a trombonist in the band that accompanies Grammy Award-winning pop music star Bruno Mars.
Tuesday, Whalum found his way into the cafeteria of Lake Cormorant Middle School, where he reacquainted himself with his former band instructor Jon Young, now a director with that school’s band program.
It was Young that Whalum told a gathering of middle school and high school band students kept his interest in music when he was attending Colonial Middle School in Memphis, a school that places as much emphasis on fine arts as it does coursework.
“It was a hiccup with his academics,” Young later explained. “At Colonial you have to keep a certain level. I tried to talk the school into letting him continue to be in band, but they said they couldn’t change the standard. I started meeting with him after school and kept him involved as much as I could.”
Whalum had been in band and playing the trombone since he was 10 years old. Now, Whalum has been with Mars for more than eight years, has been part of hit songs, such as Uptown Funk and 24 Karat Magic, and has appeared with the mega-music star at Super Bowls 48 and 50, performing at halftime.
Whalum credited Young for keeping him focused on his musical instrument.
“I wasn’t always the best student, but Mr. Young did not give up on me,” Whalum told the youngsters. “That year I was not in the school band, he made a point to make sure I was still in band, honors band and stuff like that.”
For the Lake Cormorant youngsters Tuesday morning, Whalum spoke on his background, his connection with Young, answered questions and played some of his songs.
“I had no idea he was going to be doing it at this level,” Young said about his former student.
Whalum and Young both know music can be a grind, with constant rehearsals and practice time before the performances take place.
For Whalum, playing an instrument should be fun and his advice is to find ways to make it a good time.
“If you’re a trombone player and you don’t like practicing, playing or whatever, sit in the front of the TV and when a commercial comes on, try to play along with the commercial,” Whalum said. “That’s simple, that won’t feel like practicing but it will help train your ear.”
Young hoped the hard work can be shown to his students to have a reward at the end.
“I hope they see the things we do in the band hall really does create opportunities in their future, whether you play in college or high school, or you get to do something like this,” said Young.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.