Christopher M. Sala grew up in Clifton Park, N.Y. and Wilbraham, Mass. In 1994 he earned a Bachelor of Music from the Eastman School of Music in music education and trumpet performance and in 1996, a Master of Music from The Florida State University in trumpet performance, where he was a member of the faculty brass quintet. He is the first place winner of the 1996 International Trumpet Guild Solo Competition, the 1997 ITG Mock Orchestra Competition, and the second place winner of the 1997 National Trumpet Competition. He has also been a semi-finalist in the Brandt Competition in Russia and the Maurice André Competition in Paris. He toured the United States and Costa Rica with Atlantic Brass and Epic Brass, playing recitals and as featured guest artists with symphony orchestras. Currently, he is assistant principal trumpet in the United States Navy Band. He is a frequent soloist with the concert band, and is the leader of the Navy Band Brass Quintet. In addition he was recently appointed principal trumpet in the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, where he has been a member since 2002.
B-flat Trumpet: Bach 37 ML (Gold Brass Bell)
C Trumpet: Bach 25H 229
Piccolo: Yamaha YTR 9830 (Resonance Enhanced by Osmun Brass)
E-flat Trumpet: Lawler Custom
Flugelhorn: Kanstul 1525
Mouthpieces: Hammond Design 3MLX/5 backbore, 5S (for commercial playing), 7SP (Piccolo), 3ML (E-flat); Kanstul 7FL (Flugel)
Interview with Chris Sala, Assistant Principal Trumpet with the U.S. Navy Band and Principal Trumpet with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: How did you get started in music, and who were your first big musical influences?
CS: I was in 5th grade when I started on the cornet in my school band program in New York State. My church music director had me playing in services starting in 6th grade. There were some fantastic high school trumpeters at my church that I learned a lot from on the spot — ensemble playing, descant improvising, and transposition. Those trumpeters also encouraged me to try out for youth orchestra when I was in high school and that was when my love for orchestral playing took off. I also made the switch from cornet to trumpet at that time, since my cornet didn’t blend well with the section.
SC: Who did you study trumpet with and what did you learn from them?
CS: My first teacher was Doug Underwood who was a saxophone player. He wasn’t familiar with trumpet repertoire, so he would unknowingly give me advanced solos and etudes to work on. He brought me music every week from the local music store; it always seemed to be the hardest-looking material he could find. I couldn’t play most of what he gave me, but I was always striving to play bits and pieces of the most challenging passages.
My first “trumpet” teacher was Paul Orsini, with whom I studied for only a year before my family moved. Paul was a stickler for technique; he introduced me to Clarke and Arban and stressed basic fundamentals. When my family moved in my 10th grade year, I studied with Steve Schiller, who was principal trumpet in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Symphony. Steve noticed that my sound was small with lots of vibrato (I was way into vibrato at that time) and he put me on a summer regimen of Maggio System for Brass to help me with power and straighten out my vibrato. With Steve I primarily worked on orchestral excerpts. He had a homemade excerpt book he had made when he was a student at New England Conservatory. He used to check out scores from the library and write out the parts in a manuscript book. It had great stuff like “The Planets” and Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra;” things you didn’t see in the published books.
At Eastman, I studied with Charlie Geyer. Charlie was quick to identify gaps in my knowledge and technique. He is a huge proponent of performing for others as much as you possibly can. We had weekly solo class, weekly excerpt class and often were asked to play in less than ideal circumstances. Sometimes we had “lesson roulette” in solo class, which involved handing your lesson assignments to Charlie at the beginning of class and he would call you up in front of the class to perform an etude (always transposed) of his choosing. It didn’t matter if your lesson was two days before this or an hour before, you got up there and did it. As professionals, we don’t always have ideal conditions to perform in, so it is essential to be prepared to handle any situation. Charlie would say that your plane could be late for an audition and you get no warm-up, or the hall is freezing cold, or you are sick. No matter what, you need to find a way to make it happen.
Bryan Goff wrote to me at Eastman to come and audition for him at Florida State. It was a great move for me. As the long-time treasurer of the International Trumpet Guild, Bryan knew “everybody” in the trumpet world. Bryan encouraged me to enter into competitions; and he helped me to hone my solo skills.
