Wheeling teen trumpeter travels world with national jazz ensemble
Last year, 17-year-old trumpet player Janelle Finton of Wheeling came across an advertisement while scrolling through her Facebook feed.
The ad mentioned auditions for National Youth Orchestra Jazz, a Carnegie Hall-based ensemble composed of 23 young musicians ages 16-19. Not expecting to get in, Finton signed up for a slot to gain audition experience.
She soon received a piece of surprising news: she was one of five trumpet players to make the 2018 ensemble, and later the 2019 ensemble.
Finton received music via PDF to play before she met the rest of the group in 2018. She then traveled to rehearse with the NYO Jazz group in New York for two weeks, followed by a Carnegie Hall performance. Afterward, they toured Europe.
This summer, the group will be touring Asia, performing in countries such as China and Taiwan.
NYO Jazz has served as more than a summer music program to Finton. In fact, it helped her decide her path beyond high school, she said.
"Being a part of the ensemble was the first time I thought about music as a career," she said. "Playing alongside so many talented musicians helped me realize that my purpose is to bring joy to the world through music."
This ensemble is not her only high-profile achievement.
During her junior year, Finton started composing. Since then, she has written music for her school's vocal jazz program and worked with her music teacher, Elizabeth Bennett, to compose a District 214 jingle, "All You Gotta Give."
She recently won the NextNotes High School Composition Award, a nationwide competition for high school composers, with an original piece.
"I love being able to express music in my own words with my own voice," she said. "Putting my own music out into the world is a new kind of freedom."
Finton will be majoring in jazz trumpet playing at the Frost School of Music at University of Miami in Florida this fall. But choosing music as a career was not easy, she said.
"Everyone always talks about how hard it is to succeed in music," she said. "But I've realized that when you really love something, you need to pursue it -- the rest will figure itself out."
Before graduating in May, Finton was involved in Buffalo Grove High School's music programs. During her senior year, she reached out to Bennett about beginning a private, independent study course -- something that was not offered at the school.
Finton's motivation to find opportunities such as the independent study course helped set her apart from other young musicians, Bennett said.
"When she started high school, her determination and work ethic stood out more than her musical abilities," Bennett said. "I think those qualities helped her strengthen her abilities to the point they are now."
Bennett said Finton also stands out as a well-rounded musician.
"She's not just a trumpet player, a pianist or a singer -- she really is a multifaceted musician," Bennett said. "She excels in so many areas, and she's not afraid to show it."
Finton said that she is driven to write and play music by the need to communicate emotion. She encourages others to surround themselves with music to experience new emotions, regardless of their musical ability.
"I think it's important for everyone to connect to music in some way," Finton said. "Music allows us to come together and feel new feelings. It expresses things in a way words can't, and I think that's why I love it so much."