Interview with African-American trailblazing trumpeter, Jewitt White.

Mus3c Jewitt Lorenzo White, Sr.

Jewitt Lorenzo White Sr., born on March 6, 1921 in Paris, Texas, was the oldest of four boys born to Viara and Luther White. He began his music studies in Gary, Indiana.  

Jewitt’s Conn trumpet and case that accompanied him during his enlistment in the U.S. Navy


After Jewitt’s parents purchased a Conn trumpet for him, he eventually won first chair in the Roosevelt High School band.  He also went on to play trumpet in the band at A&T University (North Carolina) during his undergraduate studies. During WWII, he won a billet in the groundbreaking “B-1 Band” which was the first band in the U.S. Navy comprised of African Americans to serve in a rank higher than messman.  

In addition to his other duties while serving in Hawaii from 1942-1944, Jewitt was tasked to play Taps and Reveille on bugle for the Manana Barracks military base.

After the war, Jewitt supplemented his income by continuing to play trumpet with entertainment bands in the evenings (after teaching school during the day). And he continued to play while he worked on his master’s degree at Iowa State University and his doctorate degree at Penn State University, so that he could earn additional income for his family: his wife, Mae Foneville (Mitchell) White; his son, Jewitt L. White Jr.; his two daughters, Ramone White (Woodard), and Mae Rosalind White.

Interview with Jewitt White, African-American trumpeter who played in WWII band, overcoming racial barrier to higher ratings in US Navy

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


 

SC: Mr White, this is really an honor for me to chat with such a groundbreaking WWII veteran. How did you get interested in music?

JW: My mother’s brothers were in a high school band. The older brother played tuba and the younger played trumpet. This youngest brother began to teach me how to play trumpet at age 9, teaching me all the scales. Later, he would take me to his high school jazz band rehearsals and encouraged me to play with them.

By the time I was in high school, which was Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, I was playing first chair in the band.

After high school, I went to North Carolina, to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Not only did I study agriculture there, but I played in the band every year.

I also played for weddings and parties while I was a student. These gigs payed really good—sometimes as much as $12-14 dollars for the evening! That was a lot of money back then!

I also met my future wife while I was a student at A&T. Her name was Mae Foneville Mitchell. Her father did not want us to date, because she was so young. She was a very young college student, having started college at age 15. Eventually, with WWII looming over us, we decided to elope.

 

SC: Who were your early musical influences and teachers?

JW: I loved to listen to Louis Armstrong.  I also liked Walter Carlson’s playing a lot. He was a member of the B1 Band and later became the band instructor at A&T.

 

SC: Tell me about how you enlisted in the Navy?

JW: I was walking on campus, and I ran into my band director talking to a recruiter for the Navy. This recruiter was retired but he wore his uniform, which had stripes all the way up his arm. I was very impressed. He asked me to come play for him at the band room later that day. So, I came and played. After he listened to me, he told me, “Okay. I think you’ll be just fine!” That’s how I joined the B-1 Band.

 

B-1 Band in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

SC: What were some of your most memorable performances as a member of the B1 Band?

JW: Sometimes in band I would play lead, but sometimes I would play solos. We had dozens of tunes in our book, but my favorite piece to play was “Stardust.” I enjoyed soloing on that tune!

 

Mus3c Jewitt White playing bugle calls

SC: What was it like being a part of the B1 Band?

JW: They didn’t let us stay in the normal barracks, because we weren’t allowed.

Every morning, I would play reveille, and every evening I would play Taps. This was noteworthy, since it was the first time, to my knowledge, that an African American was given the duty or even the opportunity to play these bugle calls.

 

 

Pre-flight Dinner in Chapel Hill, NC, before B-1 Band deployed to Hawaii. Seated on far left, Mus3c Jewitt White and his wife, Mae Foneville (Mitchell) White

SC: Did you stay in North Carolina for the whole war?

 

JW: No. They shipped us off to Hawaii.

 

 

SC: What did you do after the war? Did you continue with music?

JW: After the war, I went back to school to get my master’s degree at Iowa State in education and agriculture. I also nearly finished my Ph.D. in science at Penn State. And during all this time I played dances to earn additional income. I got a job in Clinton, North Carolina teaching. Then I was appointed professor at West Virginia State, teaching science. Finally, in Gary, Indiana, I was a teacher trainer and then director of vocational education at the Gary, Indiana Tech and Vocational School. I retired in the 1980s.

 

SC: Because I am doing this interview for trumpeters, I always like to talk about equipment. What trumpet or cornet equipment did you play when you were playing with the B1 band?

JW: My trumpet was a Conn, which my parents purchased for me when I was in high school. The trumpet is still in my family. I loaned it to one of my granddaughters who played it when she was a member of her high school band in the early 1990s. The trumpet is still in great shape and is kept in its original case. It is in the possession of my oldest granddaughter, Jacqueline Woodard who lives in Maryland and works for the government in Washington, DC.

 

Jewitt (center, age 96 at time of interview) with two daughters, Mae Rosalind White (left) and Ramone (White) Woodard (right)

SC: Do you have any advice for the younger generation of trumpeters?

Do the best you can. All the time!

 

 

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David Hickman: tireless trumpeter, businessman, innovator, and pedagogue

Trumpeter David Hickman

David Hickman is considered one of the world’s pre-eminent trumpet virtuosos, and has performed over 2,000 solo appearances around the world as a recitalist or guest soloist with over 500 different orchestras.  His tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Greece, Russia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Australia, and virtually every major American city.

Hickman has released 19 solo albums encompassing a wide variety of repertoire—from cornet solos by Clarke, Levy, and others, to modern concerti by Planel, Baker, and Plog; from Baroque works of Bach, Telemann, and Hertel, to recital pieces by Chance, Dello Joio, and Mendez.

As a noted clinician and author, Hickman has presented workshops on over 400 major university campuses.  He has taught at the Banff Centre for the Arts (13 summers), Rafael Mendez Brass Institute (32 summers), Bremen Trumpet Days, and dozens of music festivals.  He has published over 40 articles, 250 scholarly editions of trumpet music, and several important trumpet and music texts including Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques, Trumpet Greats: A Biographical Dictionary, The Piccolo Trumpet, The Piccolo Trumpet Big Book, Trumpet Lessons With David Hickman (vols. I – V), and Music Speed Reading, a sight reading method used by hundreds of public school systems and universities or conservatories including The University of North Texas and The Juilliard School. His 500-page book, Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques, is the number one text for university study and is used at over 200 schools of music around the world. His 1,100-page book, Trumpet Greats: A Biographical Dictionary, contains biographies of over 2,200 well-known trumpeters from 1600 to the present.

David Hickman received his B.M. degree at the University of Colorado in 1972.  He continued graduate work at Wichita State University where he was a Graduate Trumpet Teaching Assistant for two years.  He taught at the University of Illinois from 1974 to 1982, and since then has been teaching at Arizona State University where he is a Regents’ Professor of Music.  He has been a member of the Wichita Brass Quintet, Illinois Brass Quintet, Saint Louis Brass Quintet, Baroque Consort, and the Illinois Contemporary Chamber Players.

Hickman is founder and president of the acclaimed Summit Brass, a large all-star American brass ensemble that has released 11 CDs, toured the world, and hosted annual brass music institutes for thousands of aspiring musicians.  He is also a past president of the International Trumpet Guild (1977-79).  Mr. Hickman is a Shires Performing Artist.  In 2005, Hickman established his own music publishing company, Hickman Music Editions. In addition, he established and directs the Rafael Méndez Library at Arizona State University (since 1993) through a generous gift from the Méndez family.

Hickman’s teachers include Harry E. McNees, Frank W. Baird, Oswald Lehnert, Walter J. Myers, Roger Voisin, Armando Ghitalla, and Adolph Herseth. His former students occupy or have occupied hundreds of orchestra, band, chamber music, and university positions.

Hickman received the International Trumpet Guild’s prestigious “Award of Merit” for outstanding service to the trumpet world in 2005, and in 2017 was awarded ITG’s highest award, the “Honorary Award,” for legendary status as a performer and teacher.  He is the only person to have received both of ITG’s top awards.

Equipment:
Trumpets and Cornets: 
SE Shires B-flat Trumpet (model AZ), gold-plated 
SE Shires C Trumpet (model 401), gold-plated 
Blackburn 5-valve C Trumpet, gold-plated with custom engraving 
Yamaha E / E-flat (sliding bell) Trumpet, gold-plated 
Millens F Trumpet (once owned by Roger Voisin), gold-plated 
Yamaha  B-flat / A Piccolo Trumpet (model YTR 9830), gold-plated 
Yamaha B-flat Cornet, silver-plated 
 
Mouthpieces: 
Giddings “Hickman-model” stainless steel trumpet mouthpiece  (deep cup) 
Giddings “Hickman-model” stainless steel trumpet mouthpiece (medium cup) 
Giddings “Hickman-model” stainless steel trumpet mouthpiece (shallow cup) 
     (Note:  All of the above mouthpiece have identical rim sizes and shapes.)
Schilke Custom Trumpet-Flugel trumpet mouthpiece (with same rim as above, only made with delrin plastic) 
Endsley Custom Cornet mouthpiece (deep “V-shaped” cup with delrin plastic rim same as
      above)

 

Interview with David Hickman, untiring trumpeter, business man, innovator, and pedagogue

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC:  David, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.  Your contributions to the trumpet world are amazing in so many different ways!

DH:   My pleasure.  Thanks for the nice compliment.

SC:  How did you get your start in music and trumpet playing?  Can you speak to some of your influences when you were young?

DH:  I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska. . . Kimball, with a population of about 3,000 people.  The town had one elementary school, one junior high, and one high school.  The town band director was Harry McNees, whose main instrument happened to be cornet. 

I decided to join the sixth-grade band because one of my best friends said that his parents wanted him to join.  His grandfather passed down an old cornet to him, so I decided to play cornet, too.  We figured we could sit together and have fun goofing off.  The only problem was that he practiced, and I didn’t, so he was first chair and I was last.  We sat clear across the room from each other!

I was thinking of quitting the band, but one day the director asked me if I wanted to take private lessons from him after school.  Because I was sort of a struggling youth who was constantly in trouble for everything imaginable, I was very surprised that a teacher took an interest in me, so I asked my parents if they were willing to pay the private lesson cost of fifty cents per week for a thirty-minute lesson.  Of course, they were thrilled to see me wanting to do ANYTHING positive, so they agreed immediately.  McNees was the biggest influence on my career.  Without his mentoring, teaching, and friendship, I think my career might have been making license plates at the state penitentiary!  Soon, I was the best player in the band, and I began performing little solos for various things.  It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the attention I had been craving. . . but now it was positive attention.

The first trumpet album I ever owned was given to me as a birthday present by my grandfather. It was of Rafael Méndez, and I was amazed to hear what the trumpet could do.  As a result, I decided that I wanted to be a professional soloist like Méndez.  Of course, I could never attain the level he did. . . but who can?!

SC:  Well, you have gotten closer than most of us, David! Why did you decide to study trumpet at the schools you did?  What was your impression of your teachers (and fellow students) at this time?

DH:  When I graduated from high school in 1968, very few universities offered performance degrees at the bachelor’s level.  My parents could not afford to send me to some of the top conservatories, and I doubt that I played well enough to get into one of them.  In looking around, the University of Colorado in Boulder (only 150 miles from my hometown) was the best choice.  I studied with Dr. Frank Baird.  He straightened out a lot of weaknesses in my playing.  Several of the graduate students at CU were amazing, and became good friends and inspiring colleagues.  They included Gerald Endsley, Ritchie Clendenin, and Bryan Goff, so I always had strong competition. By the time I graduated, I had won numerous state, regional, and national solo competitions, as well as principal chair of the National Repertory Orchestra (in the summers of 1971 and 1972). 

I selected Wichita State University for my master’s degree because I knew that Dr. Walter Myers was a respected teacher and player, and the graduate trumpet assistantship I received included playing in the faculty brass quintet (Wichita Brass Quintet) and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.  I also taught eighteen private students, all music majors, which gave me a lot of teaching experience.  True, I think I could have received full scholarships to several top conservatories, but by this time I wanted to focus on a solo career.  All of the conservatories were centered around orchestra playing.  While at WSU, I won several more prestigious solo competitions, began releasing LP recordings with orchestra, and was selected as the National Trumpet Symposium’s “Young Artist,” which involved performing a full concert of concertos with orchestra during the 1973 NTS in Denver.

SC:  How do you compare studying music in the 1970s to now?

DH:  It’s pretty much the same, but students these days have quick reference to recordings and videos.  Also, nearly all universities now offer performance degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctorate levels, so there is more competition and performing opportunities at schools.  There are also tons of summer opportunities to study with leading performers.

SC:  Which trumpeters have been your favorites over the years?          

DH:  Wow, there are so many.  When I was in elementary and junior high school, my favorites were Rafael Méndez, Al Hirt, and Doc Severinsen. . . all of whom are still my favorites.  In high school, I began to listen to Roger Voisin, Adolf Scherbaum, Armando Ghitalla, Maynard Ferguson, and early Maurice André.  These days, I also enjoy listening to lots of recordings and performances by Timofei Dokshitser, Derek Watkins, Ronald Romm, Allen Vizzutti, Eric Aubier, Arturo Sandoval, Reinhold Friedrich, Matthias Höfs, Jens Lindemann, Sergei Nakariakov, Philip Smith, Allan Dean and several others.