SC: Tell me about your brass quintet experiences–at Florida State, in the Atlantic Brass and the Epic Brass.
CS: I absolutely love playing chamber music. I have been in a brass quintet for as long as I can remember. In high school, I played in a professional quintet with four local band directors. At Eastman, I was in a quintet every year and was coached by horn professor Peter Kurau. When I went to Florida State, my assistantship duties were primarily to play second trumpet in the faculty brass quintet. That was a rich experience: we did statewide recruitment tours, recordings, conferences, and a concert tour of Germany. I learned a lot from my faculty colleagues and my playing matured as a result.
I left FSU mid-doctorate when I won a position with the Boston-based quintet Epic Brass. Epic Brass was already involved with the Columbia Arts Management-based “Community Concerts.” The group would go out to a region of the country for 4-5 weeks and play pops concerts in small towns and big cities. I moved to Boston with my wife and two weeks later I was on the road. We played concerts every night and drove all day. It was fantastic and exhausting at the same time. The sheer amount of performing I did in my first year was unlike any amount I experienced before. I had to learn how to take care of my chops and my body on the road. I also played a lot of different horns during the show: piccolo, flugelhorn, B-flat, and C –it was a workout! I played with Atlantic Brass in my fourth and final year in Boston. At the time, both groups were sharing players and I was excited to work with Atlantic, which specialized in more serious contemporary repertoire.
Here is an audio clip of Chris playing the Carl Höhne’s “Slavonic Fantasy” accompanied by the U. S. Navy Band
SC: You won the 1996 ITG Solo Competition and the 1997 ITG Mock Orchestral Audition Competition. What did you play? How did you prepare for these competitions?
CS: For the ITG Solo Competition, the required piece was Enesco’s Legende and for the second piece I picked The Avatar by Steve Rouse. I don’t remember the repertoire from the mock orchestral audition. The competition was in magnificent Gothenburg, Sweden, and the finalists got to work with Armando Ghitalla in a special masterclass on the excerpts –that was a treat. To prepare for competitions, I made time every day for my routine practice sessions in order to keep my fundamentals solid. At the time I was using Ray Mase’s 10-week routine. As much as possible, I also would play the pieces for anybody who would listen.
SC: What were your experiences from the Maurice Andre Competition and the Brandt Competition?
CS: My participation in the 1996 Brandt International Trumpet Competition in Saratov, Russia, was a unique opportunity. After the competition organizers advertised for the event, they only had applicants from Russia. In order to be an international competition, they had to have competitors from other countries as well. Joyce Davis, who was ITG president at the time, asked me if I’d like to represent the United States since I had just won the ITG Solo Competition. I had a very short time to learn a lot of pieces that I had never played before: Brandt Concertpiece, Tamberg Concerto, and a slew of Russian orchestral excerpts from operas and ballets, some of which were rarely played in America. The first round went great and then I got really sick (probably food poisoning) and was confined to my hotel bathroom and bed. I actually resigned from the second round which involved playing in the trumpet section of the Saratov Philharmonic on a throne-like chair set on a riser in the middle of the orchestra. After the round had started, I gathered my strength and decided to give it a go anyway. The judges let me play at the end of the round. I ended up getting through the round, but that was the end of the road for me in that competition.
The Andre Competition was also a fantastic experience. The first round was: Telemann Concerto in D Major, movement I (required), and a choice of two other works: I played Tomasi Concerto, movement I, and Jolivet Concertino, movement I. The first round was a true test of endurance and nerves and I was fortunate enough to pass on to the second round. Round 2 was performed with organ at a Paris church where César Franck was once the organist. Böhme Concerto in F minor was required and I chose Peter Eben’s Okna as my second piece. That was again as far as I went. I got to receive comments in person from Maurice André, Roger Voisin, Reinhold Freidrich, Konrad Groth, and Juoko Harjanne.
SC: Who are some of your favorite trumpet players?
