Westfield teenage trombonist wins national accolades

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WESTFIELD – Excuse the over-the-top musical pun, but Jay Scherpa isn’t one to brag about.

“He is very humble and modest. And very motivated, ”said Zachary Scherpa, the father of a Westfield high school student whose bass trombone skills made him the best in the country for his age, according to a national association’s rating system.

As his parents describe his path to musical success, Jay politely sits in the family living room, giving short but respectful answers to a subject that is clearly not his favorite: himself. His enjoyment of music, however, shines through.

“My favorite part of music is creating it. I play a lot of instruments, almost anything, but the trombone is probably my favorite, ”said the 17-year-old.

The National Association for Music Education assessment system is based on a step-by-step series of district, state and national performances. Much is being done virtually, as has been made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jay’s nationwide presentations in October were also done this way.

Throughout his high school education, Jay rose through the ranks of All State Status, which he achieved as a freshman, to national recognition. He holds the only bass trombone position in the National Symphony Orchestra, a prominent group of teenagers who have performed live in the past.

The pandemic required a switch to virtual or remote performance. The national orchestra is chosen on a work-study basis, so musicians in their final years of high school only have one chance to succeed.

Westfield High senior trombonist Jay Scherpa has been recognized nationally for his bass trombone playing. (Don Treeger / The Republican)

What sets Jay apart, however, is that becoming a national talent in the orchestral bass trombone (as opposed to the jazz category) was not the result of an obsession. Not only does he find composing music as enjoyable as playing it or more, but Jay and his twin brother, Kyle, find time for a schedule that is as balanced as it is busy.

Everyone plays several instruments, having developed a versatility that allows them to always find something new, creative and fun in art.

Jay plays bass trombone, piano, saxophone, guitar, bass guitar, trumpet and tuba. His brother, who is also a senior at Westfield High, has achieved full state status and is proficient in the French horn, trumpet, guitar, clarinet and saxophone.

The twins are members of a musical family.

Zachary Scherpa is a college music teacher in Agawam. His wife, Ann Marie, is a teacher at Southwick. They met as group members in college. She was playing the flute. He was playing the trumpet. As fate would have it, Zachary was the last chance she would give a trumpeter.

“She had gone out with trumpeters and the group director told her there were no more trumpeters. I was the last one, ”Zachary said with a smile.

Many years later, when the twins were born, music was destined to play a major role in their lives.

“But we never had to push them. They motivate themselves, ”said Ann Marie Scherpa. “We told them they don’t have to work, but they both work 20 to 30 hours a week. They play sports. They keep good grades in school.

Jay’s first musical experience was not on the trombone, but on the piano.

“When my grandmother passed away, she left us her piano. It was a wonderful gift, ”said Ann Marie.

Jay started playing the piano in kindergarten. He started the trombone in the fourth grade.

When asked how much he practices, Jay deflects the question because, in his eyes, it is not practice. The word itself implies repetition, and he sees music not as a repeated action but as an evolving creative art.

“I play music all day. I’m part of the school orchestra and the jazz orchestra and wind ensemble in Springfield, ”he said.

“There is music coming out of his room all the time,” added his mother.

Kyle also plays in orchestras and wind ensembles. “I play the French horn. It’s probably the best Christmas musical instrument, and I love Christmas music, ”he said.

Even the dog is part of the family activity, they say.

“When the music starts, Cooper starts singing,” Zachary said.

Jay Scherpa has few memories of his first performances, but his father recalls the twins debuting at the age of 9 as an introductory act to a Christmas show.

As a college fanfare director, the father was able to integrate his sons into marching bands with students from other schools. In grade four they played with grade five students, and in grade five they accompanied performers in grade six.

The National Association for Music Education ranking is cool, but what motivates Jay Scherpa is more personal.

“I like to listen to myself while I play, but I also like to listen to others. I like to keep it fresh, play with new kinds of music and do different things, ”he said.

When they are not making music, the Scherpas are playing sports. They competed in Westfield’s acclaimed Babe Ruth League baseball program, where both won awards. They also played in youth basketball leagues sponsored by the city’s parks service.

The old stereotype of the music prodigy, sitting for hours in front of a piano or with a violin to repeat the same pieces, does not apply to these young men, nor for that matter to the parents who have mentored them and directed them towards the opportunities. . It helps explain why they never tire of it, even when playing at least six days a week.

“Music is something that you never go beyond,” said Zachary Scherpa. His wife added: “Once you have music, you have it forever.”

At least one of the twins will get it in college. Jay applied to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to major in musical composition, a reflection of how creating and developing music is at least as inspiring, if not more, than performing it.

His brother’s plans make formal music less certain. Kyle plans to attend Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Bryant has a marching band, which will be elevated to marching band status in the 2022-2023 academic year, but Kyle will focus on accounting. Not surprisingly, however, he will bring a guitar.

The twins appreciate that Westfield High School has an orchestra of around 80 performers and a jazz group of around 20. For decades, non-sporting extracurricular activities have come under scrutiny nationwide, with budgets tight schools forcing officials in many districts to question whether the arts, for all the value they offer to a well-rounded education, can still be offered.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges for bands, choirs and related groups, whose tradition – and often income – has been based on concerts, parades and other in-person activities. As America slowly and cautiously returns to a more personable world, the schools and districts that have weathered the pandemic best are in a better position to resume such activities.

For Scherpas, this is exceptional, but so is playing at home while the family dog ​​is singing.

“They are both very balanced, they maintain good averages, they play sports and they work,” Zachary Scherpa said of his sons. “National recognition is good, but they are also good children. This is what we are most proud of.

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