When Peter Pickett puts his soprano cornet to his lips, the heralding sound resonates above the Lexington Brass Band. But what sets Pickett apart from the other cornet players is his instrument. His own company made it.

The business—Pickett Brass and Blackburn Trumpets—melds together Pickett’s passions for music and engineering, both of which he studied at Virginia Tech.

“The university offered endless opportunities for making music and engineering,” he says. “It also supported exploration and the freedom to combine my degrees.”

After receiving bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering in 1995 and music performance in 1996, he completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, also at Virginia Tech, where he studied the acoustics of the trumpet and active noise control.

Pickett then went to work as a mechanical engineer for a printer company. But ever dedicated to music, during his off-hours he started Pickett Brass. Based out of his garage in Lexington, Kentucky, the company first created decorative replacement options for standard finger buttons on trumpets.

These stylized adornments led Pickett to collaborate with musician Vincent DiMartino. Together they developed specialized trumpet mouthpieces with a range of options for players. Pickett says the design and philosophy of the mouthpieces helped the company differentiate itself from its competitors.

“We design mouthpieces for many musicians, including Doc Severinsen, Jens Lindemann, Roger Ingram, Allen Vizzutti, and Wycliffe Gordon,” he says. “This taught us what does and doesn’t work for players.”

The mouthpieces afforded Pickett the opportunity to become a full-time entrepreneur in 2014. Two years later, he acquired a well-respected trumpet-making company, Blackburn Trumpets.

“It’s different from making mouthpieces,” he says. “The reward is significant, though. Having an artist play an instrument that was handmade in our shop is awe-inspiring.”

On paper Pickett’s career decisions look planned, but he considers his success to be a series of fortunate opportunities. And Virginia Tech played a large role in his ability to tap technology to create superior instruments.

“There’s no better place to recognize the vocations that resonate within you,” he says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the skills I needed to bring Pickett Brass to life.”

Written by Leslie King