Professor of trombone receives top award
Ava Ordman has never thought of herself as a pioneer in the world of brass performance and teaching. She’s just someone, she says, who decided to play trombone, inspired by her sixth-grade band director and by hearing Shostakovich’s 5th symphony performed by the Chicago Youth Symphony.
But recently, the International Trombone Association acknowledged Ordman’s talents as a teacher of young trombonists. This summer, she will receive the Neill Humfeld Award in recognition of her teaching excellence. She will be honored at the ITA annual festival July 11-14, in Iowa City. While there, Ordman will also perform as a soloist and with the Cramer Trombone Choir made up of trombone teachers and performers from around the world.
“I was thrilled, humbled and very honored to be considered for this award,” Ordman said. “I don’t ever expect these things to happen to me. When I think about it, it brings a smile to my face and makes me feel that maybe I am doing right by my students.”
Ordman came to MSU in 2002 and brings extensive experience as an orchestral, chamber music and solo musician. She has performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Opera Theatre, Cabrillo Music Festival and myriad state and national groups. She was the principal trombonist with the Grand Rapids Symphony for 24 years. Later, she worked as a psychotherapist and taught low brass at Oakland University.
Philip Sinder, professor of tuba and euphonium and chair of the MSU Brass Area, feels Ordman’s unique career path has shaped her approach to teaching. In her 16 years with MSU, he estimates she has worked with more than 100 students. Many go on to careers in performance or education with orchestras, military bands, colleges and universities and K-12 schools.
“She looks after her students in a way that not only builds them as musicians, but that advances them as people,” Sinder said. “She really takes pride in meeting each student at the level they’re at and helping them transform into competent players and music educators.”
Aaron Wright has studied with Ordman for seven years, both as an undergraduate and as a master's student at MSU. He also took a private lesson from her in the summer of 2009, two years before starting his bachelor’s degree.
“Professor Ordman is incredibly demanding of her students, yet she makes a genuine effort to understand their perspective and lives,” said Wright, who earned his bachelor’s in music education in 2016. “While I’m happy that my musicianship and trombone playing have improved greatly because of her, I am also grateful that she was able to mold me into a better human being.”
For Ordman, the award caps a year full of achievements. She was promoted to full professor and released her first solo CD, “It’s About Time, Music for Solo Trombone by Women Composers.” She also created a consortium to commission a new trombone concerto by MSU Assistant Professor of Composition David Biedenbender. The concerto, “Their Eyes Are Fireflies,” received its world premiere with Ordman and the MSU Wind Symphony on March 22.
While Ordman doesn’t regard herself as a trailblazer, she sometimes muses that maybe she did have a small influence on young women who chose to play trombone.
“I’ve always simply led my life knowing there are many things I can do and love to do, and trombone is one of them,” Ordman said. “I’m extremely grateful and look forward to what’s next.”