SFCM alum gets real about his purpose, performance, and pandemic
Mark Grisez (BM ‘15) moved to Ohio in March to start his new role as Principal Trumpet in the Columbus Symphony. Two weeks of performances later, the pandemic shutdown orchestras worldwide.
Questions that Grisez had been grappling with throughout his careers in music at San Francisco and New World Symphonies came to the forefront for him as well as many performers. Why music? What does it mean to be an artist on and off stage? Seeds of these queries as well as his ultimate purpose as a musician were planted during his time at SFCM.
While at the Conservatory, Grisez studied with David Burkhart and Mark Inouye. Each faculty member offered lessons that helped him hone his craft and gave advice that impacted his music career and life in general.
“Dave taught me about playing with abandon. He has this mantra, ‘You don’t want to sound careful when you play and you don’t want to sound careless when you play; you do want to sound carefree,’” recalls Grisez. “Mark taught me a lot about organization and concrete steps to get from a to z with something.”
Beyond the music studio, Grisez found inspiration in Nikolaus Hohmann’s humanities classes (such as Intro to Western Civilization and philosophy).
“Every single one of Dr. Hohmann’s classes was hugely transformative for my worldview—asking questions, exploring my curiosity, and finding magic in the mundane. He has a way with storytelling [that allows you to] see the world in a different way: seeing the bigger context and meaning of things, the human value of things.”
Playing with abandon. Getting from a to z on something. Looking at the human experience.
As Grisez began thinking about all these things and his post-grad music career, he won an incredible opportunity: Acting Associate Principal Trumpet at San Francisco Symphony.
He was still a junior at SFCM.
“I learned a lot by being both student and professional at the same time,” recalls Grisez.
“Exploring the shift between the two forced me to ask bigger questions. What do I want to say with my music? How am I impacting their lives? What is the delivery method?”
Following his two years at SFS, Grisez further satisfied his curiosity about the way audiences experience music as a trumpet fellow at New World Symphony. There, he not only performed in the orchestra but was also encouraged to complete projects exploring the larger themes that initially interested him as an SFCM student.
He continued working with SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director at New World. Tilson Thomas’ teacher Ingolf Dahl wrote a piece called “Music for Brass Instruments,” and Tilson Thomas then worked with Grisez to ask those existential questions about it: Who is this for? What does it mean to play this now? Grisez then gathered a group of brass fellows to perform it with some of the ideas that Tilson Thomas offered.
His first foray into creating a concert exploring the purpose of a piece of music would not be his last.
Grisez and two other fellows worked on a larger endeavor together entitled “Double Take: The Human Effect,” a concert experience about how artists make sense of a rapidly changing and turbulent world. Grisez’s segment focused on how art envisioned the future—particularly, technology—and featured music from films like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
At New World, Grisez also started another side project: The Curious Musician, a video series focused on musicianship, creativity, and personal growth. Episodes include “How Healthy Boundaries Can Deepen Connection with Audiences” and “Being an Essential Musician.”
All of Grisez’s endeavors—whether playing in an orchestra or working on musical side projects—are in service of his endless curiosity about the purpose of music, the ways in which it is performed, and how audiences experience it. They’ve also allowed him to find personal answers to the larger questions he’s asked since his SFCM days.
“Almost every music student I’ve encountered, including myself, has [at one point] played a finite game of [performing] to get over hurdles,” explains Grisez. “What I saw at the Conservatory—and where a lot of my thinking now comes from—is that [being a musician] is about so much more than getting over a single thing [like] learning a new tune...or winning an audition.”
To Grisez, a career in music isn’t about a single performance; it’s about people, building bridges, and discovering what makes art essential.
“Right now with COVID-19 and not being able to perform...there’s this feeling of helplessness [amongst a lot of musicians] I’ve talked to. It’s like, ‘I’ve been refining this whole craft for decades of my life and...what does it all amount to,” says Grisez. “To me, what is left when you take away all these like things like being able to perform regularly in an orchestra is human connection, relationships, uplifting people, sharing the creative process rather than displaying a product.”
He continues, “Maybe the process is much more important [than the result], sharing that process with people, and being in that zone of play and wonder—the kind of stuff I got from Dr. Hohmann’s class [at SFCM].”
Asking the big questions and sharing the creative process—a journey that began at SFCM—is what Grisez will be working on while filming more episodes of The Curious Musician until he can get back on stage with the Columbus Symphony.
Learn more about how you can begin your career in music at SFCM’s brass department.