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Hillsboro teen 'orchestrates' path to success playing with Portland Philharmonic

Tim Kuskie sees dreams come true as part of youth philharmonic.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Portland Youth Philharmonic trombonist and Hillsboro High School sophomore Tim Kuskie, 15, has been playing music since he was 3 years old, when he began learning how to play the piano.Nervous, anxious and excited all at once, Portland Youth Philharmonic trombonist Tim Kuskie looks forward to playing an arrangement few have ever heard.

Tomáš Svoboda, Portland’s own Czech-American composer, wrote his Symphony No. 2 in the early 1960s, but didn’t hear it performed until Oct. 17 — during a philharmonic rehearsal.

Outside the philharmonic and the 76-year-old Svoboda, however, only those who attended the preview concerts Oct. 30 and Nov. 7 have heard the composition as the philharmonic prepares for the song’s world premiere Saturday, Nov. 12, in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

But for Kuskie, 15, a trombonist for the philharmonic, playing a challenging arrangement for a packed auditorium is the dream.

And it’s been Kuskie’s dream for as long as he can remember.

As a youngster he was watching his church orchestra perform, when during the routine he singled out the trombonist. “I want to play that,” he told his parents.

Check it out

Who: The Portland Youth Philharmonic

What: The season 93 opening concert, featuring 21 soloists and a world premiere

Where: The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, Portland

When: Saturday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.

Info: Visit http://www.portlandyouthphil.org

For the range of sounds it can make — from a French horn to a baritone instrument — the trombone stood out to him, Kuskie said, and he was determined to master it.

Though it was an ambitious and slightly odd aspiration for a 5-year-old, Tim’s parents, Colin and Kathy Kuskie, vowed to do whatever they could to help their son reach for the stars — and reach he most certainly has.

“My wife and I met in marching band at Oregon State, so we were kind of hoping to have band kids,” Colin said. “The fact that they were interested in music — and to have Tim go, ‘I want to play that’ — was pretty cool.”

But playing trombone isn’t the extent of the teenage Kuskie’s talents.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Kuskie plays trombone for the Portland Youth Philharmonic.Several Spanish-language spelling bee trophies top a bookshelf filled with containers of assorted Lego bricks in his room.

An almost-finished giraffe painting adorns one of the four walls, and an unassuming music stand rests near his bed.

Kuskie speaks fondly of the trophies (and the Legos), taking pride in his Spanish literacy — an atypical talent for a white kid from Hillsboro, but one expected from someone who spent his elementary years in a Spanish immersion class at W.L. Henry Elementary School.

Now a sophomore at Hillsboro High School, Kuskie’s bilingual talent comes in handy, though not nearly as handy as his primary musical talent — including the piano, which he’s played since he was 3 years old.

“I just love to learn in general, no matter the subject,” Kuskie said. “(But) trombone has been a lifelong love for me.”

Kuskie plans to enroll in the music program at Indiana University under the tutelage of trombone instructor Peter Ellefson, with the hope to one day join the Canadian Brass — a 40-year-old world-renowned brass quintet from Toronto, Ontario.

To get there, Kuskie is building his resume by playing in several bands from his school and church, in addition to the philharmonic. When he added the philharmonic to his credentials, he became one of only two students from the Hillsboro School District to earn a place with the 93-year-old organization, he said.

“There are kids who love being in band because they love to have fun. Then there are kids who love being in band because music touches them in some way,” Colin said. “It’s awesome for Tim to have an opportunity to play in both venues because it’s a real stretch between private lessons and (philharmonic) rehearsals and marching band rehearsals and jazz band — he’s just going and going and going.

John Warton, a brass coach at Concordia University who plays with the Columbia Symphony, has given Kuskie weekly private lessons for past three years.

“He is amazing. [He has] the quality of a fine trombone player, and the quality of a fine human being as well,” Warton said.

In addition to his musical commitments, Kuskie deftly manages his school course load and the frenetic life inherent to being a teenager.

“I guess it all just conveniently works out,” he said. “I’m really lucky to have that happen instead of having to choose — because if I had to drop something, I’d be heartbroken.”

From playing with his church orchestra, three different Hilhi bands and the philharmonic, Kuskie happily noted there was never a question in his mind that music would play a role in his life.

And he also tries to encourage anyone who expresses an interest to pursue music, even offering introductory tutoring to his friends.

If the Canadian Brass doesn’t work out, Kuskie said, he still hopes to play or teach music as a career in some fashion.

“There aren’t many opportunities for either of those, so that’s pretty disheartening. But I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “I’m definitely thinking about applying for the Canadian Brass when there’s a spot open.”

By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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