Interview with trumpeter Neil Brown

Neil Brown playing with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra

Neil Brown (left) playing with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. (right: Paul Johnson)

Trumpeter Neil Brown enjoys a multi-faceted career as a performer, educator, composer, arranger, and bandleader. Currently a member of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, he is also the founder, principal composer, and trumpeter of the classical, jazz, and rock influenced group Phonic Wrinkle. Neil can frequently be heard playing with many Washington D.C. and Baltimore area ensembles including the National Philharmonic, Apollo Chamber Orchestra, Maryland Symphony, Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra, Concert Artists of Baltimore, and Tryos Ensemble.

Originally from Guilford, Connecticut, Neil earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Maryland and was a member of the United States Navy Band in Washington D.C. from 2009-2013. He attended the National Orchestral Institute, Colorado College Summer Music Festival, Las Vegas Music Festival, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute. As an educator, he has performed numerous educational concerts, presented masterclasses at both the university and high school levels, served on the faculty of the Suitland Performing Arts High School and the Sheridan School, and leads a private trumpet studio. Neil’s teachers include Chris Gekker, Steven Hendrickson, and Allan Dean.

 

Websites:
www.phonicwrinkle.com
www.facebook.com/phonicwrinkle
www.tryosensemble.com

 

Equipment:
Bb trumpet: Bach Stradivarius 180ML 43
C trumpet: Yamaha YTR-9445CHS Chicago
Eb/D: Schilke E3L
Piccolo: Kanstul Custom Class
Rotary: Ricco Kühn T053/C
Flugelhorn: Yamaha 631G

Mouthpieces
:
Bb/C/Eb: Bach 1 ½ C with 24 throat
Cornet: Laskey 75SB
Piccolo: Laskey P50
Rotary: Yamaha 16E4


 

Interview with trumpeter Neil Brown

The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis

 

Trumpeter Neil Brown playing with Phonic Wrinkle

Trumpeter Neil Brown playing with Phonic Wrinkle

SC: How did you get interested in music? Who were some of your initial influences and teachers? What other things were you interested in when you were young?

 

NB: I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a school system in Guilford, Connecticut that required all students to either sing in choir or play in the band or orchestra when they entered 5th grade. I have an older brother and had attended several of his middle school band concerts, so by the time I reached 5th grade, I was very excited at the prospect of playing in the band. Though my initial first choice for an instrument was the drums, I settled on the trumpet after the band director gently redirected my interests. My classmates had an overwhelming demand to play drums and in an act of balancing the band I was fortuitously assigned to the trumpet section. Looking back, this ended up being one of the most important choices of my life as it is hard for me to imagine playing a different instrument other than the trumpet.

 

SC: When did you get really interested in the trumpet? Who were your most important teachers? What sorts of experiences were critical to you becoming a professional trumpeter?

NB: I led a fairly normal childhood with a strong interest in sports, particularly basketball and baseball. I enjoyed playing the trumpet, though not as much as sports, and I practiced regularly, but sometimes only because it was a valid reason for putting off homework. Gradually in late middle school or early high school I began to take the trumpet much more seriously. I really enjoyed the process of improving on the instrument and started listening to many kinds of music in addition to the popular music on the radio, particularly classical and jazz. I had an especially influential middle school band director, Eric Gerhardt, who happened to be a trumpet player and former student of Chris Gekker. He had been a freelance trumpeter in New York before arriving in my town in Connecticut and really expanded my perspective of excellent music and fine trumpet playing. Together with inspiration from listening to great musicians, terrific guidance from my music teachers, and a great group of friends that I played music with, I began to strongly feel that a career in music was what I wanted.

In college, I studied with Chris Gekker and Steven Hendrickson at the University of Maryland. I cannot even begin to express the level of gratitude I feel towards them for all of the knowledge and inspiration they bestowed upon me during lessons, not to mention the fine examples of musicianship and professionalism each demonstrated through his active performance career.

 

MU1 Neil Brown playing "Taps" at Arlington National Cemetery

MU1 Neil Brown playing “Taps” at Arlington National Cemetery

SC: You served in the U.S. Navy Band for one enlistment. What did you like about the band? Why did you leave?

