From Surgery to Lincoln Center

By SFC Eric Miller on behalf of SSG Sam Kaestner
U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point

News story photo
Photo credit: Megan Dill
Staff Sergeant Denver Dill, a bugler in the Hellcats, holds a Master of Music from the Juilliard School and was a doctoral candidate at the Eastman School of Music. Denver has risen to the highest level of trumpet playing, all the while battling the effects of a debilitating lip injury. While in high school, Denver began experiencing herniation, stretching and tearing of the obicularis oris, known to brass players as “broken embouchure.” Denver describes his complications as, "blood was coming out the end of my horn."

After the acute injury healed, Denver resumed playing the trumpet, placing his mouthpiece slightly off to one side of his mouth. Throughout his undergraduate education, the center of his embouchure moved further and further away from the center of his lips. Denver compensated for the injury extremely well, not only winning several international trumpet competitions, but winning a position in the West Point Band.

Over time, effects from the old injury began to hamper Denver's playing in ways for which he could no longer compensate. He went to West Point’s Keller Army Community Hospital and spoke with plastic surgeon and Deputy Commander of Clinical Services, Colonel Andrew Friedman, who was instrumental in enabling Denver to see the specialist Dr. Simon McGrail of the Scollard Clinic in Toronto, Canada. While Dr. McGrail conducted Denver’s surgery, West Point’s Dr. Friedman also accompanied Denver in the operating room to observe the intricate procedure. In fact, Dr. Friedman is now the only surgeron in the Armed Forces to offer the operation to other musicians in the military.

In 2008, the New York Philharmonic celebrated twentieth-century composer Luciano Berio with several performances of his works, to include "Day of Berio" on February 2nd. Musicians from the New York Philharmonic performed all fourteen of Berio's Sequenzas. The fourteen Sequenzas are a series of virtuosic solo pieces. Sequenza X is for solo trumpet and piano resonance. The piano is played silently and certain strings are allowed to resonate when the trumpet plays loudly into the strings. Sequenza X makes ample use of extended techniques for the trumpet. Valve shakes, flutter tonguing, valve tremolos, hand stops and many other techniques are employed to get the widest possible array of timbres from the instrument. Sequenza X is over fourteen minutes in length and is one of the most physically taxing pieces in the trumpet repertoire.

The Philharmonic's principal trumpet player, Phil Smith, asked Denver if he would join other principal players of the New York Philharmonic to perform the work as a part of its “Day of Berio.” Denver was able to accept the invitation because the surgery to repair his embouchure was a complete success. While the recovery was long, Denver says he is no longer hampered by the effects of the injury and is able to advance as a trumpet player both technically and musically.

Back to News Home