Interview with renowned teacher, Wiff Rudd

Wiff Rudd began teaching trumpet and serving as Brass Area Coordinator at Baylor University in 2002. Previous teaching posts include Oklahoma Baptist University and the University of Arkansas. A founding member of Rhythm & Brass, he is also an active soloist, chamber and orchestral musician. He has been a featured soloist in Carnegie Hall on multiple occasions and at several National Trumpet Competitions and International Trumpet Guild Conferences. Rudd has performed and presented master classes at more than 350 universities and music festivals on five continents. He serves as principal trumpet with the Waco Symphony and performs regularly with the orchestras of Houston (Moscow 2012), Dallas (Europe 2013 and 2016), and Harrisburg. Baylor’s trumpet ensembles have won six prizes at the National Trumpet Competition since 2009, including three first place wins. In 2010, Rudd received the Award for Outstanding Teaching and was named the Centennial Professor, which provided funding for research in collaborative practice. The resulting book, Collaborative Practice Concepts, was released at the 2013 and has been adopted by many university trumpet studios across the country. He has recently published a second book, Side by Side: Building and Sustaining an Effective Community in the Music Studio.
Equipmentall Yamaha
Bb: Old Yamaha Zeno (Early 1990’s) YTR-6335 Gold Brass Bell
C: Yamaha Gen I and Gen 2
D/Eb: YTF-9636 & 9610
F/G: YTR 9710
A/Bb Piccolo: YTR-9820 & 9825
Flugelhorn: YTF-631 (1980’s)
Mouthpieces:
Yamaha 16C4
Yamaha 16E4 (Rotary)
Old Bach Corp. 3C
Piccolo – 7E or 11A4
Flugel: Bach 1.5 FL

Interview with Wiff Rudd. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis.

SC: Wiff, I really appreciate you sitting down to chat with me. You’re kind of one my idols, I have to say!
WR: That’s very kind of you! Idol is a word I’m not used to hearing! Thanks for your interest in visiting today!
SC: So, let’s go back in time. What were you doing when you were young that got you interested in music? Who were your big influences?
WR: Being in band was just something the Rudd kids did. I was the 5th of 6 children, and though our parents were not musical, somehow “band” was something we were encouraged to do.

Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen performing “the battle of the horns” before the Super Bowl IV in 1970

As I became more interested in music during high school, the big influences were Al Hirt and Doc Severinsen – in fact I remember Super Bowl IV very well! It was 1970 and the halftime was the battle between these two amazing players. Times have changed, eh – and here we are in Super Bowl LV! I also had the good fortune of seeing Doc perform a couple of times when I was in high school. I enjoyed hearing Herb Albert and remember 2-3 prime time television specials by the Tijuana Brass (I would tell the family to hush while I held the microphone to my small reel-to-reel tape recorder next to the TV speaker. I mowed a lot of yards to pay for that machine).

Bill Chase, high-note fusion trumpeter

The other thing that got me more interested in getting better in high school, and then as a college student was the emergence of horn bands – Blood, Sweat and Tears (with Lew Soloff) was my go to band and of course, Chicago was busting out, then Tower of Power, and Chase. I saw Chase live in high school and went to a clinic he gave. I was bummed when he died in that plane crash.

SC: What else were you interested in when you were young?
WR: I enjoyed going to pro baseball games and remember seeing Hank Aaron play in Atlanta. But I didn’t really play sports that much. I love flying kites so high I could hardly see them, often winding up the string well into the dark. Salt-water fishing and water skiing were my go toos on weekends at the Texas coast before we moved to San Antonio (from Houston) for my last two years of high school.
SC: You eventually went to Baylor. Did you study with Ron Fox there? What was Baylor like then compared to now?

WR: I first studied with Michael Ewald and had the pleasure of sitting next to him in the Waco Symphony and the faculty quintet. Ron (Fox) was my teacher for only one year, but I often say that “he saved me” – for various reasons, I hit a major crisis in my playing during my junior year. Ron has great instincts and he got me lose and having fun again. I’ll forever be indebted to him and his wonderful wife, Carole.

