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Beaver Dam native soars as trumpet player in Madison

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From second grade Matt Onstad knew he wanted music in his life, but he didn’t know what tool it would take.

“I so deeply wanted to play the saxophone but I couldn’t get a single note out,” he said over the phone. “It was ugly.”

He didn’t mesh with a sax and said it broke his heart almost immediately. It wasn’t until Dave Hoffmaster, music teacher at Beaver Dam High School asked that he give the trumpet a shot. Even though drums were his second choice, the trumpet somehow clicked.

“That was the start of something dramatically drastic and important,” Onstad said.

Today, Onstad would say that music—specifically his trumpet—is the No. 1 priority in his life. Currently, he attends UW-Madison and is completing his master’s degree in trumpet performance. He is also one of five featured performers in the “Symphony Showcase" where Onstad will perform the Oskar Böhme Trumpet Concerto on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the Mead Witter School of Music in Madison.

His father, Wendall Onstad, said that Onstad picked up the trumpet quickly once he started playing in fourth grade. Wendall remembers walking home with his son after the first day of band camp and he was already playing “Taps.”

He wasn’t sure if Onstad would stay with the trumpet for very long, so he rented a trumpet for many years. Wendall said it was in Onstad’s sophomore year in high school that Onstad came home and told him that his music teacher wanted to talk with him. Wendall called up Hoffmaster and heard that he thought that Onstad is better than what his rented trumpet was allowing him to play. In little time, Onstad had a new trumpet and Wendell said it made a noticeable difference.

“It’s amazing how far one can go with musical talent,” Wendall said.

Onstad said that he wishes that he had picked up some other music instruments when he was younger. He has primarily used the trumpet since he was a child. But, with his successes in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, 132nd U.S. Army National Guard Band, winning the UW-Madison Concerto Competition and being appointed primary trumpet performer in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra he’s not regretting that decision too much.

Reflecting on his accomplishments today he said that it was his education at Beaver Dam High School and guidance at UW-Oshkosh that has really propelled him.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today with them,” he said.

Throughout middle school and high school in Beaver Dam, Onstad said, music class never had a dull moment. He thanks Dave Hoffmaster and Rich Zeman for showing him the joy of music instead of making it seem like a chore.

“They formed that passion and sheer enjoyment of playing music,” he said.

He still keeps in touch with both of them to this day.

Onstad said pursuing music as a career option wasn’t something he had considered seriously after graduating from high school.

Once he was accepted into UW-Oshkosh he enrolled in the pre-chiropractic program with a minor in music. Organic chemistry ended it for him. During this time, the highlight of his day was when he could pick up his trumpet. It took a bit of soul searching, he said, and during his sophomore year he decided that he would rather focus on music rather than attending lab classes. One person, Dr. Marty Robinson, associate professor of trumpet and jazz at UW-Oshkosh, pushed him to focus on the trumpet.

After completing his undergraduate degree at UW-Oshkosh in trumpet performance, Onstad was accepted at UW-Madison as a master’s candidate and second trumpeter in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet. Being able to perform alongside other accomplished musicians, Onstad said, is a humbling experience and the base of music knowledge they possess is “mind blowing.”

John Aley, professor of trumpet at UW-Madison said over the phone said that what Onstad has brought the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is continued excellence.

“He is an infinitely talented musician,” he said.

He continued to say that it comes down to a commitment to the craft and that Onstad puts in the time to learn a piece. In other words, Onstad is set apart by his work ethic. That work ethic has paid off. Aley said there hasn’t been a trumpet winner in the Mead Witter School of Music Concerto Competition since 1983. This year two violinists, one pianist, one trumpeter and one vocalist will solo with UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith.

“It’s not every day that a trumpet player gets chosen to be part of that,” Onstad said.

Looking down the road, Onstad said that he plans to continue playing his trumpet at UW-Madison as he goes after his doctoral degree in music. He would like to someday teach trumpet at the university level and continue his dreams of becoming a full-time orchestral musician.

Ben Rueter covers Beaver Dam, Horicon and Juneau city governments for the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen.