Bugle takes Prospect High grad around world
Buglar also performs at Arlington Park
Jean Laurenz found her way to a peculiar rehearsal space whenever her family went on vacation to their lake cottage.
Since the trumpet isn't exactly the quietest of instruments and the small house never lacked for guests, the Mount Prospect native could often be spotted in the family minivan.
Hometown: Mt. Prospect
School: Yale University, Northwestern University, Prospect High School
Who inspires you? Professionally: Ingrid Michaelson and Barbara Butler/Charlie Geyer (my professors). Personally: my entire family.
What's on your iPod? This is always changing ... I go through very random phases. Recently, I've been listening to country, film score music and Celtic music. But you can always find Ingrid Michaelson mixed into any playlist.
What book are you reading? Currently finishing "Little Women" (again) and also "The Talent Code" by Dan Coyle.
The three words that best describe you? Silly. Driven. Happy.
"Sometimes I'd look out at midnight and she'd be in there practicing," Linda Laurenz said of her daughter. "She'd wear down the battery."
Little did they know, the endless hours Jean spent cooped up in the vehicle would help propel her across the globe. The 25-year-old has played in orchestras in Hong Kong, Colorado, Maine and Texas, helped run music clinics in South Africa and backed Kanye West at the House of Blues in Chicago.
Even closer to home, she's become one of the (human) faces — and voices — of Arlington Park, working as the racetrack's bugler and national anthem singer. She'll call the horses for the post parade at Saturday's 30th running of the Arlington Million.
After some 3,000 pre-race calls to post, she still emerges from the winner's circle with a wide grin on her face. She never fails to have fun mixing in familiar ditties, the Olympic theme being the most popular of late. And when the stands are filled or extreme weather throws her a curve ball that could affect her performance, Jean still gets nervous.
"I just love it here," Jean said. "I'd love to have my summers off so I can keep doing this."
Exactly what job may accommodate that, the Prospect High School and Northwestern grad still is uncertain. She knows only that her immediate future involves heading back East to finish her master's degree in music at Yale University. With just six trumpeters in the entire two-year program and students receiving a full ride plus stipend, it's one of the most prestigious in the country.
Jean isn't worried about the next step; she's always been one to create opportunities for herself and make things work.
It took some insubordination to get the Arlington Park bugler position, in fact.
When Linda Laurenz read in the Daily Herald about the 2008 departure of Bonnie Brown, who made history as the first female bugler to perform at a major thoroughbred track, she immediately inquired about auditions. They were taking place in the next couple of days, however, and Jean was under strict orders to rest.
Then a junior at Northwestern, Jean was dealing with a bad music-induced lip injury that severed her internal muscle. Surgery was a possibility, and under no circumstances was Jean to play anything.
"It was hard because just when most people are taking off (in their careers), I was having to start over," Jean said. "But it was like the stars were aligning. I said, 'I'm literally not allowed to play, but I'm going to do a quick call for you.' And Arlington was receptive to that."
Her job became that much more exciting a couple of years in, and not just because she got to redesign a cuter and more comfortable bugler uniform.
Arlington Park traditionally used a national anthem recording, but Jean, who sings in a professional choir at Yale, occasionally brought up the idea of taking over to her bosses. They eventually gave her a shot, and now she sings it whenever she works.
Jean's many hats provide her with a busy freelance career. She's performed at countless weddings and will take just about any gig, from funerals to playing a call to post at a fancy dinner party.
Her talent also led to a recent audition with the Air Force Band. She was among 25 trumpeters picked from a pool of more than 100 applicants to go to Washington, D.C. Jean made the final four but didn't get the job, which would have been a four-year commitment requiring her to enlist and go to boot camp.
Another close-but-no-cigar pursuit came with the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, assembled by millions of viewers who watch online audition tapes. Jean made the finals but just missed out on a trip to Sydney.
Jean knows that hearing "no" comes with being a professional musician.
"It happens all the time where you can taste it but you don't quite get it," Jean said. "Failure is a regular part of this, and you need to become immune to it."
Of course, the news is usually good for Jean, who also feels fortunate that she loves teaching, certainly a more stable career that would allow time during the summer for creative projects.
She was a trumpet performance and choral music education double major at Northwestern and worked as an elementary schoolteacher in Evanston after graduation. She's conducted bands and has private students. And this summer, she's been making weekly trips to Glencoe to work with the North Shore New Horizons Band, made up of musicians in their golden years.
"I adore teaching and want to do it in some way, shape or form," Jean said. "And it's so funny because those stereotypes that the percussionists fool around in the back or the flute players kiss up to the director are there at any age. It's the exact same, and I love that consistency."
Jean hopes that despite the undefined path she's taking, there will be some consistency and stability in her future, too.
"I'll just take one opportunity at a time," Jean said. "What I'm doing isn't mainstream and it'll always be scary, but I know I can make it and that I'll be OK."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to email@example.com or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.
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