Baylor is so much the same – it’s a tight-knit community. What’s different now is that music program is a bit larger. But the traditions that were established when I was student have served us well, and the level of the large ensembles and the quality chamber music and jazz program are fantastic.
SC: Then you went to graduate school at the University of Northern Colorado with Bill Pfund (who just celebrated his birthday—his 86th I believe!). 
WR: Bill was amazing. I got to play 2nd to him in the Greeley Phil and that was an incredible experience. He not only demonstrated resourcefulness and the focus on “each note being beautiful,” he demanded it from his students, particularly the grad students – there was a sense of urgency. I think the fact that I was married and my wife was pregnant at the end of my masters added a degree of intensity. Under his guidance, I was able to secure my first job just as we were finishing our time together.

Bill Pfund, professor emeritus at Univ. of Northern Colorado

SC: How did you win your job with the Dallas Brass? What was it like and who did you play with?
WR: a former student, Stephen Goforth (my first freshman at Oklahoma Baptist University) told me about Dallas Brass during my 7th year at OBU. I was freelancing a lot with the Oklahoma Symphony, in big bands, recording studios and so forth, but the idea of playing and touring with a small group seemed really appealing. I loved playing a wide variety of styles and the thought of doing that all in one concert was appealing.
Steve was too busy to stay with the group which at that time, was only playing regional gigs. But it seemed apparent that the group had a chance of going full time in a couple of years. He introduced me to the owner and I drove to Dallas for a long evening rehearsal/audition. Next thing you know, we moved to Dallas (it’s a lot more complicated than that!). And sure enough, two years later we were touring full time.
SC: And then you started Rhythm & Brass, playing and managing the group. Did you have to grow into your managing role?
WR: I was very fortunate in that I learned a lot of business skills in Dallas Brass. I enjoyed negotiating and representing the group and did that when we started R&B. Everyone in the group had a job (composing, arranging, logistics, etc.) – mine was booking, with the amazing help of my wife, Jeanette. Our three boys grew up watching us having “not normal jobs” and living risky lives at times. I believed those experiences have served them well and they are all doing unique, creative things in their workplaces.
SC: How long were you with Rhythm & Blues?
WR: After 13-14 years of full time touring, we made the decision to reduce the touring and move into university teaching. Within 2-3 years, all 6 members of the group were affiliated with a university. We continued touring part-time for many years. It’s been 5 years since we last performed and we miss it. I know we will do a reunion tour some time!
SC: Your first big teaching job was with the University of Arkansas. Was it a challenge?
WR: It was – especially because I was still doing run-out tours. But I have always known that a balance of teaching and performing was my dream, perhaps my destiny. It was so good to be back at it full time but I inherited 28 students, and that was too many. We figured that out, and I planned on staying in that job until retirement.
I believe that we won’t do a good job where we are if we are always looking to move somewhere else. So we put down roots and since out kids were older, Jeanette and I realized we could build our life in a new town. We made some of the closest friends ever, and it was nice to be “home.”
SC: Then you were asked to apply for your alma mater–Baylor. What was that like? How was the interview?
WR: Being asked to apply to Baylor was a surprise. I had literally just received tenure at Arkansas when the phone rang; the call was from a former professor and she informed me there was a trumpet opening – would I consider applying. “NO” and some mutual laughter. I had never imagined teaching at Baylor and truly had no interest. We were settled, living creative and engaging lives. But one thing led to another, and as we warmed up to the idea and visited the campus and realized that we would be close to our two sets of parents in San Antonio – well that’s how it went.
It was very sad for us to leave Fayetteville – we had invested deeply in our four years there, and that had been my “dream” job. We often talk about our dreams coming true in this business and my dream of touring, then of teaching again had come true – going to teach at Baylor was never a part of my dream. So I often say “my dream didn’t come true” – but what a surprising gift it has become in our lives, for many reasons.
SC: Since 2002, you’ve been at Baylor, and the trumpet studio has grown in number and reputation. Tell me about some of the proud moments you’ve had as a teacher there?
