Seven years ago, Michael Shayte tested various brass and string instruments along with the rest of his fifth-grade class.
But only the trombone called to him.
"It just felt right when I started playing," he said, recalling that moment back in middle school when his life took an unexpected turn. "And that's how I determined that I wanted to play that instrument.
"Now especially, after I practice, it's a good feeling of muscles. Like runners get a runner's high, it feels good that I just played in my face," he said. "When I first picked up the horn, that's what I experienced and I was like 'Oh, that's what I'm meant to do or what I want to do.'"
Like many boys that age, playing the trombone for Shayte was about on par with playing soccer.
But when he failed to make the soccer team at Catonsville High in ninth grade, his focus turned squarely to the trombone, and he began practicing about an hour each day.
"He really does work hard and once he stepped up his level of practicing...it's really improved his playing," said Shayte's mother, Marie Razulis. "He has some sort of internal drive to do well."
Shayte was named All-County and passed a rigorous audition to be named one of only two trombonists from county public high schools to play alongside their professional counterparts in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the annual "Side by Side" concert at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
His performance earlier this month marked the fourth time Shayte was selected to take part in the concert, which is held before an audience of more than 1,000 elementary-, middle- and high-school students.
"That first year doing that was probably one of the best things I've ever done," Shayte said.
The opportunity to play alongside the professional musicians, hear their feedback, and watch them play showed Shayte the laser-like focus on each and every note necessary to become great.
"I kind of take what they're doing and try to apply it to myself, because you see them paying so much attention to getting every note right, every sound right," he said. "It's just that extra level that makes their performance better than a Catonsville High School performance."
Making an impression
Jim Wharton, Catonsville High School's longtime music teacher, called Shayte the best trombonist he's ever had.
"When you listen to Michael's tone, it's like this great, wonderful full column of sound," Wharton said. "Many amateur trombone players can only get maybe a portion of that concept, that type of sound, across. But Michael, the sound just pours out of him."
A musician who plays the trombone properly produces a lyrical sound akin to a male tenor, Shayte said.
"In some ways, I've gotten to that. I certainly haven't gotten to the level a lot of players have gotten to," Shayte said. "I hope, I hope, I hope people think that while they're listening."
Wharton recalled a holiday concert at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen where Catonsville High student-musicians played alongside professionals.
Shayte played a trombone piece accompanied by a steel band in front of 1,400 people.
"Afterward, people in the audience were absolutely shocked to know that Michael was a student and not one of the professional players," Wharton said with a chuckle.
Last summer, Shayte earned a fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer academy for advanced musical study.
Wharton called the fellowship one of the two best in the country and noted that Shayte is his first student in his 37-year teaching career to participate in it.
Shayte, a member of the National Honor Society and of the math and Spanish honor societies, plans to continue to studying the trombone and liberal arts in college, he said.
The University of Maryland has already accepted him and he expects to hear from the University of Michigan, Northwestern University and The Juilliard School after auditions at each of the institutions.
Shayte said her rarely gets nervous for performances and auditions anymore because he relies on his meticulous preparation.
His most recent audition March 9 at Juilliard is a case in point. After a train ride to New York City for the audition, Shayte said he was asked to play selection for which he hadn't prepared. Rather than panic, he simply performed the music, which he said he had played before.
It was his best audition, he said.
"The disappointing thing, sort of, is I wish I had played that well at other auditions because I don't even know playing my best is even somewhat good enough for Juilliard," Shayte said. "But I'm proud of the way I played."
After school, Shayte said he hopes to begin a career as a professional musician in a big -city orchestra.
"If he's in the right place at the right time, it's going to happen," Wharton said, noting the intense competition professional musicians face. "He has the talent for it and the mind set for it."