Local trombonist named best in state

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

The Pennsylvania Music Educators' Association's All-State Festival, April 19-22, featured the best high school vocalists and musicians, with Avonworth sophomore Lukas Helsel being named the top trombonist in the state.

Studying and playing the instrument for the past seven years, Lukas, age 15, said that although he originally wanted to play the French horn, he decided on the trombone because, “I liked the fact that it had a slide and that it could make unique sounds.”

Along the way, he also learned that the instrument can make beautiful sounds, with some of his favorite pieces being Respighi's “Pines of Rome,” Stravinsky's “Firebird Suite,” and Copland's “Appalachian Spring,” to name a few.

He also has gained inspiration from other classical players.

“There have been many trombone players who have inspired me, such as Joe Alessi of the New York Philharmonic. I enjoy listening to his recordings of his trombone solos. Another player I admire is Jim Nova of the Pittsburgh Symphony. He has inspired me with his overdubs and recordings he makes of various movie themes.”

But his greatest inspiration comes from his private teacher, Mike Dorato.

“He encourages me always to work harder and also shows me how to improve my skills. He has introduced me to many forms of classical music that I have grown to love,” Helsel said.

To arrive at state competition, Lukas first had to excel at district and regional levels held earlier this year. The auditions at the all-state competition held in Erie determined his placement there. Musicians played “Pines of Rome,” “Espana Rhapsody,” and “Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde.”

“The judges listened for aspects in different categories during the audition and added up the points from categories that included tone, articulation, rhythm and technique,” Lukas said.

Auditions and rehearsals were held at McDowell Intermediate High School, with a concert then performed at the Warner Theater.

Avonworth band director Will Guess spoke of Lukas as having a rare amount of musical talent.

“When you put that with his unwavering work ethic and good private teaching, you end up being a stand-out student. His dedication to music is second to none of the thousands of students I have taught throughout the years. He is also a model student and has inspired many of the elementary students to play trombone.”

While Lukas has the natural talent, he has worked hard to cultivate it, but he seems to enjoy the rigid schedule that he has set for himself.

“I try to practice anywhere from one to two hours a day, depending on how much homework I have. I do more on weekends.”

The son of Jay and Beate Helsel of Ohio Township, Lukas hopes to enjoy a lifetime of beautiful music.

“Fifteen years from now, I can see myself being a professional performer or a band director,” he said.

For now, he is enjoying his special musical moment. “This was my best PMEA performance so far, and it was really cool meeting people from all over the state.”