WR: There have been so many proud moments in my 19 years at Baylor. But we can’t forget the challenging times. I think they are perhaps the most important. In the first few years, I think a proud moment, really more of an “ah-hah” moment was when I realized that young people are amazing. When they are loved, spoken to honestly and transparently, when fun and laughter are shared freely, and if meaningful musical opportunities are available, they thrive. Did I talk about having fun?
At first I thought I had to build a healthy culture. Sure, that’s part of it. But the fact is, they want to build it, too. So a proud moment for me now, is when they do it. More and more, I want less and less of the credit for what they do. Students need to feel like they are truly shareholders in what we are all building together. Also, I have found it’s important to not just rely on the veterans (upperclassmen) of the studio for culture building; I now look at freshmen and sophomores to step in and let us know what they would like have happen in the studio. They want to contribute as soon as possible, so why wait?
SC: How did you transform your studio? In your wonderful new book, Side by Side, you talk about some keystone habits that you implemented. How did they work for you? Will they work for every trumpet studio?
WR: That’s a big question and one that is answered by looking back. I didn’t know what I should do specifically to transform or improve the studio culture, but I did know that it would be impossible without having solid relationships in place, first. Those were the most important lessons I learned in Dallas Brass and Rhythm & Brass days. First thing first.
A keystone habit is a thing that, done continually with everyone buying in, will absolutely shape everything else the studio does. Our habit happens to be a twice weekly group hang (warm-up). Students must attend one per week to have a chance for an A. It’s all call and response, no metronome, no tuner, no music. I detail it in Side by Side. But each studio must find what works for them. It not the “thing” – it’s the doing of it with purpose and persistence. Creativity is the key.
SC: Have you read a lot of self-help books? Your writing seems to reflect that. What is your workflow from reading to applying what you read?
WR: When I came to Baylor, I read business books and those based upon research (Talent Code, Good to Great). I listen to podcasts and read a variety of books when time allows. Our studio members do a book report each year and rarely are they about music. They are usually books based upon research about wellness: physical, spiritual, and mental. When reading or listening, I will inevitably find something that resonates with me, and I’ll try to find a creative application for the studio. My favorite epiphanies have come from what we can easily observe in nature – nature speaks clearly and wisely, if we will only watch listen.
SC: At the 2018 San Antonio ITG Conference, you gave a wonderful presentation on developing a Collaborative Studio—that’s when I was really impressed by what you do! And you gave me a copy of your Collaborative Practice Concepts—thanks so much. How did you come up with these great ideas? 
WR: Ron Fox was the one that really got me into the collaborative approach – call and response. That’s how he turned my playing around. He made it a game. Teaching is much easier if someone is willing to play a game.
SC: Has the pandemic completely taken the wind out of sails of these collaborative practice concepts?
WR: The pandemic has certainly reduced the number of group practice sessions we usually have, but we have been able to continue the morning warm-ups. We are fortunate, thanks to some strict protocols, to be meeting in person. When we can’t do what we would in normal times, we simply find something else that will work. And–when one of us complains, I strive to move us (the studio) toward gratitude for each other and what we are able to do. These students, all of our students, have a chance of coming out of this time with serious levels of creativity and fortitude.
SC: I’m so glad that the CSU Trumpet Studio will be able to host you for a virtual clinic next week. I hope the students behave–and I hope they ask good questions!
WR: If they don’t have questions, I’ll ask them a few!

Original art by CSU trumpet student, Alexa Hudson

SC: What’s next on the horizon for you, Wiff? 

Jason Bergman, Wiff Rudd and Ryan Anthony performing “Song of Hope”

WR: I’m working on a couple of projects with others. One is a book (I’m advising, not leading), and another is a special recording project to honor Ryan Anthony’s memory and support CancerBlows. A former student is leading on that project. Additionally, the Baylor Trumpet Studio will be ramping up some video recording projects.

SC: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Looking forward to next week!
WR: See you then!
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