Suzuki Trumpet, Part II: An Interview with Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong

Natalie DeJong holds a Master of Music degree from Rutgers University. She began her studies at the University of Calgary and the Vancouver Academy of Music. She has attended trumpet and brass workshops in Alberta, Quebec, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Sweden.

Ms. DeJong now teaches trumpet at Mount Royal University Conservatory in Calgary. She has performed with a variety of ensembles, including Altius BrassThe Calgary Creative Arts Ensemble big band, the Prime Time Big Band, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  She has performed with the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass in Pennsylvania and China, and has played the natural “baroque” trumpet with early music groups Musica Raritana (New Jersey), Concert Royale (New York City), the Swedish Baroque Orchestra (Stockholm), and Per Sonatori (Regina). Natalie also performed as principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Camerata National Symphony on a month-long tour throughout China. 

Ms. DeJong developed a class called Funfare TM  for young children to learn the trumpet and went on to train as a Suzuki Trumpet Teacher in Sweden in 2013.  She returned to Canada to launch the first Suzuki trumpet program in the Americas at Mount Royal Conservatory in 2014.  She is a member of the International Suzuki Trumpet Committee and thrilled to be promoting and sharing the concepts with other trumpet and brass players throughout Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Natalie is also a “Suzuki Parent “ as her son studies in the Suzuki piano program at Mount Royal.

Trumpet equipment(for Ms. DeJong to play):
Bb-Bach Stradivarius 37 ML (mouthpiece: Stork 5C or B)
C-Bach Stradivarius 329 G, 25H leadpipe (mouthpiece: Stork 5C or B)
Picc-Yamaha Custom (mouthpiece: Stork Vacchianno 3P)
Baroque Trumpet-Tomes 4-hole Ehe 1746 (mouthpiece: Naumann 5B and one given to me by Niklas Eklund!)
Flugelhorn-Conn Vintage One (Variety of mouthpieces)
Cornet-York “Preference 3027” (mouthpiece: Breslmair Wien AH2-F3)
Pocket Trumpet-Jupiter model 416 (mouthpiece: anything on hand!)
(French Horn-Conn single F horn)
Trumpet equipment for Suzuki students: 
-Most kids are using a pocket trumpet (the older Jupiter model 416 with the smaller bell, as well as the new Jupiter pocket trumpet model 516.  
-Older children use a cornet or standard sized trumpet when they have grown big enough
-Students a generally using a standard 5C or 7C mouthpiece, also other sizes as needed.
-Various “buzzing devices” are fun, but the favourite is the “shortcut” (made by JoRal).  This can also be made out of simple household materials.
Some Toys Ms. DeJong uses for teaching children (in her words):
I can’t possibly list all the toys I have collected over the years, but I can say that I walk through toy stores with entirely new eyes; looking at toys for ways they might apply in my teaching. 


Some of favourites in my toy box include:
Rafael (My Mexican Trumpet playing string puppet) who reminds my students about good posture


-Any toys that get the kids breathing in full and blowing out in various ways or thinking in various ways:  
Little mouse holding a "shortcut"

Little mouse holding a “shortcut”

  We use anything from ping pong ball games, pinwheels, toy cars, trains, and airplanes to miniature animals
hospital breathing machine

hospital breathing machine

–and breathing aids found at hospitals.  
breathing device from Arnold Jacob

breathing device from Arnold Jacob

Arnold Jacobs gave me one of his ping pong ball breathing machines when I was a student…and I now use it with my students too!
-There’s a great invention out there called “Staccator” which should become a staple in any wind player’s studio!  
-There are MANY great children’s books out there with little life lessons in them.  I like the Harold B. Wigglebottom books. And kids always like Franklin 🙂
magnetic dartboard

magnetic dartboard

 -I carry my magnetic dart board to everywhere I teach (no, not with regular darts-safe MAGNET darts!)
-Music theory materials, such as MusicMindGames products by Michiko Yurko, and simple flashcards are a nice way to take a “chops break”
Rolling, decorated box, used to carry teaching aids and "toys" for Suzuki trumpet class.

Rolling, decorated box, used to carry teaching aids and “toys” for Suzuki trumpet class.

-I carry it all around in my toy box on wheels

Interview with Natalie DeJong, expert Suzuki trumpet teacher
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: Tell us about your background as a musician and trumpet player—who have been your big influences?

ND: I grew up in Calgary with my earliest musical influences being all the classical records that my grandparents played for me in their living room.  They loved listening to everything from Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, and anything that might get played on CBC radio!  I started learning to play the trumpet at age 12 when there was a chance to join the school band, and eventually private lessons led to post-secondary music school (University of Calgary, Vancouver Academy of Music, Rutgers University).  I’ve enjoyed opportunities to play in orchestras, in chamber ensembles, in brass ensembles and brass bands, and in big bands… and one of my favorite things to do is to play baroque trumpet in period music ensembles.

My biggest influences start from age 12; my earliest private teacher, Linda Brown played 3rd trumpet in the Calgary Philharmonic and not only set up amazing opportunities for me (such as attending masterclasses in Chicago with Vincent Cichowicz), but she also set an incredible example of hard work and diligence in striving for the highest playing standards for her role in the orchestra…and an example of really beautiful trumpet tone too!  I was also fortunate to have the sound of Jens Lindemann’s playing in my ear from that age, as the first trumpet player I ever heard live! 


SC: What got you interested in teaching—especially early childhood trumpet teaching?

ND: I’ve always admired all of my teachers and their creative and musical ways of tackling the ‘little mysteries’ of trumpet playing.  I find it exciting to gain some new ability on the instrument.  It’s also fun to be able to explain it to someone else.  I find that once I can explain it…and be understood, that I also learn even more from it.  And the fun part is that communicating is not always via direct language, but sometimes through imagery.  It’s fascinating to always learn something new about playing a brass instrument, and helping others do the same is fun.

I became interested in early childhood trumpet teaching when I had started Doctoral studies at Rutgers University with Dr. Scott Whitener (author of Complete Guide to Brass).  I was working on a project about ‘Tension in Brass Playing’ and began thinking about instrument size (I’m a small person). It occurred to me that brass playing tends to be delayed until we’re “big enough” to hold the heavy brass instruments… but it also occurred to me that children are missing the opportunity to start very young on the trumpet like their friends who play piano or violin. When I propped my two-year-old son up with my big B-flat trumpet, he could create quite a beautiful tone…he just couldn’t hold the horn by himself.  So, I put a pocket trumpet in his hands…and from that point, realized that small children really CAN learn to play the trumpet from a very young age-if we give them the right equipment and the opportunity!

SC: When did you take the Suzuki teacher training for trumpet? What was that experience like? 

Ms. DeJong's Funfare class

Ms. DeJong’s Funfare™ class




ND: I had already started a pilot project called FunfareTM which was a trumpet class for younger children, aged 5-7 or so, in 2011.  I was very excited when I found out the first-ever Suzuki Trumpet Teacher training course would be held in Sweden starting in the fall of 2013.  I had been looking for Suzuki activity in trumpet land for a number of years, because I knew it was such a wonderful way to teach a musical instrument to young children.  At last I had found a trumpeter who had begun developing the method for Suzuki trumpet.  How could I not jump on board?!  There was so much to learn, (and there still is)! I was lucky enough to find a way to get myself to Sweden to take part in this first teacher training event.  We were a group of four student teachers from all over: Poland, Spain, Ireland, and Canada, and we later joined a group of Swedish trumpet teachers who were also training to teach Suzuki trumpet.  As you know, it was wonderful to work with Ann-Marie Sundberg, the world’s first official Suzuki Trumpet Teacher Trainer. It was a very collaborative atmosphere and everyone brought fun and creativity to the studio… I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling the joy of being like a kid again… approaching the trumpet with fun, games, and good music!  Combining that with gaining a deeper understanding of the Suzuki Method and philosophy, made for a life changing experience.  It added to my reasons for teaching and even to my own reasons for playing music.

SC: How would you describe the Suzuki philosophy in general and how the trumpet teaching fits into the world-wide movement? How is the trumpet school different from the other disciplines, in your opinion?

ND: The Suzuki philosophy encompasses ideas that are much deeper and farther-reaching than mere ways in which to teach a musical instrument; Dr. Suzuki had the goal of creating a better world.  He devoted his life’s work to fostering a sense of happiness in children, and felt that he could use music as a tool to do so.  If children could learn to play music from a young age, they would be raised to have good hearts: they would know the value and satisfaction of hard work, sharing, empathy, perseverance, team-work, and a host of other noble qualities.  In essence, it is an educational philosophy that can be applied to the teaching of any skill or subject… to students of any age.  The notion that “Any Child Can” is a belief that every child—every person—can be nurtured to learn something toward these goals.