One of my other teachers was Adolph Herseth, who I studied with on a monthly basis for eight years.  Hearing him in the Chicago Symphony was very inspiring!

SC:  I remember when I was a student at the University of Alabama in the 1980s, our library had only a few trumpet recordings. . . a couple of Maurice André and one of you.  You were my role model for a few of the basic repertoire pieces.  Thanks!  As a performer, what have been your favorite projects?  If you had to pick only one of your recordings for the future library, which one would it be?

DH:  You are too kind!  I think that I enjoyed performing the Summit Concerto by Michael Conway Baker the most.  Michael is a Canadian composer who I got to know during the early 1990s, and I commissioned this 20-minute work from him.  I recorded it with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus (OH) with Dr. Timothy Russell conducting, and also performed it with several orchestras around the country.  However, my artists management had difficulty convincing conductors to program this work because many thought it was too romantic.  I think they wanted this new piece to sound more modern, even though audiences loved this work.  It is available on a CD titled “Three Trumpet Concertos” (Summit Records), which also features the first recording of Tony Plog’s Concerto for Trumpet and Brass Ensemble (recorded with the Summit Brass) and Robert Planel’s Trumpet Concerto (with the Naples Philharmonic).  I think this album best represents my playing of all of my recordings.

SC:  You started the Summit Brass, a 15-piece all-star ensemble that has been going for more than thirty years.  I remember seeing you perform with it in 1989 and 1991 (when I was in the National Repertory Orchestra, almost twenty years after you!).  What have been your biggest challenges and rewards from your time at the helm of this amazing brass ensemble?

DH:  I started Summit Brass during the summer of 1984, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1986 that were gave our first concerts.  Since it is a non-profit corporation, the biggest challenge has always been fundraising.  We are fortunate that the family of Rafael Méndez has supported scholarships for students to attend our annual Rafael Méndez Brass Institute in Denver each summer for the past ten years. 

Summit Brass has toured the world, released eleven CDs, and performed at such venues as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Alice Tully Hall in NYC, the Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, and in many hundreds of cities.  I think the most satisfying thing about it is the long-term relationships the members of the group have had with each other.  Through Summit Brass, many of the leading brass stars of the world are my best friends.  Summit Brass has also helped develop the repertoire for this type of group.

SC:  Perhaps your biggest contribution to the trumpet world has been your teaching. 

David Hickman and friends at tribute concert

DH:  I think you are right, Stan.  Teaching has been the center of my career for over forty-five years.  I take great pride and gratification from seeing hundreds of my former students land significant jobs with major orchestras, chamber groups, bands, and universities.  In fact, about thirty of my former students were able to be at this year’s ITG Conference in Hershey, PA, and performed a tribute concert in my honor to recognize the Honorary Award given to me by the ITG.  It was a fantastic concert, put together with only one rehearsal (!), and I had a huge smile on my face the entire time.

SC: I do wish I could have seen that concert. I bet it was amazing! What teaching ideas of yours do you hope will be the most lasting?

As for what teaching idea I hope will continue through my students and theirs, I would have to say the word “pedagogy.”  Pedagogy is the study of various teaching methods, and my book, Trumpet Pedagogy, stresses that there is no single way to teach an instrument.  Each student has a unique set of skills, physical set up, and musical awareness.  Forcing all students to play exactly like the teacher will result in the majority of students failing.  A good teacher knows several ways to approach physical and musical problems, and can help each student find the best way for them. . . even if it is contrary to their own.

SC:  A few years ago, you helped design a five-valve trumpet with Clifford Blackburn.  Can you tell me about this instrument and why it is important?

DH:  Back in the mid-1970s, I was fortunate to briefly study with Roger Voisin and Armando Ghitalla.  Both of them played C trumpets with an extra (ascending) valve that cut off part of the leadpipe or tuning slide to raise the key of the instrument to D.  They showed me all sorts of musical passages in the repertoire where the fourth valve could make trills, fingerings, or intervals easier.  The advantages of the four-valve trumpet were instant and amazing.  Of course, Voisin’s trumpet was made many decades ago by the French company, Thibouville-Lamy, which no longer makes instruments.  Ghitalla had a similar instrument made by William Tottle in Boston, but Tottle had retired, and later died in 1976.

I took photos and measurements of Ghitalla’s C/D trumpet to a talented brass repairman named Ron DiVore at the University of Illinois where I taught from 1974 to 1982.  DiVore made a four-valve C trumpet for me that worked quite well, and I performed on this instrument for several years.  (One of my albums for the Crystal Records label, “David Hickman with Eric Dalheim,” has a photo of me playing this instrument on the cover.  I use the instrument on the Dello Joio Sonata contained in the album.)  The only reason I stopped playing this instrument was because the bore sizes of the trumpet (a Bach large bore C) and the rotary (4th) valve (off of a French horn) did not match well.  The instrument felt “stuffy.”  However, I knew that if the bore sizes could be made to work together, the instrument would be fantastic.

Hickman-designed 5-valve trumpet, made by Clifford Blackburn

I made a design of a five-valve C trumpet in 2011.  It took me a couple of years to develop accurate drawings and to perfect the design.  The fourth valve was designed to lower the pitch one-half step, placing the trumpet in B-natural.  The fifth valve was designed to cut off some tubing, raising the overall pitch a whole step to D.  If the fourth and fifth valves are added at the same time, the pitch goes up a half-step to D-flat.  Thus, the instrument can play in D, D-flat, C, and B-natural, but it is mainly a C trumpet.

I showed my drawings to Cliff Blackburn in 2014, and he liked the concept.  He began building the trumpet within a couple of months, but wanted to change some of my designs, which ultimately improved the instrument a great deal.  We worked on the prototype, adjusting bore sizes (it has a progressive bore) and valve slide lengths until we came up with an instrument that played extremely well.  To our surprise, it plays in-tune well enough for any of the four key centers to be set by locking down the forth and/or fifth valves, and playing entire passages in either D, D-flat, C, or B.

Cliff and I presented a lecture-demonstration on the instrument during the 2015 ITG Conference.  I also made two 20-minute videos of me playing various orchestral passages on the instrument.  To date, Blackburn Trumpets has built numerous five-valve C trumpets that are being used by professional orchestral trumpeters and soloists.  Like any radical idea, change by the masses is slow. . . similar to the gradual adaptation of double and triple horns over the past 150 years.

SC:  What do you think your single most important contribution has been?

David Hickman, remarkable trumpeter and teacher

DH:  Hard to say.  I categorize my main contributions into eleven areas: performing as a soloist; recording artist; teacher; brass quintet performer; founder and president of Summit Brass; founder, president, and once owner of Summit Records; one of the founders, presidents, and conference hosts of ITG; founder (through the generous support of the Méndez estate) of the Rafael Méndez Library at Arizona State University; founder and owner of Hickman Music Editions; instrument designer and consultant with Blackburn Trumpets and SE Shires Trumpets; author.  I suppose history will decide in time, but I feel that my teaching is the most important contribution because it can affect several generations of trumpeters directly and indirectly.

