Interview with James David, composer

James M. David, composer

Dr. James M. David (b. 1978) is an internationally recognized composer who currently serves as associate professor of composition and music theory at Colorado State University and is particularly known for his works involving winds and percussion.  His symphonic works for winds have been performed by some of the nation’s most prominent professional and university ensembles.  His compositions have been presented at more than fifty national and international conferences throughout North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.  Among the distinctions David has earned as a composer are an ASCAP Morton Gould Award, the National Band Association Merrill Jones Award, national first-place winner in the MTNA Young Artists Composition Competition, two Global Music Awards, and national first-place winner in the National Association of Composers (USA) Young Composers Competition. Commissions include projects for Joseph Alessi (New York Philharmonic), John Bruce Yeh (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Zachary Shemon (Prism Quartet), the Oasis Quartet, BlueShift Percussion Quartet, Gerry Pagano (St. Louis Symphony), The International Saxophone Symposium and Competition, The Playground Ensemble, and the Atlantic Coast Conference Band Directors Association.
As a native of southern Georgia, Dr. David began his musical training under his father Joe A. David, III, a renowned high school band director and professor of music education in the region.  This lineage can be heard in his music through the strong influence of jazz and other Southern traditional music mixed with contemporary idioms.  He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia and completed his doctorate in composition at Florida State University under Guggenheim and Pulitzer recipients Ladislav Kubik and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  His music is available through Murphy Music Press, C. Alan Publications, Wingert Jones Publications, and Potenza Music and has been recorded for the Naxos, Mark, GIA WindWorks, Albany, Summit, Luminescence, and MSR Classics labels.

For more information about James David, visit  

Interview with composer James M. David. The interviewer is Stanley Curtis.

SC: Jim—thanks for agreeing to do an interview for my blog!

JD: My pleasure, Stan!  I always appreciate the chance to share my thoughts about composing with my colleagues.

SC: You are composing a piece for me and a consortium* of other trumpeters commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. I’m excited about that! 

*if the reader would like more information about joining this consortium (at the time of this writing), here is the link:

JD: Yes, it’s a sonata for trumpet and piano with the working title of “Moon Stories.”  My intention is that it will be a piece that would work well for a college trumpet recital, either a student or a faculty member. It should be around twelve to fifteen minutes and have a nice variety of technical and expressive playing. In the spirit of Hindemith, this is part of an ongoing series of sonatas for hopefully every major instrument that I hope to complete over the next five years. So far, I’ve done violin, bass trombone, alto saxophone, and clarinet.

SC: You play the trombone and have written a body of literature for the trombone. What trombone players have you written for?

JD: Trombone has been a part of my life for almost thirty years and I’ve been very privileged to write for some of the best trombonists in the world.  I’ve done three commissions for Joe Alessi (principal trombone with the New York Philharmonic) including most recently for an incredible new group called the Aries Trombone Quartet.  It’s made up of Alessi, Ian Bousfield (formerly principal with the London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic), Jim Markey (bass trombone with the Boston Symphony), and Jeremy Wilson (formerly assistant principal with Vienna and now professor at Vanderbilt University).  

SC: Is writing for the trumpet the same for you—only up an octave?

My oldest brother is a trumpeter, so it’s an instrument that I’ve loved for a long time.  I also worked with the amazing Fred Mills and many great guest trumpeters while I was a student at the University of Georgia, so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what sounds good for the instrument.  One of the real joys of composing is embracing what makes all of the instruments special and the unique community of musicians that support them. Trumpet is so drastically different from all of the other brass instruments, so I think my approach will be unique compared to my other sonatas.

SC: You teach composition at Colorado State University, and you are an active composer at large. Can you talk about your development as a composer and your niche that you feel comfortable with?

JD: I started composing almost as soon as I could read music, which was in the sixth-grade band.  Of course, I had no idea what I was doing and wrote a lot of terrible things, but composition is just like everything else in music: if you practice it, eventually you’ll get better at it.  I studied pretty much any score and recording I could get my hands on and wrote constantly all through high school. College was tough because I was splitting my time between practicing, composing, and my other studies.  Eventually, I decided that composing was my true calling and I decided to devote my full efforts to studying it. 

Jazz was a huge part of my background, and learning to improvise was a huge help to developing my voice.  I studied jazz composition and arranging under Sammy Nestico, and I quote him all the time in my students’ lessons now.  A lot of my other influences were the big twentieth century composers like Bartok, Stravinsky, and Copland, plus later people like Crumb, Ligeti, Berio, and Messiaen.  More recently, I’ve embraced my own brand of tonality that I think bridges the type of jazz language from people like Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner with the pandiatonicism of more recent tonal composers like Lauridsen or Whitacre.

As far as a niche for myself, I really like writing for unusual combinations of instruments and for instruments that need more repertoire.  Winds, brass, and percussion are my natural home anyway, and it seems like these communities are constantly seeking new music by living composers.  Writing for wind band also helps my music reach all of these musicians and increases my understanding of all the challenges associated with winds and percussion.  

SC: As you have been composing this sonata for trumpet and piano, what has been your inspiration and structural approach?

JD: Well, each of the three movements will take on a different mythological figure associated with the moon.  The first movement will depict Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt, and will use quick, darting motives that involve fast tonguing and slurred passages.  The slower middle movement will be optionally played on flugelhorn and deals with Japanese and Chinese moon imagery.  Here, the fascinating, yet cold, harmonies of the funeral music known as Gagaku contrast against the warm and lyrical voice of the flugelhorn.  The final movement is inspired by the Mayan moon goddess Ix Chel.  Associated with death and destruction, this goddess’ portrait will reference the rhythmically intense work “Sensemayá” by Silvestre Revueltas, one of Mexico’s greatest composers, combined with my own take on Afro-Caribbean jazz. 

Perfect fourths and fifths will also play a big role because, 1) those intervals are so indicative of the trumpet historically and 2) I couldn’t resist referencing the opening trumpet call from Richard Strauss’ “Zarathustra” used in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”! After all, the movie came out only a few months before Apollo 11.

SC: Sounds exciting! As your piece makes its way into the body of trumpet literature, what level and type of trumpeter are you writing for?

JD: I want the work to be playable by aspiring undergraduate trumpet students, but musically satisfying so that more experienced players will be interested as well.  While the piece should be technical and impressive to audiences, I hope that it will be idiomatic and put the trumpet on its best footing.  I think even the greatest performers appreciate when composers understand and utilize the physicality of their individual instruments.

SC: Do you have some other ideas for trumpet compositions in the future?

JD: Absolutely!  I think trumpet is one of the best instruments for a modern concerto with wind band, and I definitely want to write a trumpet concerto very soon.  I’d also love to do a work for trumpet and trombone with band or piano accompaniment.  The brass trio (trumpet, horn, and trombone) needs more repertoire as well, and I think I could contribute something there.

SC: I can’t wait! So, one of the questions I like to ask all of my guests on my blog is—where do you want to be, as a composer and person, in the next 10 years?

JD: Mostly I hope to be doing what I’m doing now, composing and teaching! Music is such a reciprocal and mutually satisfying field for composers and performers, and I just hope to reach as many new collaborators as possible.

SC: Thanks so much for our chat, Jim! I can’t wait to start working on your piece!

JD: Thanks for the opportunity and for your support of my music!  Looking forward to hearing the sounds of trumpets in my near future!!

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Young orchestral trumpeter Philip Hembree, singing with his trumpet

Philip Hembree

Philip Hembree joined the Colorado Symphony as Assistant Principal/2nd Trumpet in July of 2015. A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Philip holds degrees from Indiana University and Rice University. His primary teachers include John Rommel, Marie Speziale, Barbara Butler, Charlie Geyer, and Mark Hughes.
In addition to his tenure with the Colorado Symphony, Philip has appeared in guest roles with the San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, and the Houston Grand Opera. Philip is also an avid chamber musician, performing with the Colorado Symphony Brass Quintet regularly. He also specializes in new music and has worked with several composers to premier new works across the country.
Philip has served on faculty as Instructor of Music at the University of Northern Colorado since 2016. His primary duties include teaching studio lessons and Orchestral Excerpts class in addition to performing faculty recitals. Philip is also passionate about early education and was involved in the young children’s division of Rice University’s JUMP! program. He maintains a private studio in the Denver metro area teaching students of all ages. Philip’s former education experience includes; Guest Lecturer of Brass Technique for the Houston School for Performing and Visual Arts, and Adjunct Professor of Trumpet at Houston Baptist University. He has also presented masterclasses for students of Rice University, University of Colorado, and the National Trumpet Competition.
Philip can be heard on his solo album, “The Trumpet Sings: Lieder, Songs, and Art Pieces” and in ensemble on the album, “Studies in Nature: new music by Karim Al-Zand.” For more information, visit

C: Yamaha Artisan Chicago, Generation 1 C Rotary Trumpet: Schagerl Horsdorff Heavy
Bb: Bach Stradivarius, 43 Bell
Eb: Schilke E3-L
Piccolo: Schilke P7-4

Bb/C: Parke 145-275-24
Rotary: Yamaha 16E4
Eb: 7C (recordings only), Parke 145-275-24
Piccolo: Bach 7EW

Interview with trumpeter Philip Hembree

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: What was it like to grow up in Louisiana? Did you start your musical journey early on? 

