Trom-boning up for national TV appearance

UND Trombone Choir featured on Food Network’s March 8 Girl Meets Farm TV show

Nick Hagen (green shirt), husband of Food Network TV star Molly Yeh, is videotaped while practicing with the UND Trombone Choir in the Hughes Fine Arts Center last December. The episode featuring the University music group will be aired March 8 at 10 a.m. (Central). A box of peanut butter bars baked by Yeh rests on a stool, waiting to be served as an after-practice treat. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

UND Trombone Choir director Joel Pugh isn’t sure what to expect when the music group appears on the March 8 episode of the Food Network’s popular Girl Meets Farm television show, featuring Molly Yeh – a nationally recognized chef, cookbook author and food blogger.

But he’s received some advice from Nick Hagen, Yeh’s husband who plays in the University’s trombone choir, runs the family farm north of East Grand Forks, Minn., and frequently appears on the TV show, which is primarily shot in the kitchen of the couple’s home.

“Nick told me not to worry because it’s like looking through the wrong end of the telescope; you can’t tell what’s happening on the other side,” Pugh laughed. “At trombone choir practice this week, he told me the broadcast was going to happen, and I’d be surprised by the reaction to it.”

Molly Yeh with coffee-glazed chocolate donuts , as seen on Girl Meets Farm. Most of the Food Network TV show is recorded on the family farm north of East Grand Forks, Minn., where she lives with her husband, Nick Hagen. Photo courtesy Food Network.

The March 8 Girl Meets Farm episode – airing on a Sunday at 10 a.m. Central – is titled “Nick’s Trombone Choir.” In late December last year, a Food Network TV production crew recorded Hagen practicing on the UND campus in the Hughes Fine Arts Center.

Practice makes delicious

Pugh conducted the trombone choir as Hagen and eight UND student musicians practiced a song by world-renowned composer Eric Ewazen with The Julliard School in New York City. Yeh, a Chicago-area native, and Hagen, who went to school in East Grand Forks, met while they were both students at Julliard. The practice session at UND ended with Hagen offering trombone choir members peanut butter bars baked by Yeh.

Pugh said the students still talk about the experience of being recorded for the TV show, but what they really remember is the opportunity to sample Yeh’s food.

“The one thing they talk about most is that the peanut butter brownies were amazing, and they were,” he said. “They were fantastic!”

The description for the show featuring the UND Trombone Choir reads: “Molly Yeh makes a hearty tomato squash soup and labneh grilled cheese for lunch before husband Nick’s trombone practice. Then she sends him off with chewy chocolate peanut butter bars for the whole choir. Afterwards, they eat a simple weeknight meal of her delicious smoked salmon Nicoise salad.”

Pugh has known Hagen since he was a student at East Grand Forks High School. In 2012, after Yeh and Hagen were married and then moved from New York to the farm along the North Dakota-Minnesota border, Pugh invited Hagen to play in the UND Trombone Choir. He accepted and has played regularly with the group ever since.

Making it all worthwhile

There are 21 members of the UND Trombone Choir, which includes several non-UND alums like Hagen. They practice and play with the group to share their experience with younger trombonists.

“They’re really good and someone the students look up to,” Pugh said. “Nick does a lot of the heavy lifting because he’s our only Julliard graduate.”

Pugh said it’s important for UND to have a trombone choir because it exposes students to a wide variety of experiences. The UND Trombone Choir has played in China and was once featured on the holiday greeting card of former UND President Robert Kelley, also a trombonist. Near the end of this semester, the group will play during a service at University Lutheran Church in Grand Forks.


Eight members of the UND Trombone Choir will be featured in an episode of Girl Meets Farm recorded in the Hughes Fine Arts Center. From left to right are: Patrick Ruder, sophomore, Maple Grove, Minn.; Brady Zimmerman, sophomore, Grand Forks, N.D.; Nathan Schwind, sophomore, Mandan, N.D.; Gabby Halliday, junior, Grand Forks; André de Carvalho, junior, Petaluma, Calif.; Ben Pfeiffer, freshman, Jamestown, N.D.; Nick Hagen; Nick Stokke, freshman, Grand Forks; and director Joel Pugh. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

“People don’t think trombones can sound sacred, but it will be with eight trombones sounding glorious and beautiful in the church service,” he said. “My goal is to give students opportunities. What we do here in North Dakota is what others are doing at much larger universities, but our students are getting the same experience here.”

It’s the second time in just over a month that Girl Meets Farm has aired shows with UND connections. During the Feb. 2 show – aired on Super Bowl Sunday – Yeh served a meal to former UND hockey players Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Andy Schneider as they watched a Fighting Hawks hockey game on TV.

For Pugh and his UND music students, getting national exposure on a TV show is another feather in the trombone choir’s cap.

“You do all this playing and sometimes nobody takes notice, and then something you weren’t expecting happens,” he said. “It’s really nice and makes it all worthwhile.”