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He dresses to his personality: Symphony trombonist revels in eccentric and unconventional

UPDATED: Fri., May 29, 2020

For Spokane Symphony principal trombonist John Church, the characteristic loudness of his chosen instrument resonates through areas of his life and personality far beyond music. During quarantine, the time he takes to piece together an outfit every morning still brightens his mood throughout the day.

While the “Masterworks” concert “tux and tails” dress code leaves little room for variation, offstage and in rehearsals, Church’s unconventional sense of fashion has earned him quite the reputation among his orchestral colleagues. Drawing inspiration here and there from legendary keyboardist Chick Corea’s album covers and the neo-expressionist work of Jean Michel-Basquiat, no one could safely accuse Church of “conforming” his personal style to any outside standard.

His approach to musicianship runs the same track, he explained, recalling a piece of advice given by the great American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis when asked how to imitate a certain musician: “The best thing you can do is to use the sound you have.” Likewise, Church’s goal in dressing is to cultivate a style so authentic to himself that anyone might easily recognize his artistic voice.

Church’s style has gone through as many stages and iterations as his taste in music. Whether he listens to jazz, classical, hip-hop/rap or soul, each imposes an influence on his fashion.

“As with any art, you’re inspired by other people in many different ways,” he said. “His phrasing, her sound, their command of the instrument. You should always be taking little things and putting them in your tool belt.”

Offstage, Church revels in eccentric accessorization, bold color stories and unconventional pattern pairings.

“Usually less is more,” Church said. At the time of our Zoom interview, Church wore a fitted gray shirt, small gold earrings, a set of necklace chains, a pair of thin-framed aviator glasses, a favorite bandana around his hair and a pair of neat vintage sneakers. “Pretty subdued today,” he said. “But sometimes you want to go all out.”

An enthusiastic visual artist as well as a musician, he maintains an art account on Instagram (@johnchurchart) and designs his own T-shirts. He enjoys experimenting with watercolor pens and bleach, and while he isn’t exactly “a seamstress,” the idea of making his own clothes from start to finish is an attractive one.

Favoring vintage and used pieces over new, he has no brand loyalties beyond Doc Martens and, true to his Portland roots, the occasional Pendleton purchase. His closet – more organized chaos than organized – is full of thrift store finds from all over the country.

“There’s a certain energy you get off of clothing or anything used,” Church said. “And it’s better for the environment.”

A jacket he found almost accidentally in Florida and wears to this day is so unusual that, more than once, strangers have tried to buy it off his back. He rarely has to go so far to find exciting pieces, however. Local stores like Value Village, Chosen Vintage and Boulevard Mercantile are his go-tos.

“People are more likely to ask to look in my closet than ask me for advice,” Church said. “I suppose it’s a little bit of a gallery, but I don’t personally view it that way. To me, it’s a bunch of tools that express my moods and personality.”

To friends in the process of establishing a personal style, he offers the following advice: “Judgment from others doesn’t matter.” After that, all he recommends is to start asking yourself a series of questions. Why are you wearing the clothes you’re wearing? Is it because you’re trying to conform? What do they express about you? Are you trying to be acceptable? Rebellious?

“For me, if an outfit connects with the emotion I’m feeling on a particular day, that’s all that matters,” he said. “I know that people have made fun of what I wear, but really, at the end of the day, does their opinion matter? No. I understand why I’m wearing it. I understand its connection to me … I’ve finally figured out how to dress to my personality.”

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