Brass band festival brings DiMartino, former student together

June 14, 2004|TIM WISEMAN

Each year, music brings Vince DiMartino and Rich Illman together at the Great American Brass Band Festival. Just like it always has.

The two have been playing trumpet together ever since they met at the University of Kentucky in 1972, when Illman was one of DiMartino's first students.

"He's a very close friend," DiMartino said of Illman. "We grew up in music together."

The relationship began as student-teacher between the music senior Illman, then 22, and first-year teacher DiMartino, then 23, but it quickly became a friendship inside and outside of the classroom.

"It worked out really well," Illman said. "If he hadn't come, I would have gone somewhere else."

DiMartino said that normally a teacher would spend an hour each week instructing a student. He and Illman always took more time than that.


"It was a pleasure," DiMartino said. "He was more my colleague than a student."

Before Illman gave his senior recital, DiMartino was nervous - both for Illman and for himself.

He had nothing to worry to about. Illman delivered a great performance.

"I was feeling pretty good about myself," DiMartino said. "Not knowing that would be one of the best performances a student of mine would ever give."

Still, Illman's success inspired DiMartino.

"I was lucky that I had a student like Rich," DiMartino said. "That (performance) really got me excited about teaching. It seemed like I was helping him."

And Illman was helping DiMartino, too.

DiMartino was a newcomer to Lexington, and he did not know anyone in the area.

Whether they were having dinner or playing Scrabble, Illman's family made DiMartino feel at home.

"When I first moved here, I didn't have too many places to go," DiMartino said. "His family sort of took me in, and they were one of the reasons I decided to stay in the area."

But those Scrabble games were still intense, Illman said.

"Vince is a competitor," he said. "He wanted to win every time, and he was frustrated if he couldn't get 20 points with every word."

Illman is now a professor at Michigan State

After college, Illman went into teaching. He filled in for DiMartino during DiMartino's sabbatical before moving on to Eastern Kentucky University, where he taught for 12 years. Illman is now in his 14th year at Michigan State University as the associate professor of trumpet.

DiMartino came to Centre College in 1993 and was named W. George Matton Professor of Music in 1996. Despite the distance separating them, Illman and DiMartino have remained close by playing together as often as they can.

"We've just kind of stuck together," Illman said.

In addition to the festival, the two have played together in the Millennium Brass Quintet, the Brass Band of Battle Creek (Mich.) and more they can't remember.

"We've played just about everything together, from big bands and recitals to church things," DiMartino said. "We love playing together, whatever we are playing in, because it is a chance for us to talk and to appreciate one another."

When they cannot play together, they share advice about teaching music in e-mails or phone calls.

"We help each other out as much as we can," DiMartino said. "He's come and done master classes at Centre for me, and I've gone and done master classes at Michigan State for him."

"We do master classes back and forth. He reminded me the other day that it's my turn," Illman said.

When asked to describe the other, each comes up with the same adjectives - enthusiastic, creative, curious.

"Rich is truly one of my best friends," DiMartino said. "We fit together really well."

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