NB: The Navy Band was a great job and I was truly fortunate to play amongst so many fine musicians. One of the most important and meaningful aspects of the job was to play Taps for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Each performance meant so much to the families of the service member and it was a great honor to play for people who had often sacrificed so much in their service. Though there were many other aspects of the job—playing concerts for the public, performing at important Navy ceremonies, formally welcoming foreign dignitaries with our music, even playing for the President on occasion—rendering Taps for service members, for me, was the most important part of being a trumpet player in the Navy Band.

Playing "Taps" at Ft. McHenry (Maryland) at anniversary of the battle with the British Navy when Francis Scott Key penned the "Star Spangled Banner"

Playing “Taps” at Ft. McHenry (Maryland) at anniversary of the battle with the British Navy when Francis Scott Key penned the “Star Spangled Banner”

The decision to leave the Navy Band was very difficult and only made after considerable thought. Ultimately, though, I had aspirations for my musical career that I had to pursue. I wanted to spend more time performing in orchestras, playing chamber music, and teaching. Most of all, I wanted the opportunity to lead my own group. A group for which I could compose music, provide the musical direction, and feel a sense of ownership. I left my nice steady job with the Navy Band and jumped off the cliff into independence, an uncertain future, and full pursuit of my dreams.

 

 

SC: You have an interest in fitness and nutrition. What are your views on staying in shape and eating right. Does this regimen help your trumpet playing?

NB: I have an interest in living a healthy lifestyle both for the long-term benefits and the present day advantage of feeling better throughout day to day activities, but I am not a doctor and wouldn’t try to play one, even on a trumpet blog! I know of many fantastic trumpet players that don’t put a strong emphasis on nutrition, so I would not say that it is a particularly impactful aspect of trumpet playing. I will just mention briefly, and this is nothing revelatory, that I think it can be beneficial to minimize heavily processed foods, particularly heavily processed carbohydrates, and increase the intake of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish or avocado. These diet choices may have a small impact on trumpet playing as processed carbohydrates are often linked to elevated levels of inflammation throughout the body, which for trumpet players can mean slower healing from a heavy day of playing or more swollen chops. Of course the greater factors are taking care to not overdo your practicing and managing the demands of a tough rehearsal or concert intelligently, but when you do those to the best of your ability perhaps diet would be one more tool to add.

 

 

Phonic Wrikle: L to R, Kyle Augustine, Paul Keesling, Neil Brown, Nick Montopoli, Natalie Spehar

Phonic Wrikle: L to R, Kyle Augustine, Paul Keesling, Neil Brown, Nick Montopoli, Natalie Spehar

SC: Tell me about your most recent project(s).

NB: Phonic Wrinkle has been a really fun and interesting project. I started the group about a year ago and we made our debut on a recital at University of Maryland. I compose or arrange most of the music we play, and I play trumpet in the group. Phonic Wrinkle consists of five musicians: trumpet, violin, cello, electric bass, and drums. I think we have crafted a unique sound both from our unusual instrumentation and by combining elements of classical, jazz, and rock music, but we are not so progressive that our music is esoteric. We want to connect with listeners on an emotional level, and we hope people can really enjoy our music and be moved. I am fortunate to work with four other fantastic musicians and friends in the group, and I think collectively Phonic Wrinkle has tremendous potential. My vision is that we will continue to grow our audience, do more recording, and hopefully some touring in the future.

Tryos Ensemble: L to R, Kevin Businsky, Neil Brown, Kevin McKee, Hyojin Ahn

Tryos Ensemble: L to R, Kevin Businsky, Neil Brown, Kevin McKee, Hyojin Ahn

I also play in a chamber group with a great group of friends called the Tryos Ensemble. The group takes form in a few different instrumentations, one of which consists of three trumpets and piano and another as a trumpet and cello duo. We have been playing recitals, weddings and other events. There is not a large repertoire for these instrumentations so I have done quite a bit of arranging, which has been time consuming but rewarding. Some of the real classic wedding pieces, despite being overplayed, are really beautiful pieces of music and as a trumpet player it is a real joy to get to play them.

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Trio illumino: L to R, Neil Brown, Virginia Lum, Stephen Czarkowski. Photo credit: Bruce Vartan Boyajian

Trio illumino: L to R, Neil Brown, Virginia Lum, Stephen Czarkowski. Photo credit: Bruce Vartan Boyajian

 

 

Recently I have also begun performing with a group called Trio illumino, consisting of trumpet, cello, and piano. There are a few fantastic pieces written for this instrumentation including substantial works by Eric Ewazen and Carson Cooman, and I have also done some arrangements ranging from the Bartok violin duos to music from the Brazilian composer Pixinguinha.

 

 

 

 

SC: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

NB: The unpredictability of a career in music is both curse and a blessing. Though stability can be in short supply, every day brings a new exciting project or group to play with and life rarely gets boring. I don’t know what twists and turns my career will take, but I do have some definite goals to pursue. I would like Phonic Wrinkle to continue to grow. I would like to write more music for the group and I hope our music can really connect with our audience. I also really enjoy working with my good friends in the Tryos Ensemble and Trio illumino and hope these groups continue to be increasingly active. I will continue playing orchestral music and always cherish any opportunity to play with any of the fine orchestras in the Washington D.C. area. Lastly, I have really begun to enjoy teaching trumpet. I may pursue teaching at the college level some day, but for now I am getting great satisfaction and am learning a tremendous amount from my students.

 

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Trumpet, Fitness and Health: Interview with Navy Trumpeter and Athlete Davy DeArmond

Chief Musician Davy DeArmond

Chief Musician Davy DeArmond

Trumpeter Davy DeArmond has performed extensively in all genres throughout the United States. He has performed with a diverse group of ensembles including the Charleston Symphony, Asheville Symphony, Delaware Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, Lexington Philharmonic, Knoxville Symphony, the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre, Washington Symphonic Brass, Mr. Jack Daniel’s Original Silver Cornet Band, Brass of the Potomac, and the Great Noise Ensemble.

Dr. DeArmond currently serves as trumpet instrumentalist in the United States Naval Academy Band. In this position, he leads the Brass Quintet, performs with the Concert Band, Next Wave Jazz Ensemble, Brass Ensemble, the New Orleans-style brass band Crabtowne Stompers as well as several ceremonial and marching units and has recorded and toured nationally with many of these groups.  He is also a member of the International Chamber Orchestra of Washington.  Recent recitals and masterclasses include the 2014 US Army Band Tuba/Euphonium Conference, the 2012 International Trumpet Guild Conference, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Music Festival, the Armed Forces School of Music, Maryland Trumpet Day, Towson Brass Day, James Madison University, Northwestern State University, and others.

As an educator, he holds faculty positions at both Washington College and Anne Arundel Community College.  He has also instructed students at the University of Kentucky, West Knoxville School of the Arts, in his private studio and is a Founding Teacher for the Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program. 

Davy received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Kentucky studying with Mark Clodfelter. He earned a Master’s Degree in trumpet performance at Mannes College of Music in New York City with Robert Sullivan and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee with Dr. Cathy Leach. Additionally, he studied with Ray Mase and Kevin Cobb during three summer seasons at the Aspen Music Festival as well as Tina Erickson and his father, David DeArmond

Awards include the Colonel Finley R. Hamilton Outstanding Military Musician Award, the Performance Award from Mannes College of Music, winner of the Columbia Bach Society Concerto competition, Tennessee Trumpet Competition, Celebration of Excellence Competition and finalist of the National Trumpet Competition.

Races Include:
Ironman Chattanooga
Ironman Coeur d’Alene
Ironman Lake Placid
Eagleman 70.3
Rev3 Knoxville Half
Rev3 Connecticut
JFK 50 Miler
Hat Run 50K (Twice)
New York City Marathon
Marine Corps Marathon
Philadelphia Marathon
Richmond Marathon
Knoxville Marathon
Ragnar Relay (Three Times)
Rev3 26-Hour Adventure Race
Odyssey 24-Hour Adventure Race

Website (with lots of links to performances): Davy DeArmond, Trumpet


 

Equipment:
B-flat, C, E-flat/D trumpets: Blackburn
Flugelhorn: Yamaha Bobby Shew
Cornet: Getzen Eterna
All mouthpieces: Pickett


Interview with Navy Trumpeter and Athlete Davy DeArmond
 
The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis
 

SC: Davy, this is a new series on the relationship between trumpet playing and health and fitness. I am so pleased to start this series off with you, because of your dedication to fitness. But first, I would like to know how you got started in music?

DD: My dad was a trumpet player so I really had no choice! He was on the road for about eight years playing professionally with bands covering Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, etc. I liked trumpet and took to it pretty easily. Because of his influence, I really wanted to be a commercial player and follow a similar career path. However, when I arrived at the University of Tennessee as an undergraduate student, Teppei Suzuki, a graduate student that had come from the Cleveland Institute of Music took me under his wing and taught me about the classical side of trumpet. So, I diverged from my commercial plan to a more classical plan. I still played in big bands when I could and feel like I received a very well-rounded experience at Tennessee.

Davy DeArmond performing with the Crabtowne Stompers

Davy DeArmond performing with the Crabtowne Stompers

 

This experience came in handy in the Naval Academy Band where my job is to play in concert band, quintet, the Next Wave Jazz Ensemble and our New Orleans-style brass band, the Crabtowne Stompers.

 

 

SC: When and how did you get interested in fitness?

Davy DeArmond (on left) with Travis Siehndel after winning the Odyssey 24-hour Adventure Race

Davy DeArmond (on left) with Travis Siehndel after winning the Odyssey 24-hour Adventure Race

DD: In 2005, I won a job with the United States Naval Academy Band as a trumpet instrumentalist. The only problem was that I weighed 250 pounds and didn’t meet the Navy’s weight standards. I was a high school soccer player, so fitness wasn’t a new concept for me, but I had completely neglected fitness for seven years and found myself in a really tough spot. I started running, dieting and working with a trainer which resulted in me losing 75 pounds in a couple of months just to get into the Navy. After arriving in Annapolis and doing some running events, Travis Siehndel, a colleague at the time and now a tuba player in the US Navy Band (in Washington, DC), talked me into doing the Annapolis Triathlon. Luckily, I fell in love with the multi-sport lifestyle and have been hooked ever since. I am passionate about encouraging others to get active.

United States Naval Academy Band Peloton

United States Naval Academy Band Peloton

Besides being a Nation’s Triathlon Ambassador I am also a Ragnar Ambassador Alumnus, serve on the board of directors of the Annapolis Triathlon Club, and am the enlisted representative for the United States Naval Academy Cycling Team. I know that anyone can accomplish their fitness goals and try to encourage, inspire, and help anyone along the way.

 

SC: Do you find a positive benefit for your job from fitness?

DD: As a military member, being in shape is part of the job. No matter if you drive a fighter jet or play a clarinet, if you’re in the Navy, you have to meet weight and physical fitness standards. As you might suspect, military bands have several gigs that require physical activity, mostly in the form of marching. Though marching isn’t as punishing as running a marathon, it will become problematic if you’re not in shape. The act of marching and playing is also one that can be tricky. The worse my cardio base is, the more I am going to struggle on our marching gigs and, for us, those are some of our highest profile gigs.

Good air support is important for being a Navy trumpeter (and singer!)

Good air support is important for being a Navy trumpeter (and singer!)

SC: Do you find that your experience as a trumpet player–and learning about the physicality of playing the trumpet–helps you do races? 

DD: What is interesting is that I have found quite the opposite…fitness and racing have taught me a lot about playing trumpet. With trumpet, it is easy to fall victim to habit. What worked for me 15 years ago as a young trumpet player might not be as effective today. However, we sometimes need to change our approach or our way of thinking, and it is through my racing experiences that I have learned to adjust my approach to trumpet.

I became serious about fitness when I was 26 years old. As I trained for marathons or triathlons, it was quite easy for me to eat and drink what I wanted, get little to no sleep and then go for a 20-mile training run early the next day. Nine years later, I have to consider what I am putting in my body before hard workouts, or I won’t get through them. Eventually something clicked,and I realized that I needed to take my fitness lessons to the trumpet. Here are a few lessons that I have taken away:

Davy DeArmond performing with the USNA Band Brass Quintet at the International Trumpet Guild Conference

Davy DeArmond performing with the USNA Band Brass Quintet at the International Trumpet Guild Conference

WARMING-UP

We all know that warming-up is important. Fitness is no different. If I have a long, hard bike ride, I am going to start slow and get into rhythm before pushing my limits. The same goes for swimming and running. As a trumpet player you might find yourself saying, “I can do this short gig without a warm-up,” or “I’m just going to go through the motions today.” As I mature, I found this harder to do. If I take off on a track workout without warming up, I’m probably going to pull something—ending my workout early and possibly affecting my bike ride the next day. The same principle goes for trumpet. If you don’t take care of yourself on a daily basis, it will catch up to you and be extremely detrimental.

IMPLEMENT THOUGHTFUL SESSIONS

Earning a Brick during Savageman

Earning a Brick during Savageman

Being thoughtful about what you are doing is imperative. In school, it is easy to get in six to eight hour practice days. As your time becomes more valuable and you have more responsibilities, it is imperative that you have thoughtful sessions. When I began training for my first few races, I made sure I put in the time. If I needed to run five miles or bike 2 hours, I would just do it and feel pretty good about myself. However, as I assessed my accomplishments, I found that I wanted to improve. I couldn’t spend more time on fitness, so I realized that I needed to work smarter and more efficiently. I would keep a faster pace running for a short time, training my body to run faster or swim some faster intervals.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that I needed to do the same thing with my trumpet playing. I don’t have the luxury of practicing six to eight hours anymore, so I need to ensure that the time I do spend is thoughtful and productive. It’s funny how it took me doing triathlons to adjust my practice sessions to be more productive!

LISTEN TO AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY

This is a big one. Sometimes, while in training, you have back-to-back hard days. For example, during Ironman training, you might ride for six hours on a Saturday and run for three hours the next day. Although those are hard days, it is necessary for your body to get accustomed to the fatigue that you will feel. However, the Friday before and the Monday after these workouts provide you with rest time either with a day off or with an easy swim to get you loosened up. What this does is prepare your body for the beating and then give you a day to recover.

How earth shattering! As a young trumpet player, I would just pound my face as much as I could. With our inflated egos, it is hard for us to take it easy, but it is a lesson we must learn. My trumpet playing colleagues and I have a phrase we use—that we have to “undo the day before.” What this means is simply that we take care of our chops the day after a big blow. Some days are more punishing than others, so, if you do have a rough playing day, take care of yourself the next day, and “undo” the pounding that you took. It might be an extended easy warm-up with soft articulations or maybe even a day completely off, but make sure those muscles, just like your leg or arm muscles, are not getting over worked.

SET AND ACCOMPLISH GOALS

Setting goals for races or events is easy…Pick a race, find a training plan, execute said plan, do the race. Voila! You’re done. As you progress, you add more intricate goals, like setting a personal record, going longer distances, or possibly a podium finish, or qualifying for something like the Boston Marathon (I wish), or the Ironman World Championships (I REALLY wish). One reason it is easy is the fact that it is an unknown.

Davy DeArmond finishing his first Ironman triathlon

Davy DeArmond finishing his first Ironman triathlon

If you’ve never run a marathon before, you don’t really know what to expect, so you get a plan and follow it to success. Unfortunately, as trumpet players, we fall into these ruts of practicing or performing. We stick with the same practice patterns we’ve had for years, and we remain good at the trumpet. However, if you take the time to set and accomplish goals, you can improve on your trumpeting skills no matter how accomplished you are. Simply set a goal (recital, audition, etc.), devise a plan (I will work out of the Goldman book for articulations, Scholssberg for flexibility, Top Tones for endurance) and execute the plan. When you are done, you will be better, but it is of utmost importance to….

ASSESS PROGRESS

Fitness has helped me somewhat detach myself when assessing my performance. This has helped with my trumpet playing because, as musicians, it is easy to become too emotional when assessing our performance or progress. When I’m done with a long race, first and foremost, I am happy for my accomplishment. At that point I can think about how I could have gone faster, trained harder, slept or ate better, but I am still happy there is a medal around my neck.

For a long time, it was hard for me to assess my trumpet playing, because I was worried about missing notes. Now, I assess the two similarly. I have found that I can assess it fairly without falling into the depths of depression if I miss some notes! Was I relaxed? Did I do what I wanted musically? At what point did it start to feel uncomfortable? Why? Once you can ask yourself questions like this without getting too emotional, you can adjust your training plan and get ready for your next performance.

SC: How do you balance getting ready for races or events, while also maintaining and bettering your trumpet playing?

DD: This is actually a really good question because when I first started doing longer races, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get everything accomplished in one day. For example, when training for an Ironman, I am doing about 13 workouts a week including some 6-7 hour days on the weekend.

Luckily, I have found that getting ready for races actually helps my trumpet focus. When I am training for races and have a training plan, I am forced to plan my days. That means that I know when I am going to be practicing, for how long, and what I need to accomplish in the time I have. Mentally I become more focused across the board. I also find that I am more productive around the house and tend to waste less time throughout the day.

SC: Could you break down the process of how you improve mentally in both trumpet playing and racing?

DD: My discovery of the mental relationship between trumpet and racing is exciting for me. I am sure many have had experience with teachers where they liken trumpet to sport. In many ways it is easier to explain music, a somewhat esoteric medium, in sports terms. Concentrating on free throws, swinging through pitches, or practicing fundamentals are clear to anyone that has played sports to any degree, so those examples can help with the development of musicians.

SC: What are some other considerations that are important to you in being fit? Do you think these influence your level of trumpet playing? 

DD: When you are young your body has the ability to function at a high level regardless if you take care of yourself or not. Sadly, age catches up to you, and you need to take care of what you are doing. The good thing about racing is you begin to pay more attention to things like nutrition, sleep and rest. I have discovered what I need to succeed during a hard workout or a hard race. If I indulge in food or alcohol or don’t get enough sleep, I will pay for it the next day. It didn’t take me long to realize that trumpet is also a very physical activity, so I had to ask myself, “Why don’t I take care of myself if I have an audition, big performance or a long playing day?”

The bottom line is, when I started swimming, biking, and running, I was out of my norm. Mentally, I was engaged because it is so new and I was learning things about my body and how it feels. As a professional trumpet player, I had neglected some of these aspects, because I had been playing trumpet so long. I thought things felt a certain way because that’s the way I had been doing it for so long. Once I started reassessing physical aspects in sport, I realized that I could apply some of the same characteristics to trumpet and open a fresh way of looking at things. I truly believe that this has made me a better player over the past 6+ years.

SC: What sport, if any, would you most highly recommend for trumpeters? 

Working on Orienteering with the whole family

Working on Orienteering with the whole family

DD: I love triathlon and adventure racing because those two sports combine different disciplines. I find it interesting that there is a direct correlation to my trumpet playing. My job is to be well versed in different styles of music. In a given week, I could perform with a brass quintet, marching band, ceremonial band, New Orleans-style brass band, solo bugling gigs, Broadway shows or any number of things. Therefore, I ensure that my trumpet playing is ready for anything.

Davy DeArmond mountain biking

Davy DeArmond mountain biking

 

Triathlon and adventure racing are similar. You need to make sure you have an excellent cardio base before you attempt these longer races, and you achieve that by working on the different disciplines: running, biking, swimming, trekking, mountain biking, paddling, etc.

 

The only thing I would recommend is that you stay active. Some people really enjoying swimming but do not take pleasure in running. Some people just want to be on the bike. I know a lot of military musicians that are into CrossFit or yoga. I would encourage one to set fitness goals. It is through that process that you start to learn lessons. Sign up for a 5K or a charity ride. Get a plan and stick to it. After you complete the goal, assess what was good and bad and learn from it. It is though these processes that you might begin to make some correlations to trumpet playing or other aspects of life.

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