David Hickman is considered one of the world’s pre-eminent trumpet virtuosos, and has performed over 2,000 solo appearances around the world as a recitalist or guest soloist with over 500 different orchestras. His tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Greece, Russia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Australia, and virtually every major American city.
Hickman has released 19 solo albums encompassing a wide variety of repertoire—from cornet solos by Clarke, Levy, and others, to modern concerti by Planel, Baker, and Plog; from Baroque works of Bach, Telemann, and Hertel, to recital pieces by Chance, Dello Joio, and Mendez.
As a noted clinician and author, Hickman has presented workshops on over 400 major university campuses. He has taught at the Banff Centre for the Arts (13 summers), Rafael Mendez Brass Institute (32 summers), Bremen Trumpet Days, and dozens of music festivals. He has published over 40 articles, 250 scholarly editions of trumpet music, and several important trumpet and music texts including Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques, Trumpet Greats: A Biographical Dictionary, The Piccolo Trumpet, The Piccolo Trumpet Big Book, Trumpet Lessons With David Hickman (vols. I – V), and Music Speed Reading, a sight reading method used by hundreds of public school systems and universities or conservatories including The University of North Texas and The Juilliard School. His 500-page book, Trumpet Pedagogy: A Compendium of Modern Teaching Techniques, is the number one text for university study and is used at over 200 schools of music around the world. His 1,100-page book, Trumpet Greats: A Biographical Dictionary, contains biographies of over 2,200 well-known trumpeters from 1600 to the present.
David Hickman received his B.M. degree at the University of Colorado in 1972. He continued graduate work at Wichita State University where he was a Graduate Trumpet Teaching Assistant for two years. He taught at the University of Illinois from 1974 to 1982, and since then has been teaching at Arizona State University where he is a Regents’ Professor of Music. He has been a member of the Wichita Brass Quintet, Illinois Brass Quintet, Saint Louis Brass Quintet, Baroque Consort, and the Illinois Contemporary Chamber Players.
Hickman is founder and president of the acclaimed Summit Brass, a large all-star American brass ensemble that has released 11 CDs, toured the world, and hosted annual brass music institutes for thousands of aspiring musicians. He is also a past president of the International Trumpet Guild (1977-79). Mr. Hickman is a Shires Performing Artist. In 2005, Hickman established his own music publishing company, Hickman Music Editions. In addition, he established and directs the Rafael Méndez Library at Arizona State University (since 1993) through a generous gift from the Méndez family.
Hickman’s teachers include Harry E. McNees, Frank W. Baird, Oswald Lehnert, Walter J. Myers, Roger Voisin, Armando Ghitalla, and Adolph Herseth. His former students occupy or have occupied hundreds of orchestra, band, chamber music, and university positions.
Hickman received the International Trumpet Guild’s prestigious “Award of Merit” for outstanding service to the trumpet world in 2005, and in 2017 was awarded ITG’s highest award, the “Honorary Award,” for legendary status as a performer and teacher. He is the only person to have received both of ITG’s top awards.
Interview with David Hickman, untiring trumpeter, business man, innovator, and pedagogue
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: David, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. Your contributions to the trumpet world are amazing in so many different ways!
DH: My pleasure. Thanks for the nice compliment.
SC: How did you get your start in music and trumpet playing? Can you speak to some of your influences when you were young?
DH: I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska. . . Kimball, with a population of about 3,000 people. The town had one elementary school, one junior high, and one high school. The town band director was Harry McNees, whose main instrument happened to be cornet.
I decided to join the sixth-grade band because one of my best friends said that his parents wanted him to join. His grandfather passed down an old cornet to him, so I decided to play cornet, too. We figured we could sit together and have fun goofing off. The only problem was that he practiced, and I didn’t, so he was first chair and I was last. We sat clear across the room from each other!
I was thinking of quitting the band, but one day the director asked me if I wanted to take private lessons from him after school