SC:  What advice do you have for young trumpeters today?

DH:  Stick with it.  Never give up.  Embrace the concept of “pedagogy” by trying different approaches to every problem.  Eventually, you will succeed.

SC:  What do you like to do when you’re not playing or teaching the trumpet?

DH:  My wife, Miriam, and I are super movie buffs and love to travel.  We also enjoy our two dogs and two cats.  I used to be very much into offroad Jeeping and enjoying the Arizona desert, but I have had to give that up for health reasons.

SC: Well, thanks so much for your time, David. It has been a pleasure!

DH: Thanks, Stan.  We all appreciate what you do!

 

 

 

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Interview with Julian Zimmermann, natural baroque trumpet soloist

Julian Zimmermann

Baroque trumpeter Julian Zimmermann grew up in Kriens, Switzerland (near Lucerne). After receiving a trumpet teaching diploma from Bern University of the Arts (studying modern trumpet with Marc Ullrich and Markus Würsch), he went on to study the natural baroque trumpet (without vent-holes) at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis with Jean-François Madeuf, where he earned a master’s degree in Early Music Performance.

In groups like Capriccio Basel, De Swaen, Berlin Baroque, Neue Hofkapelle Graz, Jeune Orchestre d`Atlantique, Das kleine Konzert, and Trondheim Baroque, Julian has worked with such renowned directors as Philipp Herreweghe, Hervé Niquet, Jos van Immersel, Herrman Max und Sigiswald Kuijken.

Instruments:
17th-century repertoire (Fantini, Schütz, Lully, Torelli, Biber):

Natural trumpet in C, A=466 (or, D, A=415), made by Aron Vajna (after Michael Nagel)
Mouthpiece: Egger-Renaissance trumpet mouthpiece with short 17th-century back-bore, altered slightly by Nathaniel Wood

18th-century continental repertoire (Bach, Telemann, Fux, early Mozart, Haydn)

Natural trumpet In D, made by Graham Nicholson (after Wolf Wilhelm Haas, 1730; since the Engraving says 1730 the maker would have been Wolf Wilhelm Haas)
Mouthpiece: Graham Nicholson, after Leichnamschneider (Graham Nicholson can be contacted at graham.nicholson “at” inter.NL.net) 

Museum trumpet by Wolf Wilhelm Haas (Basel Music Instrument Museum)

Natural trumpet in C, made by Aron Vajna (after Friedrich Ehe, ca. 1700)
Mouthpiece: Egger, MZ-Prototype (mouthpieces developed by Egger with input from Jean-François Madeuf and Julian Zimmermann: this line has a longer back-bore than the standard Egger Bull model. Note: this line of mouthpieces is not advertised on the Egger website at this moment; it is necessary to ask for it by contacting them directly)

Tirarsi (slide trumpet) in Eb, body made by Graham Nicholson (after Ehe with altered bellform) and slide made by Egger
Mouthpiece: MZ-Prototype, Egger

18th-century English repertoire (Handel, Arne)

Natural trumpet in Eb, made in collaboration with Nathaniel Wood (after Nicholas Wingkings, English maker, mid. 18th Century)
Mouthpiece: Bull 1/3 (original Bull) known from the article on early British mouthpieces by Eric Halfpenny, Graham Nicholson. (for more information, see this scholarly article)

Nathaniel Wood and Julian Zimmermann after finishing the Wingkings trumpet.

 

Early 19th Century “Classical” repertoire (Beethoven, Mendelsohn)

“Inventions-trumpet” with original bell dimensions made by Aron Vajna (after Michael Sauerle)
Mouthpiece: Egger KSB-4, KSE-4 and KFG-3

Interview with Julian Zimmermann, natural baroque trumpet soloist

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Julian! I have really enjoyed seeing some of your videos that you have recently posted!

JZ: My pleasure, I am very happy for the positive resonance of those videos and I hope they give motivation to trumpet players discovering real historical instruments, because, as you know yourself, playing them is fun, it brings us back to the core: singing with our instrument.

SC: Tell me about your childhood—how did you get interested in music and in the trumpet?

JZ: I grew up in Kriens which is a small city, near Lucerne, in the center of Switzerland. My mother was very supportive when it came to arts, and she listened to a lot of classical music. When I was quite young, I enjoyed listening to CDs of Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong, while building Lego-Castles.

At age seven, I went to a presentation of musical instruments at a local music school, where I met my first teacher. A year later, Ying Nie, a Chinese student of renowned British trumpeter, Philipp Jones, started teaching me. He introduced me to recordings of trumpeters like Maurice André, Timofei Dokschitzer, and Rafael Méndez.

SC: When and how did you get interested in Baroque trumpet and, specifically, the natural trumpet?

JZ: My first exposure to the baroque trumpet was when I were about 16 years old in what Teacher-training College. I got the Vol. 4 of Niklas Eklund’s “The Art of the Baroque Trumpet,” and I was just thrilled. At that time, I didn’t know about the difference between a baroque and a natural trumpet.

SC: Which of your teachers do you think influenced you the most?

JZ: Maybe the stongest influence in my professional formation was Marc Ullrich. I think the most amazing thing about him was that he could play more or less in every style and genre. For more than 30 (or even 40) years he was principal trumpet in Basel (Switzerland). Nevertheless, he really liked to play jazz. He introduced me to the recordings of Clifford Brown (“Clifford Brown with Strings” is still inspiring me when it comes to control of sound color and articulation). And, of course, he was one of the very early students of Ed Tarr. He was basically one of the pioneers with the baroque trumpet.

Marc had this amazing patience and seemed to believe in every student without hesitation. For example, I decided unilaterally during one summer holiday to totally change my embouchure. Imagine a student, who comes to his first lesson in the new semester and is basically not able to play a straight note anymore! Marc just said “Okay, then let’s do it.” So, he guided me through the mental hell that I had chosen (without asking his permission). The embouchure approach and psychological resiliency, which I got through this embouchure change, turned out to be very helpful, when I was able to adapt them later to the natural trumpet. He was a big help, as well, in overcoming parts of my stage anxiety, which was really strong at the time I was studying modern trumpet.

Marc knew both Niklas Eklund and Jean-François Madeuf quite well and strongly suggested that I go to Basel and study with Jean-François.

SC: Tell me about Jean-Francois Madeuf.

JZ: My first “one-on-one” exposure to the natural trumpet (without vent-holes) was in the trumpet room of the Schola Cantorum with Jean-François. I had heard an older recording of him, which left me quite critical about the whole thing. But when I heard him in person about ten years after that recording was made, he sounded so much better! I understood at that moment, how much potential and space for development the natural trumpet still had!