CS: Wynton Marsalis was my idol growing up. I was given one of his albums when I was in 7th grade. After that, I was glued to every album that he put out. When his Haydn/Hummel/L. Mozart album came out, I got ahold of the sheet music for Haydn and Hummel and used to play along on my cornet. I also got to meet Wynton in ninth grade when he came to Albany. After the show, I went backstage to meet him. He was so cool and genuine to me. He focused his attention on me and asked me what pieces I was working on, and I was so star-struck to finally meet my idol. I also have always loved Maurice André’s playing. He was another idol from early on. My favorites also include: Håkan Hardenberger, Phil Smith, Bud Herseph, Allen Vizzutti, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.
SC: What are some of your favorite recordings?
CS: Wynton Marsalis: Haydn/Hummel/L. Mozart was the first classical trumpet recording that I ever heard and definitely was my inspiration for becoming a professional trumpet player. Also, his Carnaval album with the Eastman Wind Ensemble was revealing to me on what is possible on our instrument. It was also what made me first want to attend the Eastman School of Music. Other recordings that I love are: Håkan Hardenberger –The Virtuoso Trumpet, Philip Smith –New York Legends, Timofei Dokshitser –Concertpieces, Eric Aubier- Four Great French Concertos, Maurice André and Claude Bolling –Toot Suite.
SC: Now you are in the Navy Band and you are the leader of the brass quintet there. What are some of the experiences you have had with this group? What are some other notable experiences that you have had with the Navy Band in general?
CS: Playing in the Navy Band Brass Quintet has been a real honor. It’s wonderful to be playing chamber music regularly again while serving my country and representing the U.S. Navy at the same time. The group is phenomenal and I am humbled to be put in the position of leader. We play several recitals each year and also high-profile ceremonies. One of the most notable performances was when we played for the ground-breaking commemoration of the 9/11 memorial at Shanksville, PA. We played for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden. It was a very moving ceremony.
With the band, I always look back fondly on our international trips to Military Tattoo performances. These are large festivals of military bands and ceremonial guards from all over the world. We put on a big variety show that takes a lot of work to put together but getting to know other military musicians around the world makes it worth the effort. I also think that our recent recital of Gabrieli and Gesualdo for large brass ensemble at the Library of Congress was an extremely rewarding concert.
SC: Very recently, you won the job of Principal Trumpet with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra–coming to the audition already as a member of the orchestra. Tell me about how you prepared for the audition and what was asked at the actual audition.
CS: It is a bit nerve-wracking to be put in this situation. You are playing for your colleagues and the conductor who know you personally. In a way, I had only something to gain from playing the audition, but I was determined to win the principal spot. I put a lot of pressure on myself. We had less than a month to prepare for the audition. I also was playing acting principal with the orchestra on the first week of having the list. So, that first week I had to go easy on the excerpts to keep my chops fresh. I dug into the solo pieces first, Haydn and Honegger, and played through Vacchiano’s Trumpet Routines. Then, I made a practice schedule for myself of the excerpts I was to practice each day. I printed out an October calendar and generated a random order of excerpts by rolling dice. Two weeks before the audition, I played entirely through the list every day and the week before two times a day.
Here is an audio sample of Chris playing Principal Trumpet with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra on Samuel Barber’s Second Essay: two clips from Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, Movements 1 and 4 (thanks for permission to stream this clip given by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Musicians Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, Local 40-543, American Federation of Musicians. Used by Permission of G. Schirmer, Inc.):
On Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, movement 1 (thanks for permission to stream this clip given by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Musicians Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, Local 40-543, American Federation of Musicians):
On Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1, movement 4 (thanks for permission to stream this clip given by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Musicians Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, Local 40-543, American Federation of Musicians):
SC: What do you like to do when you’re not playing trumpet?
CS: Reading, running, cooking, and enjoying life with my wife and two daughters.
SC: What are you looking forward to in the next few years?
CS: I can’t think that far ahead. Life moves so fast, my kids are growing up with each blink of an eye. I plan on continuing to better myself as a musician, a leader and a busy parent.
SC: Chris, thanks so much for your help in making this interview possible! I count you not only as a fantastic trumpeter, but as a great friend!
Here are some videos of Chris playing the Henri Senee “Concertino”: