“Rising Starr” – Jonathan Starr Alumni Feature, October 2022
When Musician Second Class Jon Starr took the Recital Hall stage with the Navy Band Northeast Brass Quintet on September 12, it was a true homecoming. Eighteen years removed from his last performance at Concord Community Music School, Starr helped kick off the 2022 fall semester with the elite ensemble as an accomplished, world-traveled trumpet player and proud alum of the school.
“I can’t imagine having done the things that I’ve done without the opportunities provided by CCMS,” says Starr.
A native of Manchester, N.H., Starr was initially drawn to the trumpet because of its seeming simplicity, and in fifth grade joined the band at Webster Elementary School. Soon after, he began taking lessons with Bob Couturier at Ted Herbert’s music store, and followed Bob to CCMS when he joined the faculty. It was at the music school that Jon, whose family had moved to Bradford, N.H., discovered a community of musicians that shared his passion for music.
“Kearsarge is a really small school district so there were only so many other students who were interested in music on a more serious level,” he recalls.
In conjunction with joining the CCMS community, Starr earned a spot with the Northeast Youth Symphony Orchestra (NYSO), led by famed conductor Bill Kempster. As a senior in high school, Starr joined the prestigious Scholarship Jazz Ensemble at CCMS under the direction of David Tonkin, where he honed his jazz and improvisation skills.
At the direction of his musical mentors, Starr pursued a degree in music education from UNH, and then a master’s in performance from California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. While in California, Starr stayed busy with a variety of freelance work, from studio sessions, to teaching, to commercial gigs and got his first opportunity to tour with singer Scott Weiland, formerly of the Stone Temple Pilots.
With his degrees in hand and steadily growing credentials, Starr spent time touring Southeast Asia and the Middle East with various cover bands. When his wife Nicole, a clarinetist and fellow CCMS and UNH alum, won an audition to join the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in South Africa, Starr followed her to Durban, earning his own spot as co-principal trumpet player in the ensemble. Then in 2015, Nicole accepted a spot with the Navy Band Northeast and Jon followed just a year later.
As a member of the Navy Band Northeast, Jon plays in the brass quintet, the ceremonial band, and the parade band, while also taking gigs on bugle and as a sound engineer. In his more than six years with the organization, highlights include playing to crowds of 20,000-plus people the annual military tattoo in Norfolk, Va., performing for ambassadors and heads of state in Honduras and Guatemala, and audio engineering for a group that opened for Questlove as a part of fleet week in New York City.
Looking ahead, Starr’s top priority is “staying healthy on the horn,” to ensure he is able to continue making music professionally. He regularly takes lessons to maintain and progress his skill level, and is excited to continue to make an impact with his playing.
“We’re just trying to make as much of an impact as we can with what we do in this job,” says Starr of being a member of the Navy Band Northeast. “I think it’s one of the more positive things that a working-class level musician can be doing with music because there is real purpose behind what we do.”
For all his travels and opportunities, Starr remains grateful for how the music school set him on a course for success.
“I grew up in rural New Hampshire and the idea that I would have ended up in LA studying for a master’s degree at a private arts school is ridiculous,” he says. “The impact that CCMS had on my development and my ability to succeed was immeasurable.”