Years ago, Barry Perkins brought his trumpet south of the border.
Unlike most Americans who just travel to Mexico for tequila-filled good times, he went for a job, and a prestigious one at that: a seat in the Mexico City Philharmonic.
The audition went well, and Perkins won the position: associate principal trumpet.
He was only 20 years old.
Perkins' remarkably early entry into the ultra-competitive classical music world — and in a major orchestra, no less — was quite the feat.
On top of that, he was in a foreign country with a foreign language. But for the 20-year-old, the Spanish-language rehearsals weren't the toughest thing. After all, many musical terms are universal worldwide.
"I could get through a rehearsal," Perkins said. "At first, it was taking a taxi that was the hardest part, getting to and from rehearsal. My first taxi ride was just a disaster."
Perkins had a piece of paper with him that contained what he was supposed to say. His rehearsal hall had a complicated name, and as he as tried to rattle it off, the cabbie soon figured he was one of "the Americans up the street" and knew just where to take him.
Today, Perkins is the principal trumpet player for the Pacific Symphony, a position he's held since 2004. The 41-year-old Irvine resident's musical journey, like many musicians, started early and bears a family connection.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Perkins and his family moved around a few times before they finally settled in Irvine when Perkins was in eighth grade. His father, a research chemist, was also a trumpet player — so it's no surprise that he wanted to teach young Barry the ways of the heralding brass instrument.
"Before he got home from work, we had to practice trumpet and piano," Perkins said. "My dad gave me lessons since I was 5 years old."
Not fully content with chemistry, Perkins' father opened a music shop — Perkins Music Center — in Irvine's Northwood neighborhood in 1984.
"My dad was always musically inclined," Perkins said. "When we moved to Irvine, he still worked as a research chemist, but he started a music store business just to keep his connections. I was in high school, and everybody from my high school shopped at Perkins Music Center. He wanted to get back into music, and I think that was his avenue."
It was a family affair. Young Barry even had to clean the violins.
"My mom would run the store during the day, and after work my dad would come in and give lessons," he said.
Perkins attended Irvine High School, studying with Richard Birkemeier and Donald Green of the L.A. Philharmonic. After high school, Perkins attended the New England Conservatory in Boston to study with Charles Schlueter (formerly of the Boston Symphony) before winning his job in Mexico. But at the time, he wasn't entirely sure he should accept it.
"I had a choice to make," Perkins said. "I basically asked my teacher: 'What do I do? Do I stay here and study with you? Do I take the job?' My teacher said, 'See you later.'"
Perkins said his teacher knew full well the value of professional playing over the collegiate. In college, groups generally play maybe a dozen pieces a year. On a full-time orchestra job, musicians play new repertoire every week.
He stayed with the Mexico City Philharmonic from 1990 to 1995, during which time the orchestra toured the country.
"We didn't see Acapulco and the touristy places," Perkins said. "We went into the regions and different cities I wouldn't have visited otherwise."