Women’s march anniversary: 5 great women trumpeters

Trumpeter Allison Balsom

Today marks the first anniversary of the Women’s March. There are many great women trumpeters–let’s meet five.


Allison Balsom. A British phenom, she’s been soloing professionally for the past 17 years. She’s a big advocate for music education. She can even play baroque trumpet!

Tine Thing Helseth. I did a post about Tine a while back. She is an amazing soloist. Great tone and innovative programming.

Trumpeter Marie Speziale

Marie Speziale. An influential trumpet teacher and orchestral player. She was the first female to play trumpet in a major symphony orchestra, starting in the Cincinnati Symphony at the age of 19.

Ingrid Jensen is a Canadian jazz trumpeter who has won several Juno awards.

Barbara Butler. She is one of the best classical trumpet teachers in the U.S.



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Trumpet Books: An Autobiography From Herbert L. Clarke

Herbert L. Clarke as a member of the Victor Herbert Band (c. 1896)

Herbert L. Clarke as a member of the Victor Herbert Band (c. 1896)

Trumpeters and cornetist all over the world usually know a little about Herbert L. Clarke, but what a lot of us may not know is that he wrote a marvelous memoire, How I Became a Cornetist. You can buy this fairly short and easy to read book from various retailers or you can get a PDF version for free from the Kalamazoo Public Library, or from a few other websites. 

Clarke organizes his book into Series (chapters) that were originally published serially in a band magazine, Fillmore’s Musical Messenger. The relaxed style of writing about his pursuit of great cornet playing during an era when cornetist were so incredibly popular helps the reader immerse himself into the time period. 

For me, the most important theme of this book is how much effort cornet-playing at this level was required. In fact, Clarke makes a big point of de-bunking the notion of the “born cornetist.” This book is about the hard work Clarke put in to become great, and it stands as an example for us today. His anecdotes and advice about his family upbringing, the difficulty of buying his first cornet, his first encounters with transposition, and lying about his age to join a band all make delightful reading. 

We can all be grateful to Clarke for his remarkable memory. Even the most trivial stories come to life with his amazing grasp of past details. For instance, his first hearing of Walter B. Rogers when he was about 15 years old: 

At about the middle of the program a young man not much older than myself stood up and without moving from his place began playing a cornet solo which at once so captivated my attention that I forced my way through the crowd in order to get nearer the bandstand and not miss a note. . . . The number, an extremely difficult cornet solo which demanded great endurance in playing was the Excelsior Polka by Frewin. . . . At the ending of the solo the young player was given an ovation of tumultuous applause, in which I joined vigorously. The cornetist again arose, but this time stepped to the front of the platform, and to my wonderment played the entire solo through for the second time without seeming tired or making a slip. . . . His face did not become purple, distorted, or show any signs of strain.


Herbert L. Clarke at age 23, Cornet Soloist of Gilmore's 22nd Regimental Band

Herbert L. Clarke at age 23, Cornet Soloist of Gilmore’s 22nd Regimental Band

Learning how Clarke took up the viola to play in the family quartet and how he tried working in a business store, helps us to realize that Clarke kept his career options open. Even so, he still pursued his dream with an enormous amount of hard work on the cornet. The book concludes with him finally getting his dream job–as cornet soloist with Patrick Gilmore’s band at age 23. 

After I had finished, Mr. Gilmore came over to me, patted me on the back, and told me that he had been looking for a great cornet player who could play musically, with the endurance I had displayed this afternoon and at last he had found one! I nearly fell over on hearing this expression of enthusiasm regarding my playing, and had to sit down. 

In closing, Clarke adds an amazing synopsis of his career as a cornetist after that point. Here are some of those facts:

Clarke logged over 8000 miles of travel as soloist with the bands of Gilmore, John Philip Sousa and Victor Herbert. He played over six thousand programmed cornet solos, including 473 concerts in one season. He soloed at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, and the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904.

Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band leader Herbert L. Clarke (left) and C. O. Shaw (right), owner of the Anglo Canadian Leather Company, Huntsville, Ontario.

Anglo Canadian Leather Company Band leader Herbert L. Clarke (left) and C. O. Shaw (right), owner of the Anglo Canadian Leather Company, Huntsville, Ontario.



