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While New Richmond native Matt Mealey's days are spent in the classroom teaching high schoolers to play musical instruments, his nights are often spent in the pits.

On any given night Mealey may be found in the orchestra pit of well-known musical and theatrical venues in and around the Twin Cities.

Although quick to point out that the band program and teaching at NRHS is his first priority, Mealey does continue to dabble professional trumpet playing for big shows that come into the Twin Cities and need "pick up" musicians.

Mealey recently spent many hours in the orchestra pit at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. He was called to play trumpet for the national Broadway tour of Monty Python's "Spamalot."

"The last Broadway show I played in the Twin Cities was '42nd Street' and that was in 1996," Mealey said.

To prepare for "Spamalot," Mealey said he bought the CD and practiced trumpet three to five hours each night for several weeks prior to the performance. He practiced late at night at the High School so he wouldn't wake his wife, Jodi, and three small children, Josh, 3, Kyle 2 and one-month-old Aria.

"It takes awhile to get the endurance back to play at that level," Mealey said.

Mealey loved playing with the orchestra because he enjoyed being around pros and said they sounded like the CD right away. Mealey said the hard part about playing for "Spamalot" was trying not to watch the stage.

"The play was hilarious, but the orchestra cues come really fast so I had to keep forcing myself to not watch the play," Mealey grinned.

Before becoming a teacher at NRHS in 2003, Mealey traveled around the country and beyond as a professional musician.

"I've been all over the country playing trumpet for everything, including rodeos and circuses," Mealey laughed.

In 2000 Mealey toured with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra to the Bahamas, South America and the British Virgin Islands.

At the time, Mealey was studying for his master's in jazz trumpet performance at the Eastman School of Music in upstate New York on a full scholarship.

"We left New York City on the Queen Elizabeth II as passengers on the Millennium Cruise," Mealey reminisced. "We got to play on the beach of a deserted island built just for that New Year's weekend. It was a memorable way to ring in the Millennium."

Other performers Mealey played with while in New York include The Temptations and the Irish Tenors.

After earning his master's, Mealey began working on his doctorate of musical arts at the University of Colorado at Boulder. There he had the opportunity to play gigs in Denver for well-known bands and performers, including a sold-out show at the Pepsi Center with Mannheim Steamroller.

Mealey actually stopped working on his doctorate because his performance calendar was so booked in Denver.

His musical career began right here in New Richmond under the tutelage of New Richmond Middle School's Band Director Rich Gregerson.

After graduating from NRHS in 1992, Mealey continued his education at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, where he earned a bachelors degree in music education.

While at Eau Claire, Mealey started going with his trumpet teacher, Bob Baca to some "gigs" the professor played after school hours.

Mealey explained that often, when big acts come to cities, they call on local "pick-up" musicians to complete their bands. These musicians are on a "call list." They get on the list by being the best and playing well consistently.

What most people don't know, Mealey explained, is when musicians get the "call" they rarely see the music before they show up to perform.

"Baca is actually the most requested 'call' trumpet player in the Twin Cities" Mealey explained. "He knew I was interested in playing trumpet so he'd take me along to his professional gigs."

That was when Mealey got his big break.

"One night Baca asked me to sub for him at a gig," Mealey said. "That got me in and from there I had to prove myself."

Mealey said he never turned down an opportunity to play professionally when he was in college.

"I'd drive three hours to play a gig in college," Mealey laughed. "I never turned down a job. It was always a chance to extend my network of musicians, meet people and make some money."

Now Mealey continues to play professionally from time to time because he said "by staying active as a professional, it keeps me excited to teach. My professional experiences translate so well into the classroom."

Mealey loves teaching at the high school level. The eagerness and interest level of the kids intrigue him.

"It's amazing to watch the transformations at this age," Mealey said. "It only takes about half of the school year to hear a huge difference in how the kids sound when they play. As long as I stay really excited about playing music, the students do as well."

The goal of the High School band program is not to "create a bunch of music majors," Mealey said, but rather to "get the kids to fall in love with music and become lifelong learners."

"I know others who play instruments for fun who get just as much enjoyment out of it as I do," Mealey said.

For Mealey, teaching at NRHS is exciting because he sees several students each year who are better musicians than he was at their age.

Mealey also teaches music camp during the summer at Northland Youth Music Program at the University of Wisconsin - Superior and at Shell Lake Trumpet Camp at the Indianhead Arts Center.

For more information about the NRHS band or Mealey's upcoming performances, call 243-1239.