Few people know so much about the natural trumpet, its music and surviving original instruments like Jean-François Madeuf. Since I am a person who likes to question authority, and he has a strong character, I think we were a good challenge to each other, and it really helped me to find my own voice. Today I am happy to call him a colleague and friend.

Schola Cantorum trumpet studio reunion

The Schola offers a diverse curriculum for students from all over the world. It is a place where a lot of different ideas can be pursued and discussed. I spent a lot of time in the cafeteria, hanging around and discussing these ideas with colleagues.

SC: Tell me about some of these colleagues that you met at the Schola.

JZ: I met my wife Daniela, who is the voice of reason to my stubborn trumpet mind. She reminds me that things which are important to me, are not necessarily important to the rest of the world. We played a lot of organ and natural trumpet together. More and more, we realized how a good continuo player is able to mask the intonation clashes: it is all about good voicing.

My colleague, Mike Diprose, is the one who got me interested in reading primary sources and to have a closer look at other instruments than only the trumpet. His big interest were tuning systems and how they fit into the bigger picture.

The last person I would like to mention is Nathaniel Wood. He gave me the incredible opportunity to build instruments together.

SC: What makes you so sure that the natural trumpet was the instrument they played in performances during the 17th and 18th Centuries?

JZ: Of course, I could just say look at all the museum examples of instruments from the time when clarino playing was in its hey-day. They are all natural trumpets. But I think to answer that question it is also good to show examples where iconography, written music and historical figures interlink.

At the court of Schwerin we have the court conductor and composer, Johann Wilhelm Hertel  (1727-1789). He was born in Eisenach into a musical family. Being court composer in Schwering, he wrote three very difficult concertos for trumpet and a double concerto for trumpet and oboe.  He demanded the same, if not higher, level of difficulty from his chief-trumpeter as J.S. Bach did from his trumpeter. Hertel’s trumpeter was Johann Georg Hoese (1727-1801). He was born in Leipzig, so he was seven when Gottfried Reiche (Bach’s trumpeter) died. I am pretty sure Hoese was familiar with Reiche’s performances of Bach, and I am even more sure he heard the trumpeter Ulrich Heinrich Ruhe, Reiche’s succesor. The great thing about Hoese is that we have a picture of him (done in 1770 by painter G.D. Matthieu) playing the natural trumpet in concert.

1770 painting by G.D. Matthieu of musical performance at court of Schwering

He holds his trumpet in one hand and the sheet music in the other hand (if you look closely enough, “clarino 1” is marked on the paper). Note that there is no music stand for him. So how could he operate any finger system on his instrument? That looks like a Haas-made trumpet to me (and in that time it would be the grandson of J.W.Haas, Ernst Conrad Haas).

Also, there is a second picture from Schwerin with three trumpets in concert.

Painting of music concert at court of Schwering (18th C.)

Considering that Hoese was right at the end of the Golden Age of the natural trumpet, I assume it can be viewed as the general way of doing things for that period—that is, playing without fingerholes. Also, we have the iconic pictures of Gottfried Reiche (Bach’s trumpeter).

Portrait, oil on canvas of Gottfried Reiche (1667–1734) by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (1695–1774), 1727

And another of Valentine Snow (Handel’s trumpeter), which show the same evidence of playing the trumpet one hand.

Portrait of Valentine Snow (1700-1770), c. 1753
Artist: Unknown
Location: Fenton House, England

Having said all that, recently a great thing happened. In a phone call with Graham Nicholson (a British trumpet maker and natural trumpet pioneer living in the Netherlands) discussing Reiche and his instrument, Graham said to me “You know Julian, there actually is a picture of Reiche in concert, playing that instrument”. And it is true: Reiche was in Leipzig much earlier than Bach, and there is a picture of Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) conducting a cantata. We can see Reiche with his round Instrument and two colleagues with long trumpets.

Frontispiece of Leipzig Gesangbuch, Johann Kuhnau, 1710

 

SC: Those are some fantastic images, Julian! I think there is a general ignorance in the early music world about authentic baroque natural trumpets. We have had decades of “period instrument” performances by trumpeters who use fingerholes. I use them, too, for most of my performances, but I have misgivings. Talking with conductors, I usually find a lack of interest in authenticity, and I think conductors mainly want to hear clean, “in tune” trumpet playing. What are your thoughts on this?

JZ: The divine creator obviously had a misunderstanding with Signor Vallotti when defining the laws of nature! (Interviewer’s note: the “Vallotti” system of tuning, named after Francesco Antonio Vallotti, was used in the 18th Century. It is used frequently in baroque music groups today, but its intonation does not line up ideally with the harmonic series of the natural trumpet. In a mathematic sense, the only interval that lines up between the natural trumpet and the Vallotti tuning system are the octaves, because Vallotti gave more emphasis to the 5th than the  3rd in general)

I think the natural trumpet can serve as an instrument to challenge the approach we have with historically informed performance practice (or “HIP”) today. In music, all is interconnected!

But Intonation is a good topic to discuss, what does “in tune” mean? Here is a quote from Tosi in his book on singing:

“… If one were continually to sing only with the above-mentioned Instruments (keyboards), this knowledge might be unnecessary, but since the time that composers introduced the custom of crowding the operas with a vast number of songs accompanied by bowed instruments, it becomes so necessary, that if a soprano was to sing D-sharp like E-flat, a nice ear will find he is out of tune. Whoever is not satisfied in this, let him read those authors who treat of it, and let him consult the best performers on the violin. …”

–Tosi, Introduction to the Art of Singing (Bologna, 1723), page 21 in the English Translation of 1743

To make it short: why do so many schools of the baroque era make a difference between sharps and flats, big semitones and small ones and where is that fact reflected in our current performance practice using keyboard temperaments as a judge of what is right and wrong? The amount of correction to the 11th and 13th partial becomes much smaller when using a “relative,” or “just” system like Tosi describes, where notes change their position with their harmonic function – as opposed to a “fixed” system like Vallotti’s keyboard temperament.

On the other side of the coin, there is a lack of accepting the character and nature of historic trumpets and horns, and this character gives them their identity! This would be as absurd as a conductor talking to a cembalo player: “in this bar, I would like to have a real pianissimo and you are too loud, so please push the key down softer.” After repeating that bar five times, the conductor finally says “it’s getting better!”

SC: What is the way forward to develop an interest in the baroque natural trumpet? Is there some “marketing” type of strategy we need to embrace?

JZ: As a marketing strategy, it is very important to show people historic iconography to our performances, pictures are a lot of times stronger than words. But, as well, we should be able to talk about what we do in context, that shows we have a deep interest in the time where the music we perform comes from. We should expand our knowledge in all possible aspects.