Of course, Herbert L. Clarke also distinguished himself as a bandmaster himself, eventually becoming the president of the American Bandmasters Association in 1943.







Me at the grave marker of Herbert L. Clarke

Me at the grave marker of Herbert L. Clarke


I have visited Clarke’s gravesite in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, on a number of occasions, and each time I have a sense of wonder, appreciation and meaning. 




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Interview with Navy Band Principal Trumpeter Robert Couto

Senior Chief Robert CoutoSenior Chief Musician Robert Couto, a native of New Bedford, Mass., joined the in 1992.  He earned a Bachelor of Music from The Hartt School of Music in 1989 and a Master of Music from The Juilliard School in 1991.  He has performed with the Hartford, New Haven, Maryland and Annapolis Symphony Orchestras as well as the Berkshire Opera Company, and has also appeared with notable conductors Leonard Slatkin, Kurt Masur and Zubin Mehta.  Couto is a former member of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and the George Washington Faculty Brass Quintet.  His teachers include Ray Mase, Chris Gekker, Roger Murtha and Tim Morrison.



  • Bach: B-flat 72
  • Bach: C 229 25H
  • Yamaha: Piccolo, Flugelhorn and Cornet
  • Hammond mouthpieces: 3mlx and 5ml.



Interview with Robert Couto, principal trumpet, U. S. Navy Band

SC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Bob! First of all, could you describe your job with the U.S. Navy Band?

RC: As Principal Trumpet and Section Leader with the Navy Band, I manage the personnel issues and duty assignments for a 14-member section and perform as principal trumpet.  In the concert band, we typically have rehearsals every morning and a concert at the end of each week.

On a busy week of ceremonies or a week with no concert, I am scheduled to perform with the ceremonial band.  That can be anything from a White House ceremony to funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. We have two rotations at the band that switch between doing ceremonies one week to performing with the concert band the next.


SC: What was your Navy Band audition like, and how was it different from other auditions that you have done?

RC: My Navy Band audition was a great experience.  It started with submitting a resume and tape like many other auditions.   I was then selected to audition in Washington D.C. a couple of months later.  Unlike the orchestral auditions that I have taken, the Navy Band audition was performed entirely on B-flat trumpet and one solo on cornet.  After spending several years of working on orchestral excerpts preparing for auditions, I had to switch gears and begin working on band literature and style.  The audition was two rounds and lasted the entire day.  The first round was like any other starting with a solo and then playing several excerpts behind a screen.  The second round was a bit intimidating.  When I walked out to the stage I found myself looking at 16 Navy Band trumpet players waiting for me to begin.  After 20 minutes of excerpts, sight-reading and section playing, it was over.

Now at the Navy Band all rounds of the audition are held behind a screen.  Like many auditions we start the process with candidates submitting resumes.  We no longer have a tape round; qualified applicants are then invited to D.C. to audition.



SC: What are the physical demands of being principal trumpeter in the Navy Band?

RC: Being principal has been a great experience for me and has challenged me to be a stronger trumpet player.  The one thing that I had to work on was my pacing and endurance for a long concert.  I want to be sure that I can give the conductor what he wants at any time during the show.  There are times when a different mouthpiece or even a different horn is needed. I am also very fortunate and honored to be part of a great section; I know that I can pass down a first part at anytime and it will be covered.


SC: What is tour like with the Navy Band? Are there special considerations when you prepare for, and go on tour?

RC: Tour is one of the things I enjoy and look forward to every year. It is great going out to different parts of the country meeting and performing for people that don’t get a chance to hear a military band.  Playing a concert every night for a couple of hours can be lots of fun but also very demanding. We typically travel on a bus everyday and perform in the evening; doing this for a few weeks can throw off your normal routine.  I start to prepare for tour several weeks before we leave by building up my endurance. That routine consists of etudes, flexibility exercises and running the program.  While out on tour, my routine changes depending on which program we are playing that night.


SC: What are your top five highlights, so far, in your Navy Band career?

