The Life of a Student Musician

A look into the captivating life of Clayton Frank, a current senior at LaGuardia High School.


Clayton Frank

Clayton Frank performs a solo at a LaGuardia jazz band concert. “My dream job is to become a freelance musician and get to play with many different people and groups,” Frank said.

Many students dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer, but a select few aspire for a future in the performing arts. The life of a musician is rewarding, but it comes at the price of constant dedication. Clayton Frank is a tuba player and current senior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. LaGuardia is host to a number of famous alumni, all of whom worked hard to get to where they are now. 

Being a musician is demanding; much of Clayton’s time both in and outside of school is spent practicing his instruments. It is also physically demanding, as one of the unforeseen consequences of pursuing music is that Clayton has to carry his tuba to and from school every day, which weighs upwards of 20 pounds. As such, Clayton is also an avid backpacker, having summited dozens of the highest mountains in the nation.

On top of practice and performance, Clayton has to keep up with regular classes like any other student, as well as being a part of non-music related extracurriculars. He serves as the Membership and Engagement Vice President of his youth group, helping other teens to be engaged in a safe, welcoming environment. Coming straight from school, he often arrives with his tuba still on his back, which he uses every now and again to uplift meetings with a musical twist.

DP: What instruments do you play and how did you get into playing them?

CF: I play tuba, bass trombone, upright bass, and guitar. Tuba is my main instrument and I started learning it in middle school. Our band class had an evaluation at the beginning of the year on all of the different instruments. It just so happens that I got a 2/5 in everything except for the tuba, which I got a 5/5 on. At that point it didn’t really matter what I wanted to play, my teacher was going to make me play tuba. I started playing bass trombone in high school after taking an audition for the junior jazz band. The teacher told me if I wanted to play in the band, I would have to learn bass trombone since there weren’t many songs I could play tuba on. I also learned upright bass so I could play in the “Chicago: Teen Edition” pit which has a Tuba/Upright Bass part. Finally, I started guitar 4 years before middle school; it is what got me interested in joining band in the first place.

DP: What is an average day like for you as a student at LaGuardia?

CF: I wake up at 6:00 a.m. every day, have breakfast and take a shower. I try to be on the subway by 7:00 and at school around 8:00. My first class is band at 9:30, so I usually spend the morning practicing tuba. After band I have orchestra, government, Psych-Lit, Jazz Band, and orchestration and conducting. Most of the kids I talk to are in my music classes, which I have plenty of, so I’m constantly socializing throughout the day. Some days I will hang out after school with friends, but usually I’m heading back home around 4:15. By the time I get home it’s around 5:00, and I’ll do any homework if I have any. But because I only have 2 non music classes, my academic load is really light. Then I’ll sit and watch some T.V. and have dinner with my dad to finish off the day. 

DP: What is Juilliard Pre-College like?

CF: JPC is one of the highlights of my week. I get the chance to make and study music with other young musicians who are just as passionate as I am. In orchestra and brass quintet we get to play repertoire that isn’t usually chosen for high school ensembles, which is a privilege.

DP: What performances have you been a part of so far, in school, Juilliard, or elsewhere?

CF: I have done a wide variety of performances. At LaGuardia alone I have played in 17 different shows, which doesn’t include 10 performances of this year’s all-school musical “Chicago: Teen Edition”. At Juilliard I have played in 6 orchestras and 2 brass quintet concerts. In addition, I had a senior recital on May 6th consisting of an hour of mainly solo music that I selected to play. Other than that, there have been a few events and fundraisers around the city that I have played for.

The Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra low brass section after their concert at Alice Tully Hall. (Clayton Frank)

DP: What was it like playing in the pit of Chicago?

CF: Being in the pit of Chicago was one of the highlights of my time at high school. The people who I performed with became family. We spent hours upon hours rehearsing with each other and the cast to make the show spotless.

DP: What was it like auditioning for colleges that focus in the performing arts?

CF: Auditioning for colleges was by far the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. Most people don’t realize that when applying at a school for music there are two rounds: a prescreen and a live audition. For me, I started learning my music back in August, because I needed to make sure everything was perfect. Prescreens are videos you send in to narrow down the field of applicants, which were due December 1st. I was down to the wire recording those videos until November 28th. I ended up passing into the next round for a majority of the schools I applied to, which was a good sign. The live auditions were extremely nerve racking but I ended up playing well on all of them. After that I was stuck with the deadly wait that all seniors applying to college have to experience.

DP: Why did you choose to attend Boston Conservatory at Berklee?

CF: I chose BoCo for many reasons, but mainly for their flexibility in curriculum within a classical conservatory. Typically, most conservatory programs are built to make a player come out of school ready to win auditions for professional orchestra jobs. While that’s great and all, I was looking for a school that could give me some of that training, but also would prepare me to be the best all around musician I could be. My dream job is to become a freelance musician and get to play with many different people and groups. In addition to that, I was lucky enough to receive a full tuition scholarship from the school. It made my dream school extremely affordable and the cheapest option.

DP: Have you met any famous musicians?

CF: Earlier this year I got to meet Wynton Marsalis, who is arguably the most famous living jazz musician. I went to go see a show he was performing in with my Jazz Band teacher. My teacher happens to know Wynton pretty well so he took me backstage afterwards to meet him. Other than that I have gotten to meet various members of the New York Philharmonic and other top orchestras in the U.S. through various music programs I’ve done over the years.

“Here are my dad and I on the way back, completely exhausted, from summiting Granite Peak in Montana.” Granite Peak is the highest point in the state of Montana at an elevation of 12,807 ft, and is also the tenth highest in the United States. “My dad and I have a lifetime goal of hiking the tallest peak in every state; so far we have completed 42,” Clayton said. (Clayton Frank)

DP: What do you like to do in your limited spare time?

CF: A lot of my spare time is spent practicing, but when I’m not doing that I try to be with my friends as much as possible. Every Wednesday night I go to ToFHY, my temple’s youth group. There, we put on fun programs and have pizza.

DP: Do you enjoy backpacking? Where have you been?

CF: I love backpacking. It’s a way to get away from the busy city and not have to think about anything other than where you are. I have been backpacking all over the country. My dad and I have a lifetime goal of hiking the tallest peak in every state; so far we have completed 42.

“Being in the pit of Chicago was one of the highlights of my time at high school. The people who I performed with became family.”