Student Spotlight: UI grad student named finalist in Larry Wiehe Tenor Trombone Competition

Benjamin Hahn was named a finalist for a solo competition hosted by the International Trombone Association. He’ll compete live at the International Trombone Festival hosted in Columbus, Georgia in July.


Grace Smith

Masters student studying trombone performance, Ben Hahn, poses for a portrait outside of Voxman Music Building at the University of Iowa. Hahn is a finalist for an international solo competition organized by the International Trombone Association, and will be playing in the final round this summer.

Abby McCusker, Arts Reporter

Benjamin Hahn had an advantage over other fifth-grade trombonists in his private school — his lanky arms were already long enough to reach all the sliding positions. His fascination with the slide and the fun sounds the trombone could create drew him to the instrument.

Twelve years later, his passion for playing the trombone is as strong as when he started.

Hahn, a master’s student in trombone performance at the University of Iowa, was named a finalist for the Larry Wiehe Tenor Trombone Competition hosted by the International Trombone Association. He’ll compete in the final round in July at the International Trombone Festival in Columbus, Georgia.

Music has surrounded Hahn for most of his life. His siblings all play brass instruments. The musician said one of the reasons he picked trombone was because it was different than the other instruments already played in his household. His earliest trombone memories come from when he transferred to a public middle school in sixth grade and pranked his classmates using the instrument.

“We have slide positions to play particular notes but there are a couple of different slide positions that can be used to play some notes,” Hahn said. “We’re always taught the easiest ones but because I had a year on everyone else, they were all paying attention to what I did. So, I played some tricks on them and used the alternate positions and they were all like, ‘What’s going on? I know that’s not how this works.’”

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Trombone became something that Hahn knew he wanted to pursue after high school. While looking at colleges, he made it a priority to find a trombone program that he wanted to work with. He said that his junior year recital at Western Michigan University cemented those passions for him.

“When I stood up in front of the small crowd playing the recital, I knew this is where I felt at home. This is what makes me happy, this is what I want to do,” Hahn said. “I kind of always knew that I wanted to do trombone, but at that point in time was really where I knew that was what I was doing and put myself 100 percent into it.”

Hahn is no stranger to the solo competition hosted by the ITA. He placed alternate the past couple of years before he was named a finalist for the 2021 competition. For the first round of the competition, he had to submit a video recording of the audition piece with a piano. As a finalist, he will perform a new piece, “Blue Bells of Scotland,” live for the judges at the festival in Columbus.

Hahn said that performing only makes him nervous until the first note is played. After that, he said, the nerves fade away.

“I feel like most of the time I keep my performance anxiety pretty well in check, but sometimes I just do some quick breathing exercises and some mental focus exercises, making sure that I am mentally prepared for the performance more than anything else,” Hahn said. “I think a lot of trombone is just a mental game and once you get out there it’s nerve-wracking until you play the first note. That first note is the most important because, once I’m playing, I’m having the time of my life.”