PH: Growing up in Louisiana was wonderful as a child. I grew up in a fairly rural setting on 13 acres in Zachary, a town just north of Baton Rouge. This gave me plenty of room to explore, build small boats for our pond, design and fly remote controlled airplanes, and help care for our horses. The food and culture still lie close to my heart.
My musical journey began with piano in 6th grade. That is where I learned music theory and how to keep time. I then started playing trumpet and taking lessons privately in 8th grade, when my uncle let me borrow his high school trumpet. The band, however, did not need trumpeters at that time so I played baritone for a semester until the director switched me to trumpet (because I could play my entire chromatic scale, and they needed trumpets who could read music well). Then, in high school, the band needed horn players, so I played horn in the concert band for two years while studying trumpet privately and playing trumpet the jazz band. I eventually dropped other instruments after my sophomore year to focus exclusively on the trumpet.

SC: Who were your influences?

PH: My main influences were recordings of Philip Smith, Maurice André, and Håkan Hardenberger. Another big influence was my band director, Jason Venable, who encouraged me to pursue trumpet from an early age.

SC: When did you know that you wanted to be a trumpet player?

PH: During my junior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to major in music. I actually started college as a music education major, but after two years at Indiana, I decided that I wanted to perform on trumpet for a living. I grew up in a family of technical fields; my father and brother are Chemical Engineers, and my mother was a Cytotechnologist. I am the first in the family to pursue music vocationally, and my parents were very supportive of my path but instructed me that, “in order to be employable you must get to the very top of your field.”

SC: You went to Indiana University — so did I! I loved it. How did you find it as a place to
grow musically? You worked with John Rommel. What was he like as a teacher?

PH: Indiana University was a great undergraduate school for me, especially because there were 54 other trumpet majors when I entered as a freshman. This gave me plenty of competition and I was forced to always play to my highest ability in order to audition into the top ensembles. Musically, there were many ensembles at Indiana from which to choose. I was able to participate in the symphonies, wind bands, new music ensembles, and early music ensembles – all helping my development as a musician.

John Rommel, trumpet professor at the IU Jacobs School of Music

John Rommel is a great person and trumpeter, as well as an excellent instructor. I see his instruction as a mix between (Vincent) Cichowicz and (William) Adam, focusing heavily on musicality and breadth of sound. My sound began to open up under John’s teaching, since when I arrived he told me, “you sound like a 1920’s cornetist, not a trumpet.” Since that lesson, I began to shift my sound concept to the Chicago Style of playing, studying Bud Herseth, and Cichowicz. These concepts still lie at the core of my playing, even though I have made significant changes in the years since.

SC: Then, you went to Rice to study with Marie Speziale. And then a year later, Barbara
Butler and Charlie Geyer started teaching at Rice. I’d love to hear how those studios contrasted. Barbara and Charlie are particularly known for turning out a lot of orchestral players. Do they have a special way of teaching that helps?

PH: I was very fortunate to study with all three of these wonderful mentors. I entered Rice University, consequently turning down Northwestern’s offer of admission, knowing that Ms. Speziale was retiring in a year. I was glad to hear that, after I began at Rice, Barbara and Charlie were to succeed Ms. Speziale.
The largest contrast in the studio after the transition was the addition of an undergraduate trumpet program, since it was traditionally only six graduate students in size. The stipulation put upon the undergraduate trumpeters was that they were to be able to fit in and play at a similar level to the masters students. Barbara and Charlie also added two
positions over the next year, bring the studio number up to eight. I do not know what the current ratio is.

Marie Speziale, trumpet professor emerita at the Rice School of music

Under Ms. Speziale, we had one lesson a week, and she would sit in all of the orchestra rehearsals, coaching the trumpets from the balcony. Usually, the comments were to play out, and play clearly while leading the orchestra. She also organized the brass repertoire class, in which the entire brass section would meet every week to play through the major repertoire. I believe that this still occurs at Rice, since it continued during the transition.
Lessons with Barbara and Charlie were structured differently. Each week, we had a ninety-minute lesson with our main instructor (mine was Charlie), and a sixty-minute lesson with the other if we chose. I worked with Barbara on a semi-regular basis, and we addressed my technical playing. My lessons with Charlie consisted of running orchestral audition lists and playing section parts with him. This was probably because I had just been a finalist in the Atlanta Symphony 4th trumpet audition, and Charlie asked me what I wanted to work on. I responded, “win a job before the next year.” I ended up missing my goal by only a year, but more on that later.