SC: If a trumpeter wants to learn how to play the natural baroque trumpet well, what are some suggestions that you might have for him or her?

JZ: Having a good instrument, with a fitting mouthpiece from the start, helps a lot. Then, you should take separate time from your daily practice, with a rest time of at least three to four hours (so that the different mouthpiece rims don’t confuse the embouchure). And don’t over do it. You should make, for exemple, two 15-minute sessions with a rest in the middle. 

To play with big mouthpieces, it is important to start in the middle register (middle C, 8th partial) with the aperture not too wide open. This is why I don’t use the Tarr method anymore, since it has an approach which is more from bottom to the top. About four years ago, I developed my own routine (something comparable to James Stamp and Vincent Cichowicz). It is on my website www.naturtrompete.ch. I use it today to get well-centered on an instrument. For example, if I have to play in C, which is a low and somewhat clumsy key, compared to D, or if I have to get used to a 17th-century instrument in a short amount of time.

When it comes to music, I think the repertoire from Purcell and Handel are good to start with. Especially because Handel wrote some very good second and third voices, which create a stable low and middle register.

Swiss historic natural trumpet ensemble, Trummet

The third trumpet part is, in a lot of cases, not getting enough attention in our practice. I think it is essential to work on military signals, which we find in Fantini, Mersenne, Philidor, Altenburg and Dauverne. If you carefully consider, for example, Bach’s low trumpet parts, you will not only find the style of military signals, but also the actual signals everywhere in his works with trumpet, as for example, in BWV 119. Another very important aspect is practicing to hear difference-tones as a trumpet section (a good place to start is with Ed Tarr’s second book). The first thing that will convince people is a trumpet team that sounds good as a unit. That was the reason that gave birth to the trumpet ensemble “Trummet” (www.trummet.com).

 

Another thing I would like to mention is that it is very important to get stage experience without holes. To build up the confidence on stage, it is good to increase the stress gradually. I was lucky to meet players, that were supportive with me! Although they usually play with holes, they provided me the opportunity to play third and second parts without holes in the actual concert. That took a leap of faith for them, and I offer my sincere thanks to Henry Moderlak, Frans Berglund, Andy Hammersley, Roland Callmar and Giuseppe Frau.

For (an) interested young students that means: question what your teachers do! Go to the museums! Get a faithful copy of a historic instrument! Practice it with an open mind! Read primary sources! Discuss them with colleagues! Try them out seriously!–Julian Zimmermann

SC: Tell me about the trumpets and mouthpieces you play. Why do you think they are effective for what you are doing?

JZ: I think an important thing to know is that a natural trumpet of fixed length changes its playing characteristics with time according to the player. After playing an instrument for some time, it gets easier to place and vibrate the Fs and As in tune. What is really interesting to me is the experience of playing on some original instrument (one that is found in a museum), and sometimes I can still feel how the original player played on it.

To find out if an instrument is good, I check first to see if the basic notes, the frames, are purely in tune (the tonic and dominant notes). It is also important to say that natural trumpets played with a modern approach are going to sound flat in the low register. But this doesn’t mean the instrument is bad. So, if possible, get a player with real experience to choose an instrument for the beginner!

Today, for 18th-century repertoire, I play a cup with a diameter of 19.5to 20 mm. I have also started to play with larger mouthpiece throats in recent years (up to 5mm in diameter). Those provide more space to move notes, but it’s not for beginners!

Close up of original baroque natural trumpet mouthpiece (made by Jacob Steiger)

SC: What kind of trumpeters and other musicians do you like to work with?

JZ: First of all, I like musicians with an open mind. If someone approaches early music with concepts and sound pictures rooted in the 20th Century, I find it very difficult. I enjoy when people are able to take original information and authentic copies of instruments, and create something aesthetic and beautiful with those ingredients.

Personally, I like an emphasis on a strong, driving bass, and I love, in general, the sound of string instruments strung all in gut—making equal tension on all the strings!  That authentic way of stringing instruments seems to have been predominant throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. L. Mozart still describes it in paragraph 4 on page 5 of his Violin-School (1756). I find violinists like Oliver Webber amazing to hear!

SC: Tell me about some of your favorite performances.

JZ: I had two performances that really changed me! Both with Bach cantatas, the trumpet parts of which were written for Reiche. The first was during the 2013 Bach Festival Leipzig, where I played Cantata 77 in the Michaeliskirche with students from the Hochschule in Leipzig. I had a lot of discussions with colleagues about which instrument to use to perform it. The first movement is basically a “no brainer.” It says “Tromba da Tirarsi” and it is playable on a single-slide instrument like I have, even though it goes up to high C. The alto aria (“Ach, es bleibt in meiner Liebe,” (no. 5), is the big question. The original part just says “Tromba,” but it has a lot of notes outside the harmonics. Although they are possible to bend, it is quite difficult to play in tune, because Bach voices the 13th partial very often as a perfect fifth and as octave to the bass. This is a harmonic voicing that you can’t really get in tune on a natural instrument, because the 13th partial is so flat. When I went to Egger to get my tirarsi, I talked about it with Gerd Friedel and he asked “what does the text say.” And with this question, he really got to the right point…. It says “Ach es bleibt in meiner Liebe lauter Unvollkommenheit! Hab ich oftmals gleich den Willen, was Gott saget zu erfüllen, fehlt mirs doch an Möglichkeit.” roughly translated: “in my love (to God) there is so much imperfection! Even though I often have the will to do what God tells me, I don’t have the ability.” So, it is about being an imperfect human being that tries so hard and still struggles to get it right. In the end, I decided to do the aria on natural trumpet. It felt very special while performing it, and I had an inner peace which stayed with me the whole aria.

Julian Zimmermann

The other time was the performance of Cantata 66 on Easter 2016. I played it twice that day, in the morning for a church service and in the evening for a concert. In the morning service, there was a moment when the sun was shining into the church, and I was so inspired that it felt like I wasn’t playing it under my own power, but that the music played itself.

SC: Wow, that’s an inspiring story. Julian, what do you think is the future of early music?

JZ: Hopefully, young explorers will enter the field of early music and revive it’s core values. History repeats itself, and early music was born because people felt that authenticity was absent in the traditional way of performance. Today we are there again, because early music is now a huge market, and it is too big and inflexible to deal with new (old) ideas! 

SC: So what can we do?

I think a new subculture will arise. The internet links musicians that are really interested! The great thing is that there are a lot of original texts, schools and iconography already online. This means you can live anywhere and have access to the important information, and that is a game changer.

For interested young students that means: question what your teachers do! Go to the museums! Get a faithful copy of a historic instrument! Practice it with an open mind! Read primary sources! Discuss them with colleagues! Try them out seriously!

SC: What do you like to do when you are not playing trumpet?

JZ: I really like to do Tai-Chi Chuan.

