Tell a Story on the Trumpet: Part I, the Cadence

When I play trumpet, I want to communicate with the listener. I want to tell a musical story. If my fundamentals are working on the trumpet (breathing, articulation, fingers, lips, tongue placement, etc.), then I can shape and pace notes in ways that help deliver this story, from the details up to the big picture. Perhaps the smallest detail of the story that we musicians can tell is the cadence, which is that part of a phrase that harmonically resolves, usually with a dominant chord leading to a tonic chord.

The melody, which cannot fully convey the harmonic movement, nevertheless can support the underlying cadence. From the Sixteenth Century until today, a very good rule of thumb with cadences is to give more intensity throughout the dominant and relaxing this intensity on the tonic. The reason for this is that the dominant chord is harmonically “far” from the tonic. The dominant has tension, dissonance, or “drama.” Will the dominant resolve? Maybe yes, or maybe no–that is the drama that the listener is confronted with. Imagine a movie where the camera follows the protagonist down a dark hallway. Something will happen. Will it resolve peacefully or will there be a shock? Watching the scene, your anxiety increases, and your heartbeat quickens. This is drama. In a very similar way, the dominant chord sets up expectations which can be fulfilled or denied.

A good movie director underpins the dramatic hallway scene with lighting, music and pacing that helps the audience feel the anxiety more. In the same way, a good musician can highlight the drama of the movement from dominant to tonic with more intensity. This intensity usually means more volume, but it could also be a change of vibrato, timbre (tone color), pacing or articulation. This helps the listener hear the harmonic framework of the music better. It helps to draw him into the “rhetoric” of the music. 

To me, nothing is more “rhetorical” than Renaissance music, so, as an example, I offer this cued-up YouTube video of cornettist Bruce Dickey playing Josquin des Prez’s Mille Regretz. Notice the intensity swelling and then releasing as the dominant resolves to the tonic (this happens twice at 1:24 and 1:29). 

Let’s look at another example from the second movement of Joseph Haydn’s for Trumpet. I want to contrast two great performances with the small difference of this device. In the eleventh bar, we hear a line descending by steps with the longer notes on dominant harmony and the shorter notes on the relative tonic of each successive dominant. In the first (cued up) example, a young Wynton Marsalis, teamed up with John Williams and the Boston Pops, performs this passage smoothly.

But listen to the contrast in rhetorical delivery with more emphasis on these dominant-underpinned notes in a performance by French trumpeter, David Guerrier (who plays a historically-accurate keyed trumpet). This video is also cued up to the same musical passage (it is pitched lower, at A = 430). 

For me, the subtle difference of “leaning” on the dominant notes that Guerrier does in his example helps us hear the harmony more vividly. 

One more example comes from the end of the first movement of G. P. Telemann’s Concerto in D (the “first” concerto). In the first example, listen to the great Maurice André play this last phrase. He has a gorgeous tone, he has chosen a very luxurious tempo (very slow), but his shaping of the inner dynamics from the dominant to the tonic (where he is playing a trill) is pretty straight. There is not much contrast. 

Another example (on baroque trumpet) by Niklas Eklund, shows the dynamic tension on the trill followed by a slight release on the last note, which coincides with the dominant-to-tonic harmony. Notice, in both examples, that the trill starts slow and speeds up, which also helps the drama of the line. This cued-up video is pitched at A = 415, which is lower than the example by André.


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Happy birthday, and the importance of Story, Song and Support

It all started three years ago with a little post about, well, starting this website. And now Trumpet Journey has grown to more than 90 published posts about all kinds of trumpet-related things. There have been many interviews, but also “Top Ten Lists.” There have been posts about jazz, renaissance and baroque music, orchestral playing, the jobs market, and even language learning. 

Of the 117,000 people who have visited Trumpet Journey, I am really happy to receive the occasional comment or question. Especially from places like The Netherlands or Italy. Or even India! (sorry, India, I haven’t gotten around to answering you, yet). 

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

I haven’t posted much of my own writing in a while, because I have been doing so many interviews. So, I’d like to shake off the dust and talk about the three “S”s. These are what I think are the three key elements that each great trumpet player has: Story, Song, and Support

Each of us has a unique story. That story may be an actual account of some event, or even the story of our life. But we also have our own stories that we keep coming back to, such as “beauty is great,” or “old things are cool” or “technology is what I’m about.” These are our thematic points that our choices point to. Choices about repertoire, style, equipment, venues, and even the clothes we wear when we perform can help create our own story and the story that each generation needs to hear. Many players perform to a story that is going on inside their heads. As listeners, we can sense that something dramatic is happening. 

Trumpeters like Jean-Francois Madeuf, Doc Severinson, and Philip Smith seem to have a really strong story. Their playing seems to spring effortlessly from their personal story. 