Suzuki trumpet teaching is simply the newest voice in the world of teaching instrumental music in the Suzuki Method way.  The Suzuki Method began with the violin, but has been applied to many instruments since Dr. Suzuki first brought his ideas to the world.  There is much crossover from the activities used in other Suzuki studios.  I believe there is much for Suzuki trumpet teachers to learn from Suzuki teachers of other instruments, and I believe that the trumpet method, as we are developing it now, will also give ideas back to those same teachers.  What will be exciting to watch is how the Suzuki Trumpet Method impacts the larger world of brass playing in general.

The Suzuki “trumpet school” is different from other Suzuki instrument schools, in that much time MUST be spent in the beginning getting students to actually CREATE a sound, let alone a beautiful one!  It’s not impossible to create a good sound from day one or two…but it’s also possible that it can take weeks for a small child (or any new beginner for that matter) to even create a sound.  In the meantime, there are many musical and physical activities that are introduced that lead toward the creation of sound and eventually toward beautiful tone.

SC: Can you describe the process of getting one of your beginning students to play the trumpet for the first time? What are some common hurdles in this process that you have to overcome with the student to get them to be successful in this very important beginning step?

ND: I always aim to have students begin creating trumpet sound for the first time in the most natural, tension-free way possible.  This all starts with a strong concept of tone quality and musical concepts:  listening and watching is key to young students.  Any beginner needs an image of how it’s supposed to look and sound.

We always start by forming an easy posture and natural breathing habits.  I like to “coax” the lip vibration to start, using simple blowing exercises rather than “forcing” a lip “buzz” to happen.  A common hurdles for many beginners is getting over the idea of “trying too hard,” which only creates tension and back pressure when blowing into the instrument.  Beginner students often hit tones that are in between proper pitches on the instrument, so finding the “resonating” spots of each pitch can be a challenge.  Because this can all take time—to simply get a centered and beautiful note on the trumpet—it is a challenge to keep students musically engaged in the meantime. This is especially true for the very young aspiring trumpet players who really want to press all the buttons and make songs come out!  We do a LOT of singing and moving, and playing just on mouthpieces.

SC: What have been some of your success stories in your Suzuki teaching?

Ms. DeJong with three young students at the Grand Opening of the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for Performing  Arts, Calgary

Ms. DeJong with three young students at the Grand Opening of the Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for Performing
Arts, Calgary

ND: So far, I see every child as a success story.  Each child who has been a part of the program has learned SOMETHING valuable—which is the whole point!  Musically speaking though, I will have my first student graduating soon from Suzuki Trumpet School Book One.  He is a sensitive, expressive player, with a beautiful and naturally produced tone on the trumpet!  There are several children within the studio who have taken it upon themselves to perform (all by memory, I might add) at school or community events by their own initiative. There are several more who have struggled with this or that, be it trumpet playing or behavioral issues, but each has grown in some way through the process of practicing regularly and persevering.  The biggest success I can see, when I look at the program as a whole, has been the little nurturing trumpet community that has formed between parents, children, and even other trumpet teachers.

SC: What did you learn about teaching young children during your teacher training with Ms. Sundberg?

ND: Besides all the things that you learn from the children themselves—some having nothing to do with trumpet playing or abilities, but to do with things like their attention span or confidence levels—I learned that the parent’s role plays a huge part in the success of the child and the method.  Ms. Sundberg’s ideas and materials are wonderful and support the Suzuki Method beautifully, but it is the relationship between teacher, parent, and child that determines the ultimate outcomes.  Everyone is a partner in learning…and everyone is learning.  So that’s been exciting!

SC: How is your studio different from other Suzuki studios in the world?

ND: I can’t imagine that my studio is all that different from other Suzuki studios in the world.  We might have a different set of instruments, equipment, toys, and songs to work with, but our goals and methods are all based on the same ideas.  What IS truly different at this point in time, is that the method for trumpet is new.  It is new within the Suzuki community and certainly new within the trumpet and brass community as a whole.  It is still in the beginning stages of development and will be for a very long time.  We are not in a rush to find the perfect ways to teach very young children.  I envision that, like a growing child, the Suzuki Trumpet Method will grow and mature alongside the young children who are enrolled in these first Suzuki trumpet programs.

SC: Has your Suzuki teaching experience shaped your teaching of older students?

ND: Absolutely!  Basically all of the same concepts in the Suzuki method and philosophy can be applied to older students.  Listening is key.  Playing without sheet music is key.  As are the ideas of taking one small step at a time, repetition, and providing loving encouragement.  Two days after returning to Canada after my first trip to Sweden, I began applying the ideas to junior high and high school trumpet classes, hour after hour at a festival where I was teaching.  Without putting any music in front of these multi-level trumpeters, we set about learning the exposition to Haydn’s trumpet concerto (all on Bb trumpets).  I didn’t tell them how high or fast the notes would go…we simply listened, watched, played and repeated until pretty much every player was capable of playing most or all of the passages with the exception of a few younger players missing high notes.   But no one stopped playing the SONG. The key thing I noticed was how naturally relaxed everyone was.  Compared to the results of putting printed music in front of students first thing—revealing to them the range of pitches and rhythms and causing a whole bunch of tension and doubt—this method was more successful by leaps and bounds.

There are many ways you can use the concepts with older and/or more experienced students.

SC: What do you like to do in your spare time?

ND: I love to get outside and be in nature, whether it’s hiking up mountains, camping, or cross-country and downhill skiing.  I love to draw and paint, and I’m starting to dabble in writing short stories.  Mmmm, and if I really have spare time I like to cook good food!

SC: What are your aspirations for the future of your Suzuki studio and your teaching career?

ND: I would love to see the students in my Suzuki trumpet studio grow and develop into fine people and skilled, musically sensitive players.  As the studio is still young, I am looking forward to eventually having a wide range of ages within the studio to see how the older Suzuki trumpeters will influence and guide the younger students.  This is already beginning to happen, as I have enough students to begin to separate them by age and ability, and bring them all together periodically.  I would like for my students to continue to perform in public and become confident in their performing abilities.

I’m always aspiring to learn more as a player myself so that I continually have more to share.  Teaching can become stale if the teacher isn’t also continuing to grow.  Ultimately, I love to teach people of all ages; my oldest student is now 83. I also love to connect with players and teachers of all levels.  I want to continue learning from my new Suzuki colleagues and students, and ultimately begin to teach other teachers to teach Suzuki for trumpet…and all of the the brass instruments!

SC: Thanks so much, Natalie, for your time! 






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Interview with Italian Trumpeter, Marco Vicario (in Italian and English)

with Michael Sachs

Marco Vicario with Michael Sachs

Marco Vicario è nato a Siracusa (Sicilia, Italia) nel 1985 si diploma in tromba nel 2006 l’Istituto Musicale “V. Bellini” di Caltanissetta sotto la guida del M° Claudio Salonia. 

Ha partecipato a numerosi masterclass di perfezionamento e lezioni con i docenti: Vincent Penzarella, Michael Sachs, Tage Larsen, John Hagstrom, Robert Sullivan, Raymond Riccomini, Rex Martin, Gabor Tarkövi, Roger Webster, Claudio Gironacci, e molti altri. 

Dal 1997 al 2005 è stato prima tromba dell’Orchestra di Fiati Karl Orff di Priolo Gargallo diretta dal M° Salvatore Tralongo, Vice Maestro Concetta Vicario e presieduta da Pippo Vicario con la quale ha vinto cinque primi premi in concorsi nazionali e con la stessa ha inciso un CD dal titolo Dialoghi.
Da Dicembre 2005 al Dicembre 2006 ha effettuato il servizio militare presso la Banda Nazionale dell’Esercito Italiano di Roma collaborando come musicista sotto la direzione del Mº Fluvio Creux. 
Dall’ottobre del 2006 ottiene le idoneità presso l’orchestra Giovanile Italiana di Fiesole, l’Orchestra Sinfonica di Savona, l’orchestra dell’istituto musicale “V. Bellini” di Catania. 
Inizia a collaborare con l’orchestra del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli nel novembre del 2007, nel Maggio del 2009 risulta terzo idoneo, nell’Aprile del 2012 primo idoneo e vi collabora tutt’ora. È stato nominato Commissario esterno per gli esami di compimento inferiore e diploma di tromba e trombone al Conservatorio di Musica di Stato “A. Scontrino” di Trapani nella sessione estiva e autunnale dell’anno 2009. 
Nell’ottobre 2009 risulta secondo idoneo presso l’orchestra del teatro lirico di Cagliari e primo idoneo nell’anno successivo. Nell’Estate del 2011 collabora con l’orchestra

Brass section of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence). L-R back row, Simone Squarzolo, Marco Crusca, Emanuele Antoniucci, Andrea d'Amico, Marco Vicario, Claudio Quintavalla, and, in front, Fabiano Fiorenzani.