Barbara Butler and Charlie Geyer, trumpet professors at the Rice School of Music

I often get asked what special way of teaching Barbara and Charlie have. They would likely respond with, “Nothing special – just common sense, honesty, and encouragement.” I learned that they both have extremely high standards, and will hold you to them. At the same time as pointing out every flaw, they will be a parental figure and encourage you to continually improve and persevere. In addition, they both explain clearly and directly what is required to hold a position in a major symphony, and if you want to become one of those trumpeters, you practice.
Barbara and Charlie also foster a spirit of competitiveness between the students, subscribing to the saying, “iron sharpens iron.” When you have so many great students in one place, you will find someone who excels at something you do not – thus the encouragement to sit down with them and learn that skill; then you must become better at it than they are. This competitive nature works very well because they encourage the students to remove their ego and simply learn. It would be hard to find any two teachers as humble as they are, which provides the students with great role models.

SC: Then you won Colorado Symphony, Assistant Principal/2nd. At a very early age, I
should add! How many big auditions had you taken up to this point? How would you advise young trumpeters wanting to win an audition? How should they prepare? What has it been like to play in the Colorado Symphony?

PH: By the time I won my job, I had attended about twenty-two high-profile, professional auditions: Three semi-finals, and one final round. I gave myself until I was 30 to win a job, or I would quit the trumpet and pursue a different career. Fortunately, I won my job at 25 and did not have to change careers.
It may be helpful to understand that winning an audition is much like playing a game; you must understand the rules in order to win. There are three pillars that are expected at a minimum, and they are: sound, time, and intonation. If you have a captivating sound, perfect time, and great intonation, you will surpass the vast majority of the people who show up for an audition. This is the easy part, since these pillars are fairly objective (note that everyone prefers a different sound, but will vote “yes” on a captivating one).
Next, you must play with an impeccable knowledge of the composers’ style on each excerpt. For example, research and listen to how fortissimo in Beethoven differs from Mahler, Stravinsky, or Copland; the same applies to note length, articulation, and shapes of notes. Show the panel that you have played this literature before and you know how it goes. On top of that, be a musician and have a plan for each phrase that you play in the audition – consequently, if you have a plan, nerves will lessen.

If you have a captivating sound, perfect time, and great intonation, you will surpass the vast majority of the people who show up for an audition.

After all of these concepts, you must be the best person on that given day, which means that your worst day must be better than anyone else’s best day. The harsh truth is that you are no better than your worst, and that in times of stress you will fall back to what is most prevalent in your playing. This means that every time you pick up your instrument you build a habit. Make it perfection of approach, not sloppiness or carelessness. The good news is, that no one plays their best in an audition, and we all make mistakes. I did not play my best when I won, and I chipped a few notes. We are all human, and perfection is unobtainable – the goal is to get as close as possible, and to make our worst better every day.
Preparation is a completely different ball game. Understand that you will eventually fail at an audition and that you have two choices. Either you continue as you always have, or you find out why you were eliminated and never allow yourself to become eliminated for that same reason. As for preparing the excerpts themselves, I separate them into three categories; 1) not learned/cannot play well, 2) good but inconsistent, and 3) perfect every time. Each excerpt starts in one of the three stations, then moves up as it improves. The goal is that by a month out from the audition, all of the excerpts are in the “perfect” or “good” category, with most in “perfect”.
Starting a month out from the audition, I shift my preparation to mock auditions and recordings. I number each excerpt (e.g., 1 – 40) and make lists (using a randomizer) of 5-10 excerpts each. I then play the list, and record it to listen to it the next day. I make sure that I cover all of the excerpts in one day (usually in 3 or 4 practice sessions). The next day, I will listen to each list and separate them into the categories listed above. I proceed to work on the parts that were not acceptable, and then pick a new list; this starts the process over.
By the time the audition arrives, theoretically I will have played all permutations of the list and will be ready for anything that comes my way.
Playing with the Colorado Symphony has been a great experience, and I have learned much since my first days on the job. It is a wonderful symphony and the musicians are generally easy to work with. We, of course, have our disagreements on issues, but they tend to resolve themselves in time.

SC: You teach at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. What is it
about teaching that you like? I understand you like teaching young players, too. Tell me about that.