SC: So, what do you want to be doing in five or in 20 years?

JZ: Hopefully still being happy with my family! And playing the natural trumpet, of course, and I would love to get the opportunity to teach interested students.

SC: Julian, thanks again for sharing all of your really great insights into playing early music on the natural trumpet!

JZ: As I said in the beginning, my pleasure!

 

 

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Five strategies to beat practice procrastination

Pop-psych writer Malcolm Gladwell famously pointed out that mastery comes from 10,000 hours of practice in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008). Although there is much debate over this claim, most of us understand that there is a correlation between practicing lots of hours and musical success. Scaled down to the span of a week, a day, or even a single practice session, practice time and effort enables us to learn our repertoire and helps us achieve the kind of muscle fitness we need for good tone and stamina. If you cannot spend two to four hours practicing every day for a span of at least ten years, then you will probably not get a place at the table of working trumpet players. But knowing that practice is important does not necessarily inspire you to practice. 

Some trumpet students, who have great potential in their talent and personality, have a hard time getting around to their practice. There may be a few different issues going on: I want to step back and offer some “work-arounds” that everyone can use. I offer five ideas to beat practice procrastination:

The first thing is to: Embrace your big goals (e.g., “I want to play in an orchestra one day” or, “I want to play jazz in clubs in New York City”) by making a firm commitment to a minimum quota of work every day. Some authors set a good example. For example, Stephen King, who has written 56 novels and 200 short stories, makes a habit of writing 2000 words every day. Every day. He normally sets the morning aside for this effort. For a trumpeter, it is harder to quantify your work-load (we don’t count notes like authors count words), but you can measure how long you practice: play your basic exercises (long tones, lip flexes, scales, technical studies) for two hours every morning. You will want to rest a few minutes between exercises. Pro tip: use these rest times to do short tasks like making breakfast, checking your computer (very briefly!), getting dressed. In the evening, practice your literature for at least an hour. That is the minimum quota you should set.

Why does this strategy work? Because it feels psychologically easier to work hard for just one day (and repeat this day 3,630 times, which equals the 10 years or 10,000 hours you need for mastery), than it does to work hard for a whole decade.

The second thing is to: Create a behavior chain. Instead of telling yourself, “I need to practice to get good,” try telling yourself, “When I make my coffee, I will practice my long tones.” Or, “When I have finished supper, I will practice my solo.”

Why does this work? Because you have created a sequence of activities that eliminates the need for you to tell yourself to practice (there is no self-nagging).

The third thing is to: Eliminate unnecessary options. Instead of practicing whatever impulsively comes to you, have set themes that you stick to. For instance, in the morning, I only practice on the B-flat trumpet. I always start with long tones, move on to lip flexibilities, and then finish with technical studies. It is a routine I can take to the bank, and there is no lost time or focus or motivation by figuring out other options.

Why does this work? Because, by keeping the number of your decisions low, a quicker, more organic flow is possible.

The fourth thing is to: Fantasize about the process, not the end result. Although it is nice to fantasize how cool you will be when you win a chair in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the way you will achieve this goal is to fantasize about what your daily practice session will be like.

Why does this work? Because this takes our mind off of impossible scenarios (having a job without practice) and focuses our mind on what is important (practice).

The fifth thing to consider: Eliminate easy excuses to not practice. Where is the “Oh forget about it!” in your process to get ready to practice? For instance, if your practice room is always cluttered and you cannot find your materials, then you might say, “Forget it! I’ll practice later.” Instead, take the time to clean up your space, so that this objection will not interfere. Try to use an “if-then” way of thinking if you have found some other stumbling block. Here are some other examples: “If I am too hungry to practice well in the afternoon, then I will eat a snack to make sure I have enough energy.” Or, “If I am too sleepy to practice after lunch, then I will take a short nap, so that I will feel up to a good practice session.” Or, “If I am too loud in my apartment to practice now, then I will get a practice mute that plays in tune, so that I can get my practice done.”

Why does this work? Because this invites you to respond to the excuse and fix it, so that you can practice as you intended.

If you have any good strategies to beat practice procrastination, let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Christopher Still, Second Trumpet in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

CHRISTOPHER STILL joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as Second Trumpet in 2007.  Before coming to California, he was the Principal Trumpet of the Colorado Symphony. He has also held the positions of Associate Principal Trumpet of the Dallas Symphony and Principal Trumpet of the Charleston (SC) Symphony. Additionally, Christopher has served as Assistant Principal Trumpet with the Grant Park Festival Orchestra in Chicago’s Millennium Park and Guest Principal with the St. Louis Symphony.

Christopher Still, Second Trumpet, Los Angeles Philharmonic

Christopher has recorded extensively with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Grant Park, Dallas, and Albany symphony orchestras.  Active in the Hollywood recording studios, he can be heard on major motion picture and television soundtracks.  He is a Yamaha Artist, a dedicated educator, and an active clinician.

Having grown up in a musical household, Christopher originally intended to become a band director and earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the Crane School of Music (SUNY-Potsdam). Switching to performance, he received his Master of Music Performance degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston. He was a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow in 1995 and 1996.

Christopher’s favorite aspect of his job is the orchestra’s frequent performance of contemporary music, especially the Green Umbrella concert series.

Christopher lives in Altadena, CA with his wife Amanda McIntosh, and two children. He enjoys distance running, skiing, brewing beer, and hiking in the trails behind his house.

 

Equipment

Yamaha C Chicago, model YTR9445CHII (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Yamaha B-flat Chicago, model YTR9335CHII (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Yamaha B-flat/A Custom Piccolo trumpet, model YTR9830 (Warburton 5MD/10*)
Yamaha C Cornet, YCR-9435 (Bach 1 ¼ 24/24)
Getzen C Cornet, model Eterna (GR Sparx 2B Soloist)
Yamaha E-flat/D, model YTR9636 (Yamaha 14B4)
Yamaha Flugel Horn YFH8315G (Yamaha 16F4)
Yamaha Rotary B-flat Trumpet, YTR938FFMS (Breslmair G2)
Weimann Rotary C Trumpet, Passion model (Breslmair G2)

Interview with Christopher Still, Second Trumpet in the Los Angeles Philharmonic

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Chris, I’m really excited to finally do this interview that we’ve been talking about for a while!

CS: Thanks again for asking me to chat.

 

SC: What’s it like playing with the LA Phil? It seems like a dream job!

Walt Disney Concert Hall

 

 

 

CS: I feel like I have the greatest job in the world, and I get to play in two of the greatest venues—Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. 

The Hollywood Bowl

It doesn’t get much better than that. 

It’s invigorating to be part of such a dynamic organization, in such a vibrant, creative city. Our management has put the orchestra at the forefront of LA’s cultural life. How many orchestra musicians get to participate in world-class, avant-garde projects on a regular basis?

