Globe-trotting trumpet professor featured in Spanish Olympics fanfare

LAWRENCE – How does a trumpeter from Kansas wind up in Madrid leading an orchestra section recording an anthem for use in Spain’s television coverage of the upcoming Summer Olympics?

The old joke about practice has some relevance, of course. But Stephen Leisring, professor of trumpet at the University of Kansas, often points to a map of the world on his office wall covered with push pins when prospective students and their parents ask where a career in the arts can lead.

The pins represent places the professor has visited, and they show — even before Leisring became associate dean for global engagement and special performance projects for the School of Music in 2023 — that the trumpet has taken him to 20 countries on five continents. 

“I didn't plan any of this,” Leisring said. “It just happened through hard work and getting the right guidance. I truly believe you can make anything happen. Every generation has had to adapt. But if you're really passionate, you can find ways to do it.”

A native of Connecticut and graduate of the University of North Texas and New York’s Mannes School of Music, Leisring said the twig of his internationally focused career was bent when he took part in a New York City audition immediately upon earning his master’s degree. He won an orchestra job in the Canary Islands, which is a part of Spain located just off the coast of Africa.

During 14 years with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, Leisring learned Spanish and taught private lessons on the side, even as the orchestra traveled around Europe performing and recording.

When he returned to the states and embarked upon full-time teaching at KU in 2003, Leisring maintained and extended some of the connections he formed overseas.

Leisring was attending the annual International Trumpet Guild conference in May and June 2023 in Minneapolis when he met Marcos Garcia, who is a friend of a friend and who plays in the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. They hit it off.

“He invited me, since I was on sabbatical, to come play a three-and-a-half-week opera with him in the Royal Theatre in Madrid, and it was just phenomenal,” Leisring said. In March, the group performed rarely heard works by Francis Poulenc and Arnold Schoenberg to great acclaim, he said.

That led, on his day off, to another gig offered to Leisring by another Spanish musician he had met in Minneapolis, David Pastor.

“He found out I was going to be in Madrid, and I actually had a day off in between the operas,” Leisring said. “He was doing a recording session with the RTVE, the Radio Television Española, Orchestra. And it was his piece. He was the conductor. And he invited me to come play first trumpet on this Olympic fanfare that he was commissioned to write.”

Not only was the sound of the fanfare recorded for use in RTVE’s coverage of Spain’s participation in the Paris Olympics, but the musicians were recorded on video from every possible angle during the long session, Leisring said, presumably for interstitial use in RTVE broadcasts.

Leisring said Pastor “is already well known in Spain, but he’s becoming really well known outside of Spain, too, because of things like these performances. It was an honor for me to get to go there and play on this.”

Leisring then leveraged his personal opportunity to pursue his mission as associate dean — extending the KU School of Music’s relations with university-level yet freestanding conservatories in Europe and elsewhere. It’s the focus of his sabbatical year.

“I visited seven or eight conservatories this year already, just trying to make personal student and faculty connections,” Leisring said. “There were four or five schools in Poland and in Estonia, and I visited several in Spain when I was there.

“The kind of exchanges these relations make possible are very important. They change people's lives, and so I want to try to do more of that for our students.”

Tue, 06/25/2024


Rick Hellman

Media Contacts

Rick Hellman

KU News Service