Brass section of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence). L-R back row, Simone Squarzolo, Marco Crusca, Emanuele Antoniucci, Andrea d’Amico, Marco Vicario, Claudio Quintavalla, and, in front, Fabiano Fiorenzani.

Sinfonica Siciliana di Palermo. Nel giugno 2012 risulta secondo idoneo presso l’orchestra del Teatro Alla Scala di Milano, nel novembre del 2015 risulta quarto idoneo e vi collabora tutt’ora. Nel Maggio del 2013 inizia la collaborazione con l’orchestra del Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. A Luglio del 2013 è stato nominato commissario esterno per gli esami di diploma di Tromba presso il Conservatorio di Benevento. 

with Vincent Penzarella, former member of the New York Philharmonic

with Vincent Penzarella, former member of the New York Philharmonic


A dicembre del 2014 partecipa al concorso per prima tromba presso la New York Philharmonic Orchestra preparando il concorso con Claudio Gironacci e Vincent Penzarella. Nel 2015 risulta idoneo presso l’orchestra Haydn di Bolzano. Nel Novembre 2015 risulta finalista al concorso per prima tromba presso l’orchestra del teatro la Fenica di Venezia. A dicembre 2015 risulta secondo idoneo presso l’orchestra del teatro Massimo di Palermo. Ha partecipato a varie tournée  con l’orchestra del Teatro San Carlo di Napoli in Russia (San Pietroburgo e Mosca) ed in Cina e con l’orchestra del Teatro Alla Scala di Milano in Giappone. 
Ha suonato sotto la direzione di grandi direttori quali: Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Ala Gilbert, Daniel Barenboim, Nicola Luisotti, Antonio Pappano, Gustavo Dudamel, Riccardo Chailly e tanti altri noti direttori. 
Attualmente continua a perfezionarsi con il. Mº Claudio Gironacci. 

Marco Vicario was born in Syracuse (Sicily, Italy). Iin 1985 he graduated in trumpet studies in 2006 at the Musical Institute “V. Bellini” of Caltanissetta under the guidance of Claudio Salonia.

with Gábor Tarkövi, principal trumpet, Berlin Philharmonic

with Gábor Tarkövi, principal trumpet, Berlin Philharmonic

He has participated in numerous master classes with teachers, such as: Vincent Penzarella, Michael Sachs, Tage Larsen, John Hagstrom, Robert Sullivan, Raymond Riccomini, Rex Martin, Gabor Tarkövi, Roger Webster, Claudio Gironacci, and many others.

From 1997 to 2005, he was first trumpet in the Karl Orff wind ensemble of Priolo Gargallo directed by Maestro Salvatore Tralongo, Deputy Master Concetta Vicario (his sister) and chaired by Pippo Vicar (his father) with whom he won five first prizes in national competitions and the same has recorded a CD entitled “Dialogues.”

From December 2005 to December 2006 he performed his military service at the Italian National Army Band in Rome working as a musician under the direction of  Fluvio Creux.

Since October of 2006 he was playing in the Italian Youth Orchestra of Fiesole, the Symphonic Orchestra of Savona, and the music institute orchestra “V. Bellini” of Catania.

He began working with the orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in November 2007.  In May 2009, he became an official extra, in April of 2012, he became first-call still collaborates. He was awarded the basic and the trumpet diploma by the commissioner for external examinations at the State Conservatory of Music “A. Scontrino” of Trapani in the summer and autumn session of the year 2009.

Brass Section of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival with Zubin Mehta

Brass Section of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival with Zubin Mehta

In October 2009 he was appointed second call at the orchestra of the opera of Cagliari and first call in the following year. In the summer of 2011 he collaborated with the Symphonic Orchestra of Sicily in Palermo. In June 2012 he was an extra at the orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, and in November of 2015 he was officially appointed fourth call and still collaborates. In May of 2013 he started working with the orchestra of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. In July of 2013 he was given the trumpet diploma  at the Conservatory of Benevento.

In December of 2014 he participated in the competition for the first trumpet at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (preparing for the competition with Claudio Gironacci and Vincent Penzarella). In 2015 he started working with the Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano. In November 2015 was a finalist for principal trumpet of the orchestra of the theater Fenica Venice. A December 2015 he won a position as extra with the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. He has participated in various tours with the orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, including to Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow) and China. He has also toured  in Japan with the orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan.

He has played under the baton of great conductors such as Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Ala Gilbert, Daniel Barenboim, Nicola Luisotti, Antonio Pappano, Gustavo Dudamel, Riccardo Chailly and many others.

Currently he is continuing his trumpet studies with Claudio Gironacci. 

Bach Stradivarius B-flat trumpet, model 37, 50th Anniversary edition (mouthpieces by Parke, Merkelo 650-280-24 and Bach 1½C, 23-24)
Bach Stradivarius C trumpet, model 229, 25H pipe
Schilke E-flat trumpet
Schilke piccolo trumpet P5 (mouthpiece by Schilke 14A4X, p5x, p6x)
Yamaha flugelhorn 
Yamaha cornet
German rotary trumpet in C by Peter Oberrauch (mouthpiece Yamaha 15e4)

Video of Marco trying out different mouthpieces on his Bach B-flat trumpet:

Video of Marco trying out his rotary trumpet: 

Bi-lingual Interview with Italian Trumpeter, Marco Vicario

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Ha iniziato i suoi studi musicali quando era giovane? È stato il suo primo studio tipico di studenti italiani?

MV: Ho iniziato a suonare la tromba a 12 anni a scuola, nello stesso anno è nata una banda musicale di cui mio padre e mia sorella erano presidente e vice maestro, cosi per gioco ho iniziato a suonare la tromba in banda diretta dal maestro Salvatore Tralongo con il quale ho iniziato a fare le prime note.

SC: Did you start your musical studies at a young age? Was your early study typical of Italian students?

MV: I started playing trumpet when I was twelve years old in school. In the same year my father started a band, and my sister was president and assistant director. So for fun I started playing the trumpet in this band, which was directed by Maestro Salvatore Tralongo, with whom I started playing my first notes.


SC: Chi sono stati alcuni dei vostri primi maestri? Quali erano le loro lezioni importanti che hanno aiutato ad andare avanti nel suo modo di suonare? Ai quali conservatori sei andato? Come pensi che si differenziano dalle scuole americane di musica?

MV: Successivamente ho studiato con Carmelo Fede (prima tromba del teatro V. Bellini di Catania), poi con Claudio Salonia e Gioacchino Giuliano che mi hanno seguito fino al diploma conseguito nel 2006 presso l’istituto musicale di Caltanissetta da privatista (cioè allievo esterno, studiare con altri insegnanti e fare in conservatorio solo gli esami). Ho capito di voler studiare a livello professionale anche grazie ad un mio carissimo amico Stefano D’Amico (trombettista), che mi ha da subito aiutato e fatto conoscere il mio attuale maestro Claudio Gironacci (seconda tromba del teatro San Carlo di Napoli) con il quale ho cominciato un percorso di vera formazione professionale e preparazione per le audizioni e i concorsi in orchestra.

with teacher Claudio Gironacci, second trumpet of the Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

with teacher Claudio Gironacci, second trumpet of the Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli

Claudio Gironacci ha studiato in America con grandi strumentisti e didatti quali: Arnold Jacobs, Vincent Chicowiz e Vincent Penzarella; la sua formazione ha contribuito molto alla mia crescita tecnica e musicale della tromba, a mio parere la scuola americana è molto efficace ed io personalmente cerco di applicare i concetti basilari della scuola del (bel canto) cioè cercare di cantare con lo strumento e divertirmi, suonare con facilita in massimo relax.

SC: Who were some of your early teachers? What were their important lessons that helped you move forward in your playing? Which conservatories did you go to? How do you think they differ from American schools of music?

MV: Later I studied with Carmelo Fede (first trumpet of the theater V. Bellini in Catania), then with Claudio Salonia and Gioacchino Giuliano who have followed me up to the diploma in 2006 at the Music Institute of Caltanissetta as a private student (i.e., an external student who only studies with studio teachers and takes the final exams). I knew I wanted to study at a professional level thanks to my dear friend Stephen D’Amico (trumpeter), which immediately helped me and made known my current master Claudio Gironacci (second trumpet of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples) with which I began a process of real vocational training and preparation for auditions and competitions in the orchestra.

with Vincent Penzarella and Claudio Gironacci

with Vincent Penzarella and Claudio Gironacci

Claudio Gironacci studied in America with great musicians and teachers such as Arnold Jacobs, Vincent Cichowiz and Vincent Penzarella. Gironacci’s teaching has contributed a lot to my growth technique and music of the trumpet. I think the American school is very effective and I personally try to apply the basic concepts of the school of beautiful singing (trying to sing with the instrument and play with ease and maximum relaxation).


SC: Qual è stato il suo primo lavoro professionale? Che tipo di esperienze ha avuto da questo lavoro?

MV: La mia prima esperienza professionale è stata con l’orchestra sinfonica di Viterbo, ho fatto la prima tromba in vari programmi, li ho iniziato a capire come suonare in orchestra, cioè ascoltarsi reciprocamente, fare da subito le dinamiche scritte in funzione del suono dell’orchestra e cercare la stessa articolazione e intonazioni con le varie sezioni.

SC: What was your first professional job? What did you learn from this experience?

MV: My first professional experience was with the Symphony Orchestra of Viterbo (about 100 km or 60 miles northwest of Rome), I played first trumpet on various concerts. There, I learned how to play in the orchestra—in other words, to listen to each other, and immediately do the dynamics written according to the sound of orchestra and try to match the same articulation and intonation with each section.


SC: Quali altri lavori sei stato nominato? Quali sono state le audizioni come? Penso che potrebbe essere un po’ diverso da audizioni americani.

MV: Dal 2005 ho iniziato a fare audizioni e concorsi nei seguenti teatri italiani. 2005-2006 ho svolto il servizio militare a Roma con la banda musicale dell’esercito italiano e successivamente partecipato anche ad i concorsi nelle bande della polizia di stato e dei carabinieri. Attualmente collaboro assiduamente con il teatro alla scala di Milano, il teatro san Carlo di Napoli, il teatro del maggio musicale fiorentino.

Orchestra giovanile europea
orchestra giovanile italiana di Fiesole
orchestra del teatro san Carlo di Napoli (2 idoneità)
orchestra del teatro lirico di Cagliari (2 idoneità)
orchestra del teatro del maggio musicale fiorentino
orchestra sinfonica di Savona (1 segnalazione)
orchestra Haydn di Bolzano (1 idoneità)
orchestra dell’accademia santa cecilia di Roma
orchestra del regio di Torino
orchestra del conservatorio bellini di Catania (1 idoneità)
orchestra del teatro alla scala di Milano (2 idoneità)
orchestra del teatro massimo di Palermo (1 idoneità)
orchestra del teatro la fenice di Venezia (finalista)
New York Philharmonic (eliminatoria)

SC: What other jobs have you been appointed to? What were the auditions like? I think they might be a little different than American auditions.

MV: Since 2005 I started doing auditions and competitions in Italy. From 2005 to 2006 I served in the Italian military in Rome as a member of the Italian army band. Currently I work closely with the Scala Theatre in Milan, the San Carlo theater in Naples, the Theatre of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. (Note by SC: In Italy, if you do well on an audition, you can be put on a sub or extra list): 

Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples
Orchestra of the opera house in Cagliari
Symphony Orchestra of Savona
Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano
Orchestra of the conservatory Bellini of Catania
Orchestra of La Scala Theatre in Milan
Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo of Palermo

Also, I did pretty well in these auditions for full-time positions: 

Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice (finalist)
New York Philharmonic (semi-final round)

Verdi's Requiem with La Scala di Milano

Verdi’s Requiem with La Scala di Milano

SC: Si gioca opera spesso ora. Quali sono alcune delle difficoltà in opera per il trombettista che potrebbe sapere solo di giocare in orchestre e bande.

MV: al momento lavoro molto con l’orchestra del teatro alla scala di Milano, facendo molto repertorio operistico ho notato che la differenza è proprio nella sonorità, in buca si suona molto piano per dare spazio ai cantanti e rispetto al repertorio sinfonico il suono deve essere meno presente e brillante quindi per un trombettista che suona spesso sinfonico o in banda la difficoltà è quella di ridimensionare tutto e trovare subito un bel suono sul piano e la prontezza negli attacchi.

SC: You play opera often now. What are some of the difficulties in opera for the trumpeter who might only know about playing in orchestras and bands.

l-r, Esteban Batallan, first trumpet in Granada, Spain, Nicola Martelli, second trumpet of La Scala di Milano, Zubin Mehta, Francesco Tamiati, first trumpet  of La Scala, and Marco Vicario

l-r, Esteban Batallan, first trumpet in Granada, Spain, Nicola Martelli, second trumpet of La Scala di Milano, Zubin Mehta, Francesco Tamiati, first trumpet of La Scala, and Marco Vicario

MV: I am working a lot now with the orchestra of La Scala Theatre in Milan, doing a lot of operatic repertoire. I noticed that the difference is really in the sound. In the opera pit, one plays very softly, giving way to the singers. It is less brilliant by comparison to an orchestral trumpet sound. Then the difficulty for a symphonic band trumpeter is to be able to change all of the dynamics immediately, finding a nice piano sound but in the next instance being ready for loud attacks.


SC: Tu hai mantenuto gli studi in corso, studiando con insegnanti di tutto il mondo. Chi sono alcuni di quegli insegnanti, e che cosa hai imparato da loro?

MV: nel 2013 ho studiato in America a New York maggiormente con Vincent Penzarella (ex seconda tromba della New York Philharmonic), e poi ho fatto lezione con Raymond Riccomini, a Chicago con Steven Burns, Robert Sullivan, Tage Larsen e Rex Martin. Con loro ho cercato di applicare le cose basilari del bel suono in tutto il registro nella tecnica ed in tutto ciò che esegui, suonare cercando sempre la facilità e la bellezza e ho lavorato molto sul repertorio orchestrale sentendo quindi vari pareri sull’esecuzione dei passi più importanti per tromba.

SC: You have kept your studies going by studying with teachers around the world. Who are some of those teachers, and what have you learned from them?

with Raymond Riccomini, Second Trumpet at the Metropolitan Opera.

with Raymond Riccomini, Second Trumpet at the Metropolitan Opera

MV: In 2013 For the most part, I have studied in America in New York City with Vincent Penzarella (former second trumpet in the New York Philharmonic), and then I took lessons with Raymond Riccomini (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), in Chicago with Stephen Burns (trumpet soloist and music director), Robert Sullivan (principal trumpet of the Cincinnati Symphony), Tage Larsen (Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and Rex Martin (trumpet soloist). With them, I tried to apply the basics of good sound throughout the register in technique and in all execution, always trying to play with ease and beauty. I worked hard on orchestral repertoire, and I learned a lot on how to improve on the trumpet, step by step.


SC: Dove vuoi andare da qui? Nei prossimi anni? In venti anni?

MV: il mio sogno è di far parte di una grande orchestra, come già detto ho vissuto parte del mio sogno partecipando al concorso per prima tromba alla New York Philharmonic Orchestra e continuerò a collaborare in orchestra e a fare concorsi in Italia ed all’estero.

SC: Where do you want to go from here? In the next few years? In twenty years?

MV: My dream is to be part of a great orchestra. As I said earlier, I lived part of my dream by auditioning for the first trumpet job in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and I will continue to work in Italian orchestras and to audition for permanent positions in Italy and abroad.


SC: Cosa ti piace fare quando non si gioca la tromba?

MV: quando decido di non studiare e rilassarmi vado a camminare o correre, trascorro del tempo con la famiglia ed esco con gli amici

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

MV: When I decide I’ve had enough practice and I need to relax, I go on a walk or run, spend time with family and go out with friends!


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Interview with Navy Band Rock Trumpeter, David Smith

David Smith is a young and awesomely hip trumpeter

David Smith is a young and awesomely hip trumpeter





David Smith is a professional trumpet player and music educator. He is well versed in many different musical genres and has had a multitude of different musical experiences.

Melvin Miles Jr., director of bands at Morgan State University, with David Smith

Melvin Miles Jr., director of bands at Morgan State University, with David Smith


He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Morgan State University, and a Masters of Music degree in trumpet performance from Penn State University. His studies at these universities has given him the opportunity to participate in master classes with Wynton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Nicholas Payton, Jimmy Heath, Goerge Rabbai, Cyrus Chesnut, and Regina Carter just to name a few.

Penn State trumpet ensemble with the great Dr. Langston Fitzgerald III (who was also a member of the US Navy Band)

Penn State trumpet ensemble with the great Dr. Langston Fitzgerald III (who was also a member of the US Navy Band)

His primary trumpet teachers include Dr. Langston Fitzgerald III, Professor Wayne Cameron, and John Blount.

David has aspirations to continue to perform live music, and to give back to the community by contributing in the field of music education. After three years as Musical Director for the cruise ship company Celebrity Cruises, he is now ready to share his vast experiences and knowledge attained from playing internationally. He is currently serving in the U.S. Navy Band as the trumpeter for the Cruisers ensemble in Washington D.C. He also regularly performs with various local groups, keeping a busy freelance schedule.

Bach Stradivarius 43g B-flat trumpet (mouthpiece: Monette B6)
Benge 5x B-flat trumpet (mouthpiece: Schilke 13b)
Bach Stradivarius C trumpet 229 gold plated
Schilke P5-4 piccolo trumpet
Yamaha flugel 731

Interview with Navy Band Rock Trumpeter, David Smith

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: How did you get started in music and in trumpet playing?

David Smith living up to his childhood dreams!

David Smith living up to his childhood dreams!

DS: I first started at Hyattsville Elementary School in Prince George’s County public schools. I actually initially wanted to play saxophone after many years of watching Lisa Simpson in the Simpsons, but the sales man and my mother convinced me otherwise. He buzzed his lips and had me do the same. I looked at the trumpet and only saw three “keys” and thought I would be easy. Little did I know….


SC: Who has been your most influential teacher?

DS: My high school band director, Mr. Anthony Townes, has been my most influential teacher. He was very passionate about music and making sure we were exposed to different genres as well as professional possibilities. He’s the reason I even knew the Navy Band program existed.


SC: Who are your top three artists or groups to listen to?

DS: When I listen, I try and listen to players and groups that would best help me fulfill my professional responsibilities. That being said, I love Roy Hargrove’s playing. Jazz, Latin, Gospel and R and B—his style of playing is very soulful and he plays with conviction! I also enjoy listening to Earth Wind and Fire for horn sections. And Stevie Wonder—his music is inspirational.

SC: How do the Cruisers prepare their repertoire, and how do you, as a “horn line” guy, and a trumpet player, prepare yourself?

DS: The cruisers were looking for someone with “commercial skills:” someone who basically plays all styles—including jazz and classical. I have a masters in trumpet performance with a focus on orchestral studies, so I was able to fulfill that requirement. When rehearsing and preparing music, we all come together as a group and suggest songs for our repertoires. We strive to play songs that reach a multicultural audience, everything from Motown to Taylor Swift, EWF to Bruno Mars. After selecting songs, we make our own arrangements, writing horn lines and composing the charts. As a horn line guy, I prepare the same I would as an orchestral guy. You have to listen to the style that you will be performing in and emulate. Play along with recordings. Listen to the style of attack and how the music is being phrased.

SC: What is your most memorable performance?

David Smith with family at the National Harbor

David Smith with family at the National Harbor

DS: Right now, my most memorable performance is when the Cruisers performed at the National Harbor. It was a homecoming for me as my family was there, and I grew up here. It was the culmination of all the hard work and patience I’ve developed as a musician trying to “land the gig”!


SC: How do you see the trumpet’s future in contemporary popular music? Is it diminishing, increasing?

David Smith, jumping into the spotlight

David Smith, jumping into the spotlight

DS: I think trumpet is pretty safe. I thank God that I play the trumpet. In popular music as far as I can see, they just continue to reuse some of the same stylings as the ones from the 50s-80s. I don’t really see anything that original. Even though I enjoy the music of Justin Timberlake, Pharrel Williams, Janelle Monáe, and Bruno Mars—all of whom use horns—in my opinion they’re doing what’s already been done by innovators like James brown, prince, Michael Jackson and so on. Not that I’m complaining. Any artist that uses live horns in their songs is fine with me!


SC: How can a trumpet student best prepare for playing in a contemporary/pop/rock group?

DS: Play anything and everything as often as you can, especially while you are in school! Play in orchestras, jazz bands, blues bands, rock bands, salsa bands, never limit yourself, the more ground you cover the better it serves you and the more opportunities it presents to you.

SC: Do you teach? What are some of your guidelines and thoughts about teaching?

David Smith at Loyola University Jazz Faculty Recital

David Smith at Loyola University Jazz Faculty Recital

DS: I teach trumpet at Loyola University in Baltimore, and this fall will be leading their jazz ensemble. I try to keep things as simple as possible. Long tones, lips slurs, and repertoire. Arban, schlossberg, and Clarke. There are two ways to learn and two ways to teach. Some students learn because they’re passionate, but most students learn because they’re being forced to. So, I try and gauge which category that student fits in, and I generally find out by the second lesson, if they have practiced or not. My goal is to find out whether they are into the music or not. And then I try to get them to a higher level by the end of the semester. If they are a non music major, we will work fundamentals and I’ll have them work on a piece to perform. For music majors, I’m relentless about preparing them for the world outside of the safe walls of the school.


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

David Smith, relaxing at the beach

David Smith, relaxing at the beach

DS: I like to work out, in trying to keep up with the saxophone player in the cruisers. He is a fitness guru. I spend time with my family, trying to plant seeds of wisdom into my nieces and nephews. I even started teaching my nieces how to play trumpet. Honestly I play trumpet all of the time. It’s what I do for fun and how I serve this world.



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Interview with jazz/rock trumpeter, Mart Avant

Mart Avant with Vic Carstarphen, keyboardist with the Temptation

Mart Avant with the late Vic Carstarphen, keyboardist with the Temptations

Mart Avant, Founding member of The Tuscaloosa Horns, graduated in 1980 with a B.M. in arranging from the University of Alabama. Named outstanding soloist at the Kentonian Jazz Festival, Mart quickly moved into the studios of Birmingham, Alabama, as an arranger for horns and strings.


Mart Avant with a Slo-Gin 60s band revue

Mart Avant with a Slo-Gin 60s band revue

The Tuscaloosa Horns were merged with the Slo-Gin 60’s band in the fall of 1981. Avant was the staff brass arranger for Southwind Drum & Bugle Corps from 1983-1993, winning the DCI division II championship with “The Little Mermaid” & “Robinhood.” Mart began contracting for the Tuscaloosa Horns with the Temptations, The Four Tops, Frankie Valli, and Martha Reeves in 1984. That list has been continuously expanding and now includes Frankie Avalon, Kenny Rogers, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Fabian, Lou Christie, The Tommy Dorsey Band, Guy Lombardo, Peter Duchin Orchestra, and the Denny LeRoux Orchestra. Locally, Mart directs the Alabama Cavaliers Alumni Big Band as well as the Night Flight Jazz Quintet. He also plays from time to time in both the lead and jazz chairs in several big bands in the Southeast. Under his leadership, The Tuscaloosa Horns have gained a reputation for precision and quality that currently makes them the preferred horns with The Temptations at many of their performances through the country. In January 1999, as a member and co-founder of The Tuscaloosa Horns, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Music Achievers.



B-flat trumpet: Getzen Custom (bore size .462 in.)
Trumpet mouthpieces: Marcinkiewicz modified Bob Findlay model with 3C rim
Warburton, 4.5 rim with ES or S under-part
Flugelhorn: Yamaha Pro Model YFH731 with Giardinelli 6F mouthpiece
(see interview below for the long story of Mart’s equipment)

Interview with jazz/rock trumpeter, Mart Avant

The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: What are some of the early musical influences in your life?

MA: I began my music career with piano lessons, from the second grade on through my junior year of college. My very first piano teacher was a stern taskmaster but rewarded hard work, and being an only child, I had plenty of time to practice without siblings throwing things at me…HA!

Jerry Bobo with Mart Avant

Jerry Bobo with Mart Avant

One of my two most influential mentors was my band director at Fayette County High School, Jerry Bobo. My time with him from 1967 to 1973 was a time when band and sports were the absolute focal points for our community. Mr. B had an absolutely incredible career as the band director there, amassing superior ratings at state band competition from the late 50’s thru the early 90’s. He instilled a work ethic in us that is with me, and countless others, to this day. You had better come prepared to rehearsal as he would go down the row of chairs seeing who could execute the literature we were working on at that time, and you could find yourself relocating from the first trumpet section to the third in the blink of an eye. Jerry Bobo was a freak clarinet player, but had minored in trumpet while at the University of Alabama. While he and I differed a bit on mouthpiece placement and a few other issues, Mr. B was great at hammering us on the Arban book, the Rubank books, and scales, scales, scales. We learned to articulate accurately, to double- and triple-tongue, and he made sure we had to perform literature that demanded that.

Discipline was never an issue in the Fayette County High School Senior Band. In fact any such problems were handled internally without Mr. Bobo having to get involved. We considered it a huge honor to sit in his band, and those that didn’t were quickly dealt with out behind the gym! Mr. B also allowed me to get my feet wet with arranging, as I co-wrote a massive arrangement of “Lowdown” from Chicago III (the third album by the rock band Chicago) for the band. That pretty much got me going as a writer, along with the three- and four-horn garage bands that I was in from the age of 15. Even in the tiny community of Fayette, there were always three or four working bands during my early- and mid-teens that fueled my desire to be a performer. It didn’t hurt that within a year or two of my beginnings on the trumpet (the year 1967), Tower of Power, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Dreams, Ten Wheel Drive, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cold Blood, and many other horn bands sprang into being. It was GOOD to be a pop/rock trumpet player right about then!!

Steve Sample

Steve Sample

Upon moving to Tuscaloosa in 1975 (just south of Fayette County), I continued a relationship with my second, and probably most influential, mentor, Steve Sample, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Alabama. A nationally renowned arranger and teacher, Steve was the driving force behind an astounding number of musicians that are still working worldwide to this day. Under his direction, the ’70s and ’80s produced a huge number of University of Alabama Jazz Ensemble alumni that all owe a great debt to Steve for his guidance, innate musicality. I majored in Arranging, and pretty much left the drums and piano to those way more proficient on those instruments. I did ruffle quite a few feathers as Dr. Jim Ferguson awarded me First Chair Trumpet in the University of Alabama Symphonic Band my last semester, since there were a ton of classically oriented trumpet majors that I beat out for the position. To them I was “That Jazz Hippie” from Fayette.

My trumpet teacher was Michael Johnson, who I met in 1970 when he came to the University from the Midwest. Michael was an eccentric cat to be sure, but was a great motivator and let me choose the path that I wanted, which was pop/jazz rather than strictly orchestral.


SC: Michael Johnson was also one of my trumpet teachers, too. In fact, he was my first teacher and the one I studied with the longest. Tell me more about your experience with him.

Michael Johnson, trumpet teacher at the University of Alabama from 1971 to 2003.

Michael Johnson, trumpet teacher at the University of Alabama from 1971 to 2003.

MA: Mike Johnson and I met when I was a sophomore at Fayette, in the summer of 1970, when he came to U of A from Nebraska. He was a great piccolo trumpet player no doubt and had followed up a very successful touring rock band stint with his turn to full-time teaching. We were the best of friends, and our duets were something that I both dreaded and also looked forward to, as he was really a better player than he was a teacher, and could just toast any of us, laughing all the while. He kind of forced my hand at being an arranging major, as he told me flat out that if I was going to major in trumpet, he would have no part of me being in the jazz ensemble. I would only be able to play in the symphonic band, the orchestra, and brass ensemble. I wasn’t feeling that in the least, but I actually went on to play in each of those ensembles—with my trusty 3C mouthpiece always at the ready.


SC: Tell me about your equipment—the long story!

Mart Avant

Mart Avant

MA: While at Fayette, our band director (Jerry Bobo) had a philosophy regarding trumpet players—that it was best to start out on a cornet. Then as you grew into the instrument, the trumpet would be the next step. I started on a student-line Besson cornet, probably with a Besson mouthpiece. After a couple of years I bought a really neat King Silver Sonic cornet from a graduating senior. It had a sterling silver bell with gold plating inside the bell, and I kept it until my junior year.

Tuscaloosa Music Service was the mecca for all things instrument-related in those days. Having tried out two or three different horns that the store’s rep brought to our school, I decided on a Getzen Severinsen Model. It was a 1972 instrument, and other than retro-fitting a large bore leadpipe four years later, I played that horn until I could see the air in it.

I went to Whipkey’s Music in Atlanta and bought a Getzen Custom trumpet in 1999 with the .462/.464 interchangeable tuning slides. I played the bigger slide until on a Temptations/Four Tops run down in Charenton, Louisiana, when Chip Crotts (he was lead trumpet with Maynard Ferguson’s band in 1998) picked it up, ripped a phrase and then declared that he could NEVER play lead with that larger bore! So, I went to the .462 slide and have it to this day.

My flugel was purchased at Giardinelli’s music shop in New York City in the fall of 1977, and is a Yamaha Pro Model YFH731, and it, with a Giardinelli 6F mouthpiece, has been my sole flugel setup! I have never heard a better sounding flugel or flugel piece, and that horn is my soul without a doubt.

As far as trumpet pieces go, I have run the gamut from Giardinelli and Schilke in the ’70s and ’80s to Warburton and Marcinkiewicz since then. Terry Warburton and I are tweaking a piece that is between his stock 4 and 5 rim size. For lead I stay pretty shallow—“ES,” or “S”—on Warburton mouthpieces. The great New York trumpeter Don Harris (Lead with Tower of Power in ’97) let me copy his Marcinkiewicz that started out as a Bob Findlay model with Joe Marcinkiewicz’s version of a Bach 3C rim on it. With this copy I survived the World’s Greatest Singers Tour with the Temps, Tops, O’Jays, and Whispers in the summer of both ’03 and ’04, hernia surgery notwithstanding! We can find no evidence of a horn section other than the Tuscaloosa Horns ever doing that many shows in a row, back to back to back with Temps, Tops, and Jays. Brutal is not an adequate description!


SC: How did you learn how to arrange?

MA: Being an only child, and with a strong background in piano from such an early age, I would sit for hours listening to pop records (Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, Tower of Power, Chase, and Cold Blood, mostly) with sketch score books in my face, listening to the horn parts with first one side of the stereo cut off then the other so the parts were easily discernible. I studied those whopper chord symbols, and over time learned what a “C13b9#11” sounded like under my fingers on the piano. Again we had many working bands during my high school years that allowed me to hone my skills as an arranger because there were so many great horn bands that we were like kids in a candy store learning all this stuff.

As my studies progressed, I was introduced to the world of studio arranging/recording in the real world quite by accident– (there is a great account of this on the Tuscaloosa Horns website). In the summer of 1980 we decided to call our original four-piece section the Tuscaloosa Horns, and that was the beginning of something special for all of us that continues to this day.

Once we made that scene in Birmingham, we began to take off musically in every way. These producers basically let us write whatever we heard as being a complimentary horn chart to the rhythm/vocal arrangements on countless commercial projects for a period of seven or eight years starting around 1979. I actually co-wrote the very first 30-second TV opening for HBO. We had the world by the tail and planned to take it over during those days, as we were learning how to write, how to play in the studio setting, and we were making contacts all over the country through Boutwell Studios, The Music Place, Sound of Birmingham, and Shamblin Sound in Tuscaloosa.

Then came the Synclavier and Kurtzweil keyboards that sampled all the sounds of the music world, and our recording dynasty folded. Overnight, nearly. That forced our hand to look to the live stage.


SC: How did you start working with big-name acts, like The Imperials, The Temptations, Kenny Rogers, and others? Are there some favorite group or groups that you like working with?

The Tuscaloosa Horns near Atlanta for a Four Tops concert, July 2015.

The Tuscaloosa Horns near Atlanta for a Four Tops concert, July 2015.

MA: The Tuscaloosa Horns, while still cranking out a few projects in the summer of ’84, got a call from a Birmingham percussionist, Michael Panepento, that was on the Motown Reunion Tour with the Temptations and Four Tops. He knew me from the Boutwell sessions and we had worked together in a band or two as well. He told me simply: “Mart, get your best ten players, as the “TNT” show is coming into Birmingham in a few weeks. If they like you, they will use you when they are in the area in the future.”

Mart Avant with Barney Floyd at a Temptations show.

Mart Avant with Barney Floyd at a Temptations show.

That single conversation launched a life relationship with the Tempts, Tops. Word of mouth got out about us within a few years to include all the other acts that we are family with right now—the O’Jays, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, Natalie Cole, Frankie Valli, Wayne Newton, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Kenny Rogers, Fabian, Lou Christie, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Rydell, and even a Barry Manilow production for good measure. The Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Glenn Milller Orchestra, Bill Tole’s Dorsey bands, and many other jazz groups look to the “Thorns” when they are in our range. From that first show, we have seen years that afforded us 50-60 shows with just the Temps and Tops, with all the others sprinkled in. According to these groups, we bring a vibe, an exuberance, and an execution of their sometimes brutally unforgiving books that is unmatched in the country. I am exceedingly proud of that designation.


SC: What about the Night Flight Jazz Quintet and the Night Flight Big Band? What are some of the highlights from these groups?

MA: My Night Flight Jazz Quintet groups started in the early ’80s as I was called to do many wedding receptions and other events around Tuscaloosa/Birmingham.

The Night Flight Big Band

The Night Flight Big Band

In 2000 I took over a rehearsal band format at a great jazz club in Birmingham called Ona’s Music Room. We called that group the Night Flight Big Band, and we are together even now. We have a standing first Wednesday night of the month date there to simply pass out charts, read them, and have a blast. We do private parties, receptions, and big events out of that venue, and its nucleus is again the Tuscaloosa Horns. Killer band for sure. 


SC: How does it feel to be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame? What are your most significant achievements that you are proud of?

MA: One of the co-founders of the THorns, the immensely talented author, educator, trumpeter and pianist, Chris Gordon, spearheaded the effort to get us Music Achiever status with the Alabama Music Hall of Fame a few years back. For me to be the main organizer of our group, it gives me a sense of humility in that Alabama has produced some of the most accomplished musicians in the world and we are on a list with them! When we are onstage and Ron Tyson or Otis Williams of the Temptations, or Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, or Eddie Levert of the O’Jays turns to us and tells the audience “Ladies and Gentlemen, the greatest horn section in the country, the Tuscaloosa Horns!!” it makes all the phone calls, e-mails, delicate negotiations, personnel juggling, lodging, and travel preparations all worthwhile. And somehow I have maintained enough trumpet face to stay up there with them.


SC: Who are some of your favorite musicians?

MA: As far as favorite musicians and albums go, you could plant me on an island with the Michel Camilo Big Band CD (Caribe), some Steely Dan (the album Aja, possibly,) and some Natalie Cole tracks from her impossibly hip and classiest-in-history show book, and I would be just fine, thank you.


SC: What is your sound concept?

MA: I found that early on, to be able to get work in the trumpet world, at least with my mostly pop/jazz calendar, I needed to be both a decent lead player and also a jazz player that could grab the solos as well. This probably explains my love for the flugel, as I have always gone for a brilliant, high-end cutting lead sound on the trumpet and let the flugel be my alter ego for the dark, sexy solo color. Many players are content to keep that color on their trumpets by using a really big, deep piece, but that’s not me. Very few of those cats can make that work on a lead book. There certainly are exceptions, but mostly no.

I have always practiced both trumpet and flugel, and I devote at least one third of my allotted time on the flugel to be able to switch back and forth without difficulty. I find that the flugel helps focus me for more lead, as it somewhat refreshes my buzz, often at critical times during a show.

I have always tried to include the basics (to me) in my practice regimen. One simple four-page exerpt has helped me maintain finger speed and dexterity since my early 20s—that is from the John McNeil book “Jazz Trumpet Techniques.” He simply devised a set of low- to mid-range patterns to exercise the fingers, and I can tell in half a set whether I have hit those patterns or not over the previous week’s work. They are absolute finger busters, but when you finish a page, your fingers have the burn, not your corners! Buzzing with the piece only (I use the B.E.R.P. which is a great tool on or off the horn) using the Stamp “Warm-ups” method is a great help to me. It is a great way to power through a reluctant vibrating surface if I’ve had a strenuous last gig or series of shows. I also feel that Clark “Technical Studies” and Charles Colin “Lip Flexibilities” have to be visited on a regular basis if you are going to keep that good foundation going. I am all about the P.E.T.E. from Warburton to work your chops when you can’t get the horn out as well.


SC: How do you keep getting high-quality gigs, year after year?

Mart Avant with Blue Lou Marini after a James Taylor concert

Mart Avant with Blue Lou Marini after a James Taylor concert

MA: A word about maximizing your ability and visibility as a player—I can tell you from decades of experience that I have been hired, retained, and referred to for countless gigs for both me as a solo/section player, and our horn section, the Tuscaloosa Horns, as principal contractor, for one overwhelming reason that actually has very little to do with our abilities as technicians, although it is a given that you have to be an A-lister to get those repeat calls! It is that I have developed the ability over my career to be able to do some seemingly simple things—get along with people, make them comfortable around you, add ENERGY to their stage, and be positive and upbeat. You have no clue how many top-shelf acts have come to me during or after a performance and remarked, “you guys look like you’re having fun, you’re smiling, moving, hitting your steps, and THEN you go about Killing the show!” So many times players that are way better than me get one call and then dumped off that list because they have a dour, ill persona about them, and seem to only want to get the show done, and grab the money. Trust me, the money will come if you practice these traits. It has worked for the section and me for 30-plus years.

The Tuscaloosa Horns with the Temptations on “Standing on the Top” 

SC: What do you hope to do in the next 5 years?

MA: In the next 5 years, I hope to infuse enough new blood into the Tuscaloosa Horns to continue our improbable journey that began with a simple phone call from Panepento back in ’84.


SC: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Mart!

Mart Avant with wife Donna at the restaurant Commander's Palace after a performance with the Mighty O'Jays at Jazz Fest New Orleans 2015

Mart Avant with wife Donna at the restaurant Commander’s Palace after a performance with the Mighty O’Jays at Jazz Fest New Orleans 2015

MA: Thank you, Stan, for allowing me to share my thoughts, my accomplishments, and my philosophies concerning this curious piece of plumbing that we are all so devoted to, and this wonderful world of music that it affords us. All the best to all of you, and I hope that sharing my thoughts will help or inspire even a few of you to keep on keeping on.

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Interview with Steve Hendrickson, former Principal Trumpet of NSO

Steve Hendrickson with President Bill Clinton

Steve Hendrickson with President Bill Clinton, 2000

Steven Hendrickson is the former Principal Trumpet (and now Assistant Principal) of the National Symphony Orchestra. He graduated from Iowa’s Luther College in 1973 with a degree in music and philosophy. Further study followed with some of the world’s leading brass players, including Adolf Herseth, William Scarlett, and Arnold Jacobs. Before joining the NSO in 1982, he was a leading freelance musician in Chicago, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera, and the Chicago Brass Ensemble, while working as a broker on the Chicago Stock Exchange. He has appeared as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra performing Bach, Vivaldi, Arutunian, Persichetti, and, most recently, the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. His 2006 recording for MRS Classics features works from the Baroque to the contemporary. Accompanied by organist William Neil and pianist Myriam Avalos-Teie, the recording includes compositions by Haydn, Copland, Schnittke, and others. Mr. Hendrickson is active in the Washington area as a recitalist and chamber musician, and serves on the faculty of the music department at the University of Maryland.

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B-flat Trumpet: Bach 37 (large bore)
C Trumpet: Bach 229 L, 25 H leadpipe (most orchestral repertoire)
D Trumpet: Yamaha D/E-flat 6610 (useful for Stravinsky Pulcinella, Gershwin Piano Concerto in F, some high passages in Mahler 9th and opening of Mahler 5, Beethoven 7th and the end of 9th, lyric solo in Shostakovich 1st)
E-flat Trumpet: Schilke E3L
G Trumpet: Schilke G1L (Messiah and Mussorgsky/Ravel “Goldenberg and Schmuyle”)
Piccolo Trumpet: Schilke P-54
Rotary Trumpet in C: Monke
Laskey 80-C; Bach 7D (piccolo); Schilke 11 (for “emergencies”)


Interview with Steve Hendrickson

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis 

SC: Steve, thanks so much for agreeing to answer some questions about trumpet playing and your career! To begin with, I wonder what were your earliest musical experiences? 

SH: I came from a very musical family. My Father, Kermit, was a junior high school band director and a fine trombonist. My Mother taught piano students and sang. All my four siblings played and sang music.


SC: Who taught you to play trumpet? 

SH: I started on cornet in the fifth grade with an Olds Ambassador instrument.  My Father was my main teacher.  I attended Luther College in my hometown of Decorah (Iowa).  It is a fine music school.  There I studied trumpet with Robert Getchell.  He was an encouraging teacher who emphasized clean playing, rhythmic stability and a light tone that was good for band playing—which is what I performed mostly in.  Our band was very good and enjoyable.

Record jacket for the 1951 CSO recording of "Pictures at an Exhibition"

Record jacket for the 1951 CSO recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition”


SC: Who have been some of your most influential teachers? 

SH: When I started, my dad gave me pointers.  Also, in the back of my head was the Chicago Symphony’s recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition.”  My parents played the CSO 1951 “Pictures” recording when I was a toddler.

In early high school years I became more serious on the trumpet when I found I could not hit a curve ball in baseball games!  My early recordings of solo trumpeters included Al Hirt, Adolph Scherbaum, Rafael Mendez and Armando Ghitalla.

I will say I loved Mendez for his bright tone and amazing technique. Doc Severinsen for his soaring bravura and brilliant tone.  Doc came to our high school in 1967 and soloed with our band.  It was an earth-shattering experience. Then I heard the flawless artistry of Maurice André.  I filled my mind with his playing style and emulated the tone and vibrato.      

In my junior year I did a one-month’s term in January in Chicago with Adolph (“Bud”) Herseth. It was five lessons.  My dad knew Bud as a fellow student at Luther in the 40s. Dad arranged the lessons, which was hard to do, since Bud didn’t teach much. My musical concepts were forever changed.  Hearing Bud play and teach was phenomenal.   I realized that I needed a bigger sound, dynamic range, “chops,” and musical color.  I was a bit discouraged, to be honest. 


SC: Then you moved to Chicago. What was your life like in Chicago? 