 

The Trumpet Section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: (l.-r.) Thomas Hooten (principal), James Wilt (associate principal), Christopher Still, Stéphane Beaulac

I feel very fortunate.  Each season we perform roughly 350 different pieces, including chamber music, subscription concerts, educational offerings, new music, and so on.  Actually, over the past 5 years we’ve commissioned close to 50 completely new works.   This kind of schedule can be rough, but it helps to have a very strong and supportive section. We all carry our weight and we work well together. My section is a big part of why I love my job. 

 

SC: How do you prepare for this challenging schedule of rehearsals and concerts?

CS: You look at the rep weeks (sometimes months) ahead, prepare at home, and work on an ongoing basis to keep up your overall playing skills. Different orchestras and sections have different standards, but my section expects you to do what needs to be done to show up at the first rehearsal prepared to play well.

If you’re in a crunch, the most important thing is to know the piece, which can help you “manage” no matter what else is happening.  Be familiar with transitions and likely tempos.

Over the years, experience has shown me what types of mistakes I’m likely to make in rehearsal or performance that I might not make at home. It’s my job to recognize these pitfalls ahead of time and sidestep them with strategic practice. The more confidence and preparation you have when you walk on stage, the more you’re able to listen and hear what’s going on, which allows you to be a more responsive musician.

 

SC: What was your audition like for the Los Angeles Philharmonic?

CS: My audition was pretty typical of a major orchestra.  It was well-run and fair, but it was also grueling—the committee had to find one person from over a hundred participants. I had to play almost every one of the seven trumpets I brought with me, and the lists jumped from low material to high, soft to loud, and fast to slow.

“Auditions require a certain type of mental stamina and toughness.” –Chris Still

 

 

I didn’t play a perfect audition, but I stayed focused on communicating the heart of every excerpt or piece, which requires a certain type of mental stamina and toughness. The committee later told me that I played very musically, with a great sound and character throughout each round.  

 

 

 

 

SC: How would you advise a young trumpeter to prepare for an audition in today’s competitive environment?

A master class on lead-pipe buzzing at the Crane School of Music

Auditioning is a long-term project for most of us.  Playing well and auditioning well are two different, but related, skill sets.  And you can’t audition well unless you play well. 

Most trumpet players I hear don’t have a strong enough technical foundation to win a major orchestra audition. I see a lot of willful ignorance among trumpet players—ignoring the parts of their playing that they’re not good at. Learning how to identify and correct your playing weaknesses is the crux of the learning process, so I’m not saying this is easy.  But a lot of advanced players, who should know better, only work on the things they’re good at, and pretend that everything else isn’t important. I think that what’s happening is that there are a lot of trumpet players who practice, but very few who practice with a real ear for improvement.

“I see a lot of willful ignorance among trumpet players—ignoring the parts of their playing that they’re not good at.”

SC: So, how do you practice to really improve?

CS: You have to be willing to delve into the things that aren’t comfortable. And the best way to do this is to record yourself every day and listen immediately, before you forget how it felt. Record yourself without warming up. Record yourself playing the things you don’t like, the things you’re not good at. Record yourself playing the audition list in the least comfortable order. Record yourself playing when you’re tired. And most importantly, record yourself when you’re playing for other people. 

Talking about swallowing the honesty pill at ITG 2016

I like to call practicing this way “swallowing the honesty pill.” It’s really easy to talk about your goals, but when the rubber hits the road, I find most people back down pretty fast. They don’t even realize they’re giving up. The excuses for the lack of success flood their minds, and they never consider taking a hard look in the mirror to see what they could do to improve for next time. It’s more comfortable to keep practicing the same way, and to keep thinking thoughts like, “The audition was rigged.”

 

SC: Can you talk about your musical influences?

Chris playing in the fire department band with his father, c.1985

CS: My father was an amateur trumpet player and he used to take me along to his fire department band rehearsals and let me sit in the section.

His Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass records were constantly playing in our house. 

 

 

 

 

Recording off-stage parts at Walt Disney Concert Hall for John Williams’ single movement piece,”Soundings”

 

 

Of course the music of John Williams had a huge impact on me too­­—I think every kid in my band wanted to play the theme to Star Wars.

Getting in the Star Wars spirit at the Hollywood Bowl

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took many trips into New York City to see Broadway shows and New York Philharmonic concerts, so all of these sounds were in my head. Also, I had a really strong high school band program, so the musical foundation was pretty much set before I went to college. Incidentally, I originally planned on becoming a band teacher, and did my undergrad in music education and performance at the Crane School of Music. It wasn’t until my junior year that I became inspired to go for a job in an orchestra, which led to a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory. 

 

SC: Who/what do you like to listen to?

CS: To keep my head clear, I do a lot of running up in the canyons behind my house; I’m not listening to Brahms 4 on the trails. It’s usually something energizing that gets my adrenaline going—mostly some type of electronic, upbeat music.  I listen to a pretty wide variety of genres, but I have some go-to records—jazz artists like Clifford Brown and Ella Fitzgerald, and some classic rock like Steely Dan’s Aja.  One of my favorites is a Lotte Lenya recording of Kurt Weill’s cabaret music from the twenties—so much character!

SC: What do you do when you’re not playing trumpet?

CS: I hang out with my kids. I go trail running. I help my wife with her new business.  Basically, stuff that keeps me mentally balanced. Playing the trumpet is fun, but the people in your life are what really matter.  I’ve been a pretty serious home brewer for decades, so I’m doing my part to reinforce the “beer drinking brass player” stereotype!    

 

SC: I understand you are launching an online course some time this fall. Tell me about it.

CS: Every time a national audition is announced in the International Musician, I get a panicked flurry of phone calls and emails from trumpet players asking if they can come play their excerpts for me. 

I support the concept of playing your excerpts for a helpful set of ears before an audition, but often these requests come only a week before the first round. 

In almost every case, I hear basic deficiencies in sound concept or technique that are guaranteed to get the person bounced out of the prelims. Making impactful change in a handful of days is nearly impossible, especially the type of change that can hold up to the stress of an audition. There is not much I can do to help these players in such a short time, and it can be a frustrating situation. 

My online course (www.honestypill.com) is designed to help players identify and address the things that are holding them back. Understanding and working on your shortcomings is much harder than most people think, which is why most musicians (and human beings in general) just avoid thinking about them. When my course launches in the fall, I’ll offer a set of diagnostic tools to help each participant hone in on what needs the most work, and then I’ll offer a series of lessons and strategies to “get under the hood.” It’s basically a distillation of the same things I discovered on my own path from being an “also-ran” to winning an awesome job in the LA Phil. 

“You have to be willing to delve into the things that aren’t comfortable.”

SC: Well, it’s been awesome to interview you, Chris, and get your insights. Thank you so much for your time!

CS: You’re welcome! It was a pleasure!

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