A “Servant of Music”
CFA professor emeritus of music Roger Voisin| From Alumni Notes | By Katie Koch
Roger Voisin, a College of Fine Arts professor emeritus of music, was one of the most influential trumpet players of the twentieth century. He taught at BU for twenty-five years after retiring from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In his long professional career — at seventeen, he became the youngest musician ever to join the BSO — and in his academic life, Voisin was known for his cool French style and a calm, unwavering dedication to his music. He died on February 13 at age eighty-nine.
“He was not the master of music, he was the servant of music,” says Joel Sheveloff, a CFA professor of musicology. “He cared more about the music than he did about the people, although he cared a lot about the people. That’s rare.”
At BU, Voisin was just as humble in his approach to teaching as he was with his playing. “The only person everybody loved was Voisin,” says Sheveloff.
A native of Angers, France, Voisin moved to Boston at age eleven. His father, Rene, joined the BSO, and Voisin wasn’t far behind. The summer he was fifteen, he played with the Boston Pops; two years later, in 1935, he auditioned for BSO conductor Sergey Koussevitzky. Although his father had sparked Voisin’s love of the trumpet by giving him his first lessons, he balked at the idea of his son joining him on stage.
“My father said, ‘No, it’s ridiculous,’” Voisin said in a 1993 interview with WGBH. “It took him about four days to change his mind.” Still, Voisin found himself hesitant about joining such a prestigious institution. “Can you imagine . . . beginning with the BSO?” he asked. “If you’re playing in a small orchestra or a student orchestra, you can be very good, but if it’s out of tune, it’s out of tune. Here, if it was out of tune, it was me.”
Voisin briefly left the BSO to serve in the Navy during World War II. He returned to the symphony and became principal trumpet in 1950, a post he held for fifteen years. While he most often played and recorded with an orchestra, Voisin also produced several solo albums that according to the Boston Globe, brought “the trumpet’s charms as a solo instrument to the ears of a broader public.”
“He could imitate the Italian style, the German style, even Louis Armstrong,” Sheveloff remembers. “When he played like himself, he was very precise, very subtle, but expressive in the French style.”
In 1973, Voisin retired from the BSO and joined the faculty at CFA. He also taught at the Tanglewood Music Center and the New England Conservatory and edited more than forty editions of trumpet works for International Music. He chaired the wind, percussion, and harp department at BU until his retirement in 1998. Throughout his life, he influenced hundreds of budding musicians.
“There isn’t a professional orchestra anywhere in the world that doesn’t have a Voisin student,” Sheveloff says.