Staff Q&A: Bart Miltenberger

Bart Miltenberger says working at Penn delivers some unexpected perks to aspiring musicians.

Including access to some pretty good rehearsal space. There are the obvious spots, like historic Irvine Auditorium, and there are the not-so-obvious—like the echoing stairways at the Wharton School.

"I practice in the morning and sometimes at my lunch break," says Miltenberger, who has worked at Penn since 1993. "When I was working at Wharton, they let me practice in the stairwell, which was good, because the acoustics there were really good for the trumpet." Miltenberger, a professional musician, assistant director for Penn’s Global Alumni Network and a father of two, says it’s not always easy balancing his home life, work life and his aspirations as a musician. Luckily, he has an understanding wife, time-flexible bandmates and coworkers at Penn that have always been supportive. All that support seems to be paying off for Miltenberger, CGS’03, whose new band, The Chance Trio, recently released its first album, "Marnee Birds," to positive reviews.

Q. Tell me about your musical background. How long have you been playing?
I think I started playing the trumpet in fourth grade ... although I didn’t really start taking it seriously, and practicing every day, until six or seven years ago. I was playing with a band—a hip-hop band called Fathead—and traveling around the country a bit. Then I started taking lessons with this guy named Dennis Sandole, and that’s really the only formal instruction I’ve ever had. He had taught John Coltrane and a whole slew of other jazz greats, so I was lucky.

Q. How did you hook up with Sandole?
A friend of mine, a sax player, had started taking lessons with him and in the space of two months had gotten so much better. Meanwhile, I was getting worse playing with that hip-hop band (laughs). So I started studying with him too. It’s really advanced stuff, and I don’t think I was 100 percent ready for it, but it really opened up my ears.

Q. Where did you go from there?
Well, I quit that band. My wife and I had gotten married, and now we have two boys. So I quit the road thing and got a full-time job at Penn. I had done three years [of school], but then dropped out and went on tour. When I got my job I started taking classes again and finished up my degree at night. I finished up as an English major, because I thought that was a good generic degree.

Q. Was it hard to get adjusted to school once you came back?
It took me a while to finish up, because I was taking basically one class a semester. My first son had been born, and there are pictures of me, in a rocking chair, holding him in one arm and reading at the same time. But I think in one respect it was better, because when I came back, I got all A’s. And I definitely didn’t have all A’s when I was there before, because I was busy having fun.

Q. How did The Chance Trio, your current band, get its start?
I had started sitting in with this band, the Taylor/Madof Group, and Mike Taylor was the bass player. He’s the bass player in my group now. I started sitting in with him and would do some gigs with those guys. Then John Madof went to New York … and Taylor stayed here. Then I started playing in an avant-garde brass band, where I met Brad Davis, who is the guitar player for us now. We started playing at the Highwire Gallery, at Broad and Cherry, and we’ve been playing there for a couple of years now.

Q. How did the album get recorded?
I applied for and got a grant from the American Composers Forum to help fund it. That helped a lot, because it’s pretty expensive, and with kids, I wasn’t expecting to be able to put out a lot of my own money. It came out pretty good. We got some good press from The Inquirer and City Paper.

Q. How would you rate Philadelphia’s music scene?
I think a lot of times people get down on Philly, but there’s a whole variety of different kinds of music going on here. You can go out and see bluegrass, or jazz, or chamber music, or cover bands, or original rock bands, hip-hop—anything.

Q. Between the gigs, the rehearsals, your job, your family and everything else, do you ever get overwhelmed?
I have my work and professional life, my family life and my music life. I can’t afford to have any of them sacrificed. First and foremost is my family, but I have to feed my family, so I have my job. But I really care about that. One thing my dad always said that I have to give him credit for is that if you’re going to do something, you should do it well.

Q. Do your sons enjoy music?
My son Julian, when he was three, I think he must have been the only kid who could pick out a timpani drum in Prokofiev’s "Peter and The Wolf." So they definitely like music.

Q. I see your younger son is named Miles.
I have to say, my wife picked out both of those names. Miles Davis is probably my favorite trumpet player, and if I had to pick just one, it would be him. But my wife picked the names.