Authenticity (played on an authentic natural baroque trumpet–very rarely heard):

Showmanship–notice how Doc adjusts his story to suit the Lawrence Welk Show audience:

And this story telling in the orchestral realm. I remember hearing Philip Smith talking about the way he thought about this opening excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He said he pictured Death (as the shrouded skeleton) reaching out from a dark fog. Closer and closer he comes, until you see his grotesqueness clearly. Sound quality is not quite perfect in this example.


Then there is the song. This is how we play what we play. This song can be sung with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism, laser-beam clarity, or rhetorical interpretation. This is our personal song we sing on the trumpet when we play. Each of our voices are different–and they should be. Our song is the meeting place of our phrasing, our interpretation, our experience and, of course, our tone. I learned a beautiful lesson about tone from a former colleague of mine, the great euphonium player named Roger Behrend. He said it helps him to think about tone in terms of color, texture and taste. So, for instance, if you are thinking about maroon, velvet and chocolate, you get an especially luxurious sound. Or, perhaps you’re thinking golden, rough and with the taste of jambalaya, like I do, when I hear this trumpeter:

Trumpeters that have a great sense of song are many, but for me, some of the most astounding “trumpet singers” have been, besides Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Maurice André. 

I found this unusual example of Maurice André playing the Hindemith “Trumpet Sonate.” While this is not normal repertoire for André, nor is it a standard interpretation of the renowned German composer’s piece, it so well shows André’s glowing song-making style.


But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause. Nevertheless, there are some great examples of technique and equipment.

Wynton Marsalis’ amazing technique and unique equipment do not get in the way of his song or story.

Malcolm McNab is a paragon of fundamentals, and he spins them into the most amazing recordings.

And, or course, there are the high note players like Arturo Sandoval and the late, great Maynard Ferguson. 

Talk about support!!! 

I think all of these examples show exceptional Story, Song and Support, and hopefully will give us some inspiration to communicate with our audiences, too.

In a very meaningful way, Trumpet Journey has been one of my trumpet stories that I have been able to tell over the last three years. 



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Back from a Long Vacation

First performance of "Night Passages," my concerto for trumpet and orchestra

Premier performance of “Night Passages,” my for trumpet and orchestra (February 9, 2014; photo by Angela Anderson)

Except for four gratifying interviews with some great trumpeters (Tine Thing Helseth, Chris Sala, C.J. Camerieri, and Brant Tilds), I haven’t posted on Trumpet Journey since September of 2013. I did remain busy, however. I composed and performed a concerto for trumpet (doubling on flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet) and orchestra.


Bach historian Christoff Wolff and me after a Washington Bach Consort concert at Kenyon College

Bach historian and me after a Washington Bach Consort concert at Kenyon College





The Natural Trumpet Making Workshop (with teachers Dr. Robert Barclay and Richard Seraphinoff, standing)

The (with teachers Dr. Robert Barclay and Richard Seraphinoff, standing)



I also played a lot of baroque trumpet and cornetto, and did things like visiting the Natural Trumpet Making Workshop and the organ making workshop of Taylor and Boody.

George Taylor demonstrating making an organ pipe at the Taylor and Boody workshop in Staunton, Virginia

George Taylor demonstrating making an organ pipe at the workshop in Staunton, Virginia




But my lack of new posts hasn’t stopped readers from visiting my blog. Since September, 2013, there have been more than 46,000 new visitors logging on the Trumpet Journey site. Previously, I had only 16,000 visitors for the first year of Trumpet Journey’s existence. That’s a huge increase! Thanks, thanks, thanks!


In the next year or so, I hope to keep my focus on getting and flourishing in trumpet jobs. I will continue to publish my popular but controversial Top 10 lists. Of course, there will be more interviews. And I will finish publishing my dissertation. In addition, I hope to publish some of my compositions on Trumpet Journey (for free of course!). More interviews, more practice tips, more history, more baroque trumpet, cornett, more pleas for authenticity, and some silliness are to come.

What I’ve learned from Tom Clancy

Author Tom Clancy (1947-2013)

Author Tom Clancy (1947-2013)    

I don’t have a whole lot of time to read books–I’m busy with jobs, family, recitals, practice and, well, blogging! But I have read a few Tom Clancy novels. He died yesterday at the relatively young age of 66. I was always impressed with the flow of plot in his books. And his masterful knowledge of military weapons and tactics (especially the Navy stuff, since I am actually in the Navy).

But the quote that I read today by the late Mr. Clancy hit squarely home with my overall philosophy of learning and improvement on the trumpet, in music and pretty much anything in life:

“You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf… You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”

Please keep this in mind with trumpet playing. Of course, it is possible to spend lots of un-mindful time playing the trumpet and NOT get better. But for most of us, when we start spending lots of time on our instrument, we naturally become more efficient and more mindful. And we get better. The trick is to find out if you really enjoy spending lots of time on the trumpet. If you do, then the trumpet world is yours.