RC: I think being selected as principal trumpet and being promoted to Senior Chief are up there as top in my career.  Recording Strauss’s “An Alpine Symphony” with the band in 2011 was lots of fun.  I was a member of the Brass Quintet for 16 years, performing with great musicians. I will never forget those performances.  Stan, performing your trumpet ensemble arrangement of Shostakovich “Festive Overture” at ITG was great!


SC: What are some recordings that are good examples of your playing?

RC: Navy Band recording of “An Alpine Symphony” on the Derivations cd from 2011.  In 2002 the Navy Band recorded a chamber cd, which included the Brass Quintet of which I was a member at the time.

U. S. Navy Band Brass Quintet, Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance No. 8” U. S. Navy Band, Strauss’ “At the Summit,” arr. David Miller (excerpt)

SC: What was your musical education like, and how did it prepare you for your job?

RC: I had a great musical education and I believe the instructors I had helped me prepare for this job. While at the Hartt School of Music and The Juilliard School, I had the opportunity to perform in many of the ensembles from the jazz band to the orchestra.  I believe that a student needs to try and play every style of music while in school to help prepare them for any job they called to do.


SC: What trumpeters, or other musicians have been models for you?

RC: There are several trumpeters that have been models for me.  All of my teachers have been great, starting with my teachers at home in Massachusetts to my teachers in college (Joe Ribeiro, Jack Martin, Roger Murtha, Ray Mase and Chris Gekker).  I am so fortunate that they and my parents supported me and helped me get to where I am today.


SC: What are some recordings that you keep coming back to?

RC: I always go back to Chicago Symphony’s live recording of Mahler 5 with Solti Mahler 7 with Bernstein and any New York Phil recording with Phil Smith. Lately I have been listening to Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”.


SC: When you look into your crystal ball, what would you like to see yourself doing after your marvelous Navy Band career?

RC: I would like to continue playing in and around the DC area and also get back into private teaching.  Maybe I’ll get back to the orchestral excerpts and take a few auditions. I am looking forward to spending time with my wife Andrea and daughter Samantha and also working on my tennis game.


SC: What is your advice for a young trumpeter who would like to be in the Navy Band?

RC: Practice!!!  Listen to many recordings and take lessons with different teachers. Work on different styles of music and record yourself practicing.


SC: Thanks so much for your time, Bob!

RC: Thank you Stan for the opportunity.


Year-In-Review: One of the Best Dies in 2012

With 2012 drawing to a close, I would like to remember one of the most notable trumpeters of the 20th Century that passed on this past year.


Maurice AndréMaurice André, trumpet soloist extraordinaire, died on Feb. 25 in Bayonne, in . He was 78. A coal miner during his teenage years, André also played cornet, following in his father’s footsteps. He always claimed that mining gave him the strength to play the trumpet so well. His family could not afford to send him to the , but by joining a military band outside of Paris, he was given free tuition. He graduated in 1953, going on to play in several orchestras in .

In 1963, André won first prize in the Munich Competition on trumpet (this has been equaled only by Gómez-Limón of Spain in 2011 and of France in  2003). He went on to become a soloist and to star on many recording projects. He arranged numerous oboe, violin and flute pieces from the Baroque period, in addition to commisioning  original pieces by Henri Tomasi, André Jolivet, Boris Blacher, Antoine Tisné and Jean Langlais.

I will remember André mainly for his beautiful tone, stunning articulation, his legendary consistency and effortless high notes. He popularized higher-pitched instruments, such as the E-flat trumpet and  the piccolo trumpet (for most of his career, a Selmer instrument). The one time I met him in person (backstage after a concert), I was struck by his charming personality.

Who am I?

I am Stanley Curtis, a trumpet player living in the Washington, DC, metro area. I enjoy playing , recital-ing, playing early music concerts, and teaching trumpeters. About my early : I play baroque trumpet and the cornetto. I had a chance to learn quite a bit about these instruments and their literature at and at the in Amsterdam. I love the atmosphere of playing music that is a little different. New, modern music. . Renaissance music. And jazz–I love trying to learn how to improvise, but I wouldn’t consider myself an actual jazz musician.

I teach at George Mason University, and I am a member of the U. S. (and the U. S. Brass Quartet). I play in the Washington Bach Consort and the Bach Sinfonia.