Jeff Gumpertz has made music his career.
Jeff Gumpertz playing French horn with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Jeff Gumpertz (middle) with other French horn players from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Jeff Gumpertz and fellow French horn players at the Glasgow Christmas market.
(Photos courtesy of Jeff Gumpertz)
How hearing the Pink Panther theme turned into a musical career
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
When Jeff Gumpertz was a fourth-grader at Charles Hoffman Elementary School, the middle school band visited his school to perform and get the younger students excited about learning an instrument and playing in the band.
Suddenly, a trumpet player stood up and played the theme song from The Pink Panther.
“I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard,” Gumpertz said. “It was so exciting. I knew I wanted to do it, too. I have to laugh now that The Pink Panther is what started me.”
Gumpertz was too young to start playing the trumpet so he picked up his mother’s violin. He was determined, he said, to learn an instrument. He played the violin for a year, under the tutelage of Michelle Bass and the Arrowhead Arts Association.
Then his parents got him a trumpet, which he began to learn. In middle school, Gumpertz switched his attention to the French horn, which remains his instrument of choice.
“I started learning bigger pieces, learning about different instruments,” he said. Learning about the color instruments – the bassoon, oboe, tuba – was very exciting for the young boy. “I became obsessed with it. I would look them up on YouTube and listen to the sounds they make. There are so many sounds and colors.”
There was a specific video he found of an arrangement of a John Williams medley with 12 to 16 French horns playing. “It was such an exciting sound for me. I convinced Mr. Rubio to let me take a French horn home for the weekend. I learned B-flat major scale fingerings and started playing it the next week.”
Gumpertz began playing the French horn classically and played the trumpet in the marching and jazz bands. The fingering on the two is different with some similarities. “It is a challenge to go back and forth. The trumpet is a smaller instrument so it has a higher sound.” The French horn, he noted, would be two to three times the length of a trumpet if unwound.
That music became his life was not a surprise to the musically inclined family. His mother, as previously noted, had played the violin. His father sang in his high school choir. His grandfather played guitar and baritone saxophone. His great-grandmother played piano and his great-grandfather the fiddle. His sister played flute and oboe.
“Music became my life’s ambition very early,” Gumpertz said.
After graduating from Rim High in 2014, Gumpertz earned a bachelor of music performance in French horn from Cal State Fullerton, graduating in 2019. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in French horn performance from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2021.
How did he find his way to Scotland?
“My horn teacher, Warren Gref, was friends with John Logan, the head of brass at the Royal Conservatory. We crossed paths when he (Logan) was on a recruiting tour in California. Warren asked John if he was free to do a master’s class (at Cal State Fullerton). I played for him and we talked about what a master’s program should be. Our ideas lined up.”
His thoughts were, When else would he have a chance to live abroad? “I liked what he had to offer.”
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gumpertz said, is comparable to Juilliard. Glasgow, he noted, “is a very cool city.” And while Scotland has a number of full-time professional orchestras, the Royal Conservatoire is the only arts conservatory.
“All of the orchestras in Scotland partner with the Royal Conservatoire. They call on musicians from the school to play with them.”
COVID, of course, “threw a wrench in the plan.” When everything closed down in March 2020, Gumpertz flew home and was back in California for the rest of the school year. Everything was done online.
“That was tricky,” he said. As part of his degree, he was supposed to give a public recital. The school had what Gumpertz called “an incredible accompanist” who would record the piano part as a separate audio file. “We essentially played karaoke,” Gumpertz joked.
While it’s more common now for music students to have a basic knowledge of recording, mixing, and editing, this was the first time Gumpertz and his peers had any projects like this. They had to learn how to line up prerecorded piano and make their part musical enough. “These weren’t skills I would have learned otherwise so it was a silver lining to the virus.” Still, he says, “I would have rather performed for a live audience.”
He was able to return to Scotland to resume his studies, with them fluctuating between live and virtual. Because of the intensive quarantine procedures, Gumpertz stayed in Scotland over the holidays. “I was fortunate to have made good friends who invited me to their homes.”
After earning his master’s degree, Gumpertz returned to California to make a decision about which country he wanted to stay in. “Planes kept getting canceled for me to return to Scotland,” he said, “and then I started getting asked to teach.” He also picked up a few gigs. “Looking at those opportunities lining themselves up made the decision for me. I can always go back to Scotland. For now, it makes more sense to stay in California.”
Gumpertz flew back to Scotland, packed up his flat, and in September 2021 moved back to California.
He has been teaching full-time in his private studio, working with middle and high school students. He is also coaching music at several high schools. In addition, he plays regularly with a few orchestras, like the Orchestra Santa Monica, the Coachella Valley Symphony, the Temecula Valley Symphony, and others. He has also played with the Southern California Brass Consortium.
As for his goals, Gumpertz enjoys teaching and plans to continue. “I’m at the beginning of my career now. I just finished seven years of music education. I love working with students.”
At the same time, Gumpertz said he would love to expand his playing circle. “I feel fortunate I’ve stayed well connected with my teachers. They have been hugely helpful in reestablishing me in the area.
“I play as much as I can. Someday I would love to get a full-time job with an orchestra, and perhaps get a professorship at a university. There is a mindset that, if you’re not playing with an orchestra, you don’t have a career in music. I don’t agree with that. Any opportunity to play music is a good opportunity.”
Looking back at his time in the Rim school district, Gumpertz says the music program gave him a good foundation. “The ways we thought and talked about music got me excited to do it. It was a safe place to explore music and ask questions. I did everything I could to have as much exposure as possible. I picked up the cello so I could play in the orchestra. I sang in a community choir.”
His advice for new musicians: “Keep playing – play with a group of friends on a Saturday afternoon, sing with a choir, join the handbell choir. Ask lots of questions. You can only grow if you ask questions.
“Practice is a good thing. Life without music would be very boring.
“It’s an incredible responsibility being a musician,” Gumpertz added. “We have people’s emotions in our hands.”