Steve Hendrickson and "Bud" Herseth

Steve Hendrickson and “Bud” Herseth, 1990

SH: In 1973 I got married, graduated from Luther and settled in Chicago to study more and pursue my dream of being a professional musician.  I had to make a living, so I worked at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE). I worked three years in the CBOE. I learned a lot about markets and the business world, and I was a broker in my last year there—I was on the floor buying and selling. I played in the Chicago Civic Orchestra for two seasons during this time from 1973 to 1975. The Civic is training orchestra of the CSO. I worked at the CBOE from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., which was perfect, since that allowed me to get to the Civic rehearsals at 4:00 p.m.  This experience, plus the wonderful coaching and teaching from Mr. Herseth, were the foundation of my trumpet career.

Will Scarlett

Will Scarlett, CSO Trumpeter

I also received valuable instruction from Charles Geyer who was only two years older than I was and a whiz of a player.  William Scarlett, however, was my most important teacher.  He was very positive when I had down times. He taught with Arnold Jacob’s philosophy. In studying with Mr. Scarlett, two things stand out: the first was practicing in low range to develop rich sound–playing in the low range with a fat trombone tone makes your tone better; the second was balanced practicing in general–if you have been playing a lot of high music, then practice in the low register; if you have been playing a lot of loud music, then practice softly; if you have been playing a lot of fast music, then practice slowly.  Balance is key.  Do not become one-dimensional.  Cover all the bases in playing by playing enough and not “too much.” I was also inspired by Scarlett’s musical playing, phrasing and tone. I could not have had a kinder mentor than Mr. Scarlett. I also had three lessons with Mr. Jacobs.  They were totally inspirational experiences.

I played as an extra with the Chicago Symphony many times.  This was during the Solti years.  I am on four recordings: the Solti recordings of Mahler Second and Bruckner Sixth; and the Abbado recordings of Mahler Second and Sixth Symphonies.  The CSO is a winning team and has pride and a strong work ethic.  The brass section, led by Bud (Herseth), Dale Clevenger, Jay Friedman and Arnold Jacobs were giants.  They played with such presence, personality and color. They inspired each other. And my playing would always bump up after a week with them. 


SC: What was your experience like, auditioning for an orchestral job? 

SH: I auditioned many times from 1974 thru 1982—about 18 times.  I was in many finals, such as Seattle, Pittsburg (twice), Boston (twice), Denver, Kansas City (twice), Chicago (two times), National Symphony Orchestra (twice), Grant Park, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  I was encouraged and frustrated.  Sometimes I blew it; other times, I played in a different way; or somebody just played better than I did.  I believe the NSO was the perfect position for me, because it allowed me to learn the repertoire and gain experience. As an assistant, I was not always under the gun. Maestro Rostropovich liked me, and the section taught me a lot. It was like an apprenticeship.

Mstislav Rostrovich was reason I captured the audition.  The section actually voted for George Recker, principal trumpet in the Opera House, next door (in the Kennedy Center), but Slava liked my musicianship.  After my first season I received tenure and was offered the co-principal position.

My performances on Handel’s Messiah and Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony were noted in my promotion.  Shortly after 1985, Mr. Sanchez had some health issues, and I performed as acting principal for two years.  To make a long story short, I became principal in 1988, while Adel (Sanchez) played as assistant principal. I continued as principal until last year when the NSO chose William Gerlach as principal.


SC: Do you have a philosophy on how an orchestral trumpet section can best function in terms of workload, roles, and interaction? 

SH: Leading a professional symphony trumpet section is a challenge.  One has to balance egos, workload, rotation, and many other things. While I have always worked with good fellows, there have been some tense moments and flaring tempers that needed to be dealt with.  I was not dictatorial, and I asked my colleagues for opinions or advice.  I tried to praise regularly and have everyone involved.  I gave out many good parts.  We had a section—not just a solo player with followers. 

The section was excellent before I came.  I replaced John DeWitt who went to Houston. Adel Sanchez played lead and was outstanding; then there was Dave Flowers on second, and Keith Jones as utility.  These players were very friendly, played great, and taught me a lot about playing in a major symphony orchestra.  I am indebted them all.


SC: Who have been your favorite conductors? Your favorite colleagues? 

SH: My favorite conductors include Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Lorin Maazel, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, Herbert Blomstedt, Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Neemi Jarvi, Erich Leinsdorf, Ivan Fischer, Charles  Dutoit,  Peter Maag, David Zinman as well as the NSO’s own music directors.  These were all outstanding and inspirational. 

NSO Trumpet Section with Maurice André,  1985: ( r.) Dave Flowers, Steve Hendrickson, Maurice André, Adel Sanchez, and Keith Jones.

NSO Trumpet Section with Maurice André, 1985: ( r.) Dave Flowers, Steve Hendrickson, Maurice André, Adel Sanchez, and Keith Jones.

My colleagues in the NSO have been a joy to be with.  Our section, Sanchez, Jones and Flowers were a riot with a hilarious sense of humor.  We had many social outings with conductors as well.  The NSO is a supportive orchestra.  Positive feedback is the norm.


SC: What has been your favorite repertoire? Your favorite project, recording, or tour (with or without the NSO)? 

SH: I have much favorite music to play in the orchestra.  I start with Mahler and his wonderful brass writing.  His music has so many haunting lyrical solos.  I include Strauss, Stravinsky, Wagner, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, Barber, and Ravel.  I also enjoy the classical repertoire of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and later Schubert, Schuman, Brahms, Dvorak, Sibelius.

During my tenure in the NSO, under Slava, I recorded many Shostakovich symphonies including 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 13.  

When Leonard Slatkin became Music Director in 1996, we recorded a Grammy winner with John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1.  

We also did Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 6. In 2008, Christoph Eschenbach became our Music Director.  Under him, we recorded Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F

My favorite tour was the 1990 tour to the Soviet Union.  Rostropovich was invited back after exile. There was tremendous press and international coverage. The Russian crowds went wild.  We were like rock stars! We did big repertoire including the Shostakovich Piano Concerto with trumpet with Ignat Solzhenitsyn as piano soloist. 

(l. to r.) Steve Hendrickson, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Mstislav Rostropovich

(l. to r.) Steve Hendrickson, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and Mstislav Rostropovich


SC: What are some of the important pillars of your trumpet philosophy? 

SH: As I mentioned before, the concepts of the CSO brass section were very influential to me. These concepts include playing with a full tone with a singing quality, a thick air column and a relaxed approach, physically.  Practice enough but not too much.  Do fundamentals every day.  Beautiful tone is most important.  Be a good steward of it. I teach those concepts to this day.

I tell students of mine they must be tough and bold to play the trumpet.  We have to come back from discouragement, off days, criticism, setbacks, tired chops, etc.  Your desire has to be to overcome these kinds of discouragements. If you lose that desire you are done as a serious trumpeter!

I have certain ideas about practice time.  As a working symphony player, I found early in my career that it is important to practice less.  For a while, I experimented with practicing as little as possible without losing quality.  Now I know the proper amount: unless the symphony schedule is very light I practice about an hour per day.  This includes fundamentals of routine for maintenance. 

When younger and auditioning more, longer practice is better.  Mr. Herseth would say practice long and hard.  I tried his plan and found it did not work for me. I would lose endurance and consistency.  I do not believe in fanatical practice habits.

I tell students of mine they must be tough and bold to play the trumpet.  We have to come back from discouragement, off days, criticism, setbacks, tired chops, etc.  Your desire has to be to overcome these kinds of discouragements. If you lose that desire you are done as a serious trumpeter!


SC: You have changed your position in the trumpet section recently. Can you speak to that change? 

SH: In 2011, I hit 60 years old and thought about moving assistant principal.  There are not many symphony lead players that keep playing principal after this time.  I was in good health, still playing well and reasoned that the time was ripe, before we hire a new assistant principal. 

In the summer of 2014 we hired a new principal trumpet in 25-year-old Bill Gerlach. This was after five auditions.  I actually played lead for three years after I made my decision to move over to assistant principal.  Mr. Gerlach is doing well and will have a long career in the NSO “hot seat.” It is an easy transition, as Bill is a nice fellow without a huge ego.  He often asks me for advice, which I am happy to give. 


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

SH:  In ten years, if I have good health, I will volunteer.  Be active in church activities, play my horn (I think), teach a little.  I will play a lot of golf, my main hobby.

Success in my career has been a result of excellent training, good fortune, dedication, natural talent and the support of my wonderful wife, Virginia.

Finally being a Christian, I have benefited from spiritual wisdom and guidance for my life and certainly for my career. I AM ONE LUCKY FELLOW!!!


SC: Well, thanks so much, Mr. Hendrickson for sharing your insights and experiences with us!


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