PH: I do teach at UNCO. I enjoy teaching students to think, rather than just to play the trumpet. Teaching the trumpet is relatively easy, but producing students that can teach themselves is much more challenging. I constantly challenge my students’ thoughts on their own playing and on that of their peers, asking them to solve complex problems using their own ideas, and not by using simple regurgitations of mine.
My approach to teaching collegiate students is that of a guide, rather than a strict instructor demanding structure at every opportunity. That is not to say that I do not want them to structure their practices well – it means that I help them construct their own technical routines and suggest exercises to add and remove based on their current abilities. This is how I have approached the trumpet since my Masters at Rice and it has served me very well since.
Young students, by contrast, need much more structure. I teach beginners through high school at my home studio, and assign them a technical routine that I devise based on their progression. If the student shows the ability to reason well after a year or two with me, I will start to help them form a routine that they tailor for their specific needs. The high school student who I recently sent to Rice, and now studies with Charlie, was able to successfully do this.

SC: You just came out with a recording of vocal music for trumpet — “Philip Hembree:
The Trumpet Sings.” I just recently heard it and immediately fell in love with the concept, the arrangements and your playing. Give us a glimpse into the making of this recording. How can my readers listen to it?

PH: Thank you! “The Trumpet Sings: Lieder, Songs, and Art Pieces” is an album consisting of all vocal literature arranged for trumpet and piano, with cello featured on two tracks. The goal of these recordings is to show that trumpeters can and should perform works in the vocal repertoire on a regular basis. These works carry similar pedagogical and technical benefits to the vocalises of Bordogni, Concone, and Rachmaninoff. The difference is that these works all include text, that the musician must read in order to gain an understanding of the phrase shapes and articulations required by the different consonant and vowel combinations. I hope that this album will encourage the next generation of trumpeters to focus on musicality in addition to their technical studies.
“The Trumpet Sings” was made in the recording studio at the University of Northern Colorado over the span of four months, and five recording sessions. I spread out the recording process because of my performing job with the Colorado Symphony. It made for a very hectic semester of work, since I taught on Mondays, recorded on Tuesdays, and began rehearsals with the Symphony on Wednesday mornings, and performed concerts from Friday through Sunday. Preparing the music was the easy part – staying in recording shape while playing an orchestral job was difficult.
After scheduling the sessions, we rehearsed each piece about twice and then recorded it at a later date. The process we used for recording was that we played the entire piece top to bottom, while Greg (the recording engineer) and Melissa (my wife, and cellist on the CD) circled the questionable parts in the run. They would relay that information to us, and we would record over the sections in question, and occasionally just re-record the entire work – depending on length and complexity. This process lasted two hours for each session. During the editing sessions, we made every effort to use complete takes when we could in order to maintain the artistic integrity and natural flow of the music.
The album is available for digital download on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, CD Baby, Band Camp, and others. You can also stream the recordings on Spotify and Pandora. I have written out the parts for trumpet and piano, and they are available on my website.

One week until my Album releases!! Here’s a little known work by Shostakovich, entitled “Tender Girl Song,” from the movie The First Train. Originally written for two voices, we have arranged it for trumpet and cello an octave below the original.

Posted by Philip Hembree – Trumpet on Friday, September 7, 2018

SC: I should also mention that you have some wonderful double and triple tongue study books available on your website–I really think they’re great! So, Philip, what do you like to do when you’re not playing the trumpet?

PH: When I am not playing the trumpet I help my wife take care of our 4 month old daughter. Melissa and I enjoy hiking in the mountains of Colorado, especially the trails during wildflower season (early August). I grew up skiing at Winter Park (since I was 5 years old!), and every year I enjoy getting back on the slopes, since I now live within driving distance. I also enjoy cycling around the parks and trails by our house in Morrison – with Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks Amphitheater being two of my favorite rides.

SC: Any other words of advice for all those trumpeters trying to do what you do?

PH: Use your failures to your benefit. The best way to grow is to allow yourself to fail often; especially in your practice sessions. I know that if I do not miss notes in my practicing, then I am not taking enough risks. Practice so that your approach to playing is correct, not that it is artificially flawless. I am more afraid of being boring than of playing precisely – this does not mean that you should be sloppy. It means that I take every risk while practicing so that I make mistakes at home where I can address them. Perseverance in the face of failure is what will define your career; you can give up, or you can improve. I have failed more times than I can count, and it hurts every time. But, I get up and do better the next time.
Above all else, be a person that you want to be around. This is the hardest part about being a professional musician and an aspiring student, but will go the farthest when interacting with your peer and colleagues.

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