Interview with Bob Wagner
We all love a good story. From software engineering to soloist at Carnegie Hall, trumpeter Bob Wagner also plays the ultimate Renaissance man.
By Rachel Watkins
It’s rather apropos that trumpeter, bandleader, and speaker Bob Wagner has both a music and technology background—given it was YouTube that led to one of his most pivotal career moments to date. When he uploaded a video of himself performing the piccolo solo for the Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” little did he know that he would wind up playing with Beatlemania Now and then take his solo all the way to Carnegie Hall with the Liverpool Legends.
Not only was it a momentous performance at Carnegie, it merely cemented Bob’s decision to take his passion for music to a full-time endeavor. With an electrical engineering and music degree from Lehigh University, Bob spent 20 years serving both masters—that is, until 2011, when he said sayonara to the software world.
We recently spoke with the Philadelphia-based multitalented freelance musician, as he is in the final throes of wrapping his latest venture—a solo recording, which debuts in January 2018. But, what we discovered is that no matter what he’s working on, it’s truly about pursuing artistry at the highest level for Bob—and that’s what guides his every move.
Here’s what else he had to say.
You really are quite the modern Renaissance man—music and band-leading, writing, inspirational speaking and lectures, electrical engineering. What don’t you do?!
Haha, well, that was a big part of what I had to figure out over the years! Anything I do, I try to do to the best of my ability—and that takes time. But, it’s also so fulfilling. It does make it difficult, though, to find enough equal time for it all. I really liked engineering for a while, but the thing is that it didn’t really sustain me at the end of the day. When I decided to choose music full-time, I was really able to focus on what I love. I’m no longer bogged down by competing priorities that I’m less passionate about.
What do you credit for your eclectic talents and interests?
My parents played a huge role, for sure. My dad graduated with a liberal arts degree and was a teacher in the Catholic school system and also a football coach. My ability to speak and to motivate came from him—his stories; seeing how his students and players responded to him; and his great ability to inspire. My mom always had a real passion to solve problems and to be a fierce advocate for others. She certainly fostered that sense of living life passionately in me.
" I’ve found that the truly great musicians who are at the top of their game are very welcoming and open to supporting fellow musicians and players. "
How did you originally get into music?
I started in 4th grade with the trumpet—way back in elementary school! I enjoyed it and I had a good time with it—mainly because it was “cool” to be a trumpet player. So, that cool factor got me through the beginning stages of practicing… ha! But, as I grew up and improved, I started to listen to more musical influences and appreciate the music itself more.
When did you know that music was your thing?
Well, with four years of braces in high school, my abilities on the trumpet stalled and it was just natural to continue pursuing engineering while keeping music fun. I didn’t see it as a career possibility at all. But, when I got to Lehigh to study engineering, I still became involved with the music department, and it was then that I knew music would have deeper meaning.
Most memorable performance thus far?
Well, every performance is special in its own ways. But, my solo piccolo performance of “Penny Lane” at Carnegie Hall was just surreal. I still get chills thinking about how it developed; it was a life-changing experience. It just goes to show that we never understand what moments in life may have bigger meaning—just like that random video I uploaded to YouTube. And, for such a moment to happen so soon after I chose to pursue music in a full-time capacity, well, it very much validated that decision.
"The Gershwin never constricts; everything expands and contracts with breathing while playing the trumpet. "