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Musician with Norwalk ties to attend prestigious conservatory

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Updated May 31, 2019 at 9:12 AM

Norwalk residents John and Nancy Britton are a proud and happy couple.

Nancy Britton said she felt “sheer joy” after learning that her nephew, Derek Gullett, a 2019 graduating senior from Lake High School in the Lake Local School District in Stark County, was accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music. Gullett is the son of Chris and Mandy.

Located in Philadelphia and founded in 1924, Curtis is one of the country’s most prestigious music conservatories. 

“Derek has worked so incredibly hard since he started playing the trombone. This kid has such a wonderful passion for playing. It moves you when you hear him. I’m so proud of all his hard work and dedication and am so happy it is paying off. He’s earned this. ... He deserves this. It’s awesome to watch his dreams come true. I, along with his parents, will be his biggest cheerleader,” Britton said.

The Curtis Institute is unique in that it offers tuition-free education for undergrad and graduate students. Applicants from across the U.S. and abroad are selected annually based on their talent and artistic promise after a rigorous screening and series of in-person auditions to fill a limited number of open spots available.

The total student enrollment is limited to about 175 individuals and currently only 3 percent of student applicants are accepted.

Gullett and a 17-year-old musician from Portugal were selected in mid-April from a field of 100 applicants to fill only two open trombonist positions at Curtis.

“It’s quite an accomplishment. He is the third Lake student in less than four years who has been accepted into a major school of music,” Lake music director Rich Kibler said. 

Although Gullett claims he was “not good” when he first started playing the tenor trombone in fifth-grade band, he immediately fell in love with the instrument and performing.

“I thought the trombone was cool looking; it was fun to move my arm. That’s how the rest of my life started,” said the soft-spoken senior.

Britton said her nephew “moves people to tears” and “makes you feel something with his music” during his performances.

“It’s like he’s sharing his soul through the notes. It’s really a beautiful thing, a rare thing, a God-given thing. I think he’d be lost without the music really,” she added. “I will definitely be attending his concerts in the future. He’s an outstanding young man with incredible talent and he shows every other young musician to reach for the sky.” 

After years of practicing at home, playing in Lake band, private study with two professional trombonists, (James Albrecht and Richard Stout) and participating in numerous school/regional bands — including the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, Derek said he felt he was prepared to apply to the Curtis Institute of Music.

Gullett completed a pre-screening by submitting a video-taped recording of himself playing in order to make the first cut to be among the top 100 applicants. The young trombonist next completed in-person auditions to make the cut to 20 musicians, then from 20 to six people, before his final audition to be one of the final two applicants chosen.

During this final audition, Gullett performed the “Trombone Concerto” by Launy Grondahl.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to show them they want me.’ I felt that was the best audition of my life. I really focused on being calm,” he said.

In the fall, Gullett will start his studies at Curtis. He currently is taking piano lessons to prepare for his college studies. His future goal is to play for a major U.S. professional orchestra, earn his graduate degree in trombone and teach and/or perform at the university level.

Kibler said he and fellow band directors Jared Cooey, Joshua Laux and Mark Tryon “are extremely proud of Derek and his accomplishment of being accepted into the very prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.”

“Given his sincere passion for music, outstanding work ethic and his desire to one day perform in one of our country’s top five orchestras, we are confident that he will achieve this goal. We have sincerely appreciated his musical and leadership contributions to the Lake band program. Derek is very fortunate to have parents such as Chris and Mandy Gullett, who with words of encouragement and financial support, have helped him to realize his musical dream.”

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