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Press Release

Release Date: March 11, 2022
by Gene Lehmann

OKLAHOMA CITY – In late October of 2021, Adam Hanna answered the Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s call for auditions to become the orchestra’s principal trombonist.

“I am not sure why, but I knew the job would be mine,” Hanna said. “These jobs rarely become available. Great musicians obtain the position and stay there pretty much their entire career. In fact, some jobs can stay occupied for 50- plus years.”

He said musicians don’t always get the precise position they want.

“You can’t exactly choose where you want to work in an orchestra. You must go where the job is. It was a typical audition. Many people show up. It is highly competitive. You play a few pieces behind a curtain where judges cannot see you. It is very stressful. Once you play, you can sometimes wait up to an hour or more to find out whether you advanced to the next round of auditions. It goes on and on and on. The audition for the OKC Phil took a long time and didn’t finish until around midnight.”

The Chickasaw citizen won.

He is thrilled, but Hanna’s life journey mirrors “Truckin’” lyrics by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

A car called home

Growing up in Durant, Oklahoma, Hanna said he suffered low self-esteem.

“I wasn’t good at a whole lot of things, but I was pretty good at music. I started playing trombone when I was 10, and my band director was giving me free lessons. He was very enthusiastic. He said ‘Hey, you’ve got something going on here,’ and he would give me sheet music, and I would practice three to four hours every single night,” Hanna recalled. “It was constant. I kept practicing. He kept challenging me. From grade school and even now as a professional, I play and practice nonstop.”

In 2005, hardship visited the Hanna home. His Chickasaw mother, Lisa, died, forcing Hanna, his two brothers, Matthew and Daniel, and father, Samuel, to relocate because her death.

He graduated Durant High School in 2006 with a highly unlikely dream of playing trombone full time and earning a living doing it. He chuckles about it today. “How many jobs are there in the world where you can play trombone and make ends meet,” he wondered. “Maybe one one-hundredth of a percent,” he said

Living out of his car, he studied three semesters at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant when he decided he was going to make the investment “to believe in myself to be a professional musician by moving to a big city.

“I just took all my stuff, crammed it all into my car and drove to Dallas. I lived out of the car and auditioned at colleges and universities. Fortunately, I was accepted to The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and it just felt right. It also has a phenomenal trombone instructor, Dennis Bubert of the Fort Worth Symphony,” Hanna said.

The specter of poverty was ever-present.

“There were times where the vow of poverty was very real. It’s not like you can flirt with the idea of earning a living. It becomes specific when you have an apartment to go to but no bed to sleep in,” he recalls. “When I married, we had very humble beginnings. We were paying the rent but sleeping on the floor.”

Meeting the challenge

At UTA, he earned his bachelor’s degree in trombone performance, married a North Texas girl, Elise and immediately moved to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he attained a master’s degree from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam to study with the top European trombonists.

Hanna has performed with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hague Philharmonic, New Trombone Collective and the Dortmund (Germany)Philharmonic.

For two years, he studied and gigged in the Netherlands.

“We were trying to integrate into Dutch culture and their language, riding our bicycles everywhere. When you are a freelance musician, a lot of times you’ll get a call saying, ‘Be here in 45 minutes!’ and it may be some opera that you’ve never played before,” Hanna laughs at the experience.

“During one performance, I showed up completely drenched from riding a bicycle in the pouring rain. I was wearing a full tuxedo. And that scenario is not as uncommon as you might think,” he chuckled.

Europe opened new doors of opportunity for Hanna. The gigs, freelancing and orchestral work improved the health of the couple’s bank account as well. Typical of musicians, however, another move was in store for the Hannas. Boston University beckoned with promises of a doctoral degree and studying with renowned American trombonist Toby Oft of the Boston Symphony.

So, it was off to Massachusetts in 2019 where he would play as a guest in the area’s most prestigious ensembles. Additionally, Hanna was a finalist for the Minnesota Orchestra Rosemary and David Good Fellowship, aimed at assisting outstanding musicians who belong to cultures often overlooked.

As a First American, Hanna belongs to such a culture.

In Boston, he served as union representative for First American musicians.

“I’ve always known I was Chickasaw. I’ve had a CDIB card since I can remember, but I never fully appreciated my heritage while I lived in Oklahoma. It took going to Amsterdam, Germany, Europe, Texas and Massachusetts to realize the uniqueness of my heritage,” Hanna said.

Just as things were “jiving for me ... BOOM!” The COVID-19 pandemic breached America.

A death and idleness

The pandemic forced cancellation of all performing arts, theaters darkened, jobs evaporated and, sadly, he lost his father to COVID-19 in early 2020.

“Elise worked remotely as a creative writer but there were no jobs for me anymore,” Hanna stated. “If it wasn’t for the Chickasaw Nation and its programs, we would have lost everything,” he proclaimed.

Indeed, most major performing ensembles across the country took massive pay cuts or even closed permanently, but Hanna was not a full-time member of any orchestra yet and, thusly, did not receive an annual salary or any income.

“A lot of professional musicians quit their instruments during the pandemic. I saw jobs open that would have never been available. Some musicians retired, because they didn’t want to fall ill.”

As the insidious disease took hold globally, Hanna temporarily moved back to Oklahoma to tend to his father’s home and affairs, still committed to earning his doctorate. While in Durant, he saw the call for auditions as Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s top trombonist.

Seizing that opportunity equates to a hectic and long distant relationship, one neither he nor his wife contemplated. For now, Elise remains in Boston while Hanna travels back and forth.

“So, we have this thing going on where we’re living long distance. She is working in Boston; I am working in Oklahoma City. I was repairing my father’s home in Durant, driving to Oklahoma City, flying to Boston, flying back down to Dallas and working on my doctorate from Boston University,” Hanna said.

While life may well have been a long and strange trip, Hanna sums up the experience nicely.

“To me, it means working back home, and I’m just really proud,” he said. “I grew up in Oklahoma ... and then I moved away and lived all over the world. I’ve always wanted to explore Oklahoma and connect more with my Chickasaw heritage, so it feels good.”