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MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 4

(This is the twenty-first part of my dissertation series. Previous: MSUC: Chapter 3, Part 3)

Sonata sopra Sancta Maria

Title page to Adriano Banchieri's L'Organo suonarino

Title page to Adriano Banchieri’s L’Organo suonarino

The next place in the 1610 collection which specifies cornett is the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria. The text, addressed to the Virgin Mary, fits thematically with the rest of the collection.[1] Stephen Bonta notes that the motets Nigra sum, Pulchra es, Duo Seraphim, and Audi coelum and the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria ora pro nobis function as antiphon-substitutes in place of the Proper items.[2] Bonta bases his argument mainly on Adriano Banchieri’s L’Organo suonarino of 1605, and notes that Banchieri appended five sonatas in score in his handbook for organists “for use at the five psalms that are normally sung at Vespers.” It is significant, Bonta points out, that Monteverdi also used the title “sonata,” for his instrumental piece with the text Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis.[3] The piece begins right away with cornetts playing the typical dactylic figuration as is shown in example 11.

Jeffrey Kurtzman, in his 1972 dissertation, wrote the following analytical discription of Monteverdi’s Sonata sopra Sancta Maria as an example of a which employs a repeated cantus firmus in long note values:

the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, which borrows the opening phrase from the Litany of the Saints . . . , reiterates it in the soprano voice eleven times over a sonata for eight instruments. The cantus firmus does not begin until well into the piece, and the separate statements are separated by rests of varying durations.  The chant itself is varied rhythmically in each statement.  Underneath the cantus firmus, the instrumental sonata unfolds in several large sections with the first one restated at the end.  As in the Magnificats [small and large, in the same collection], the separate sections of the Sonata are written for different textures and styles, often in differing meters.  Contrary to the Magnificats, the changes from one section to another do not correspond with each restatement of the cantus firmus. This time a single section may support several intonations of the chant melody.[4]

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 9.37.00 PMExample 11. Sonata sopra Sancta Maria (opening excerpt)


At the end of the Sonata, the introductory instrumental material is brought back and combined with the penultimate cantus firmus entry, creating a powerful climax by clashing sacred with secular. Since the cantus firmus is so different in style from the instrumental parts, the question arises as to which one of these elements was more important to Monteverdi. Kurtzman takes the position that “the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria is certainly first and foremost an instrumental piece.”[5] Indeed, Stephen Bonta dismisses the idea that Monteverdi set the cantus firmus of the Sonata to a less-important instrumental accompaniment. On the contrary, he writes that “Monteverdi used elements of the litany as an embellishment of a sonata.”[6]

After the introductory section in duple, a triple meter section follows, in the manner of a pavane/galliard dance pair, according to Denis Arnold. The form which emerges from this instrumental introduction is, he proposes, the canzona francese.[7] Of course, this is not music actually intended for dance, although the style of the instrumental ensemble is certainly secular and dance-like. Kurtzman explains the similarities between the Sonata and other contemporaneous, or near-contemporeaneous, instrumental pieces:

the metamorphosis of one motive out of another by means of lengthening or shortening, inversion of intervals, reversal of melodic direction, and alteration of rhythmic values is the same process used by innumerable composers of ricercare and canzone in the second half of the sixteenth century.[8]


Kurtzman then points to the fundamental difference (apart from the addition of a vocal line) between Monteverdi’s Sonata and these sixteenth-century instrumental canzonas. “It is only in those passages where greater identity is maintained . . . that one is not speaking of thematic development, but rather variation of the same material.”[9] This variation technique becomes a defining and future-looking compositional approach in the 1610 Vespers for Monteverdi, according to Kurtzman.

Thus we have a small dilemma of nomenclature. Although Monteverdi called this piece a “sonata,” it is not a real sonata (or any other instrumental genre), because it has a vocal part. Nevertheless, by discounting this vocal part and considering only the instrumental parts, how close does it come to other instrumental genres? It is like an instrumental canzona in the motivic development of most passages, in the idiomatic dactylic figuration, and imitative counterpoint, but it is much longer than a typical canzona, relies more on the use of pairs of instruments, and uses the process of seventeenth-century variation procedures. It is, furthermore, dance-like, although it is not a dance.

[1]. Bonta, “Liturgical Problems,” 93.

[2]. Ibid.,  94.

[3]. Ibid., 102.


[4]. Kurtzman, “The Monteverdi Vespers,” 111.

[5]. Ibid., 57–58.

[6]. Bonta, “Liturgical Problems,” 94.

[7]. Denis Arnold, Monteverdi, rev. Tim Carter, Master Musicians Series (London: J. M. Dent, 1990), 129.

[8]. Kurtzman, “The Monteverdi Vespers,” 119.

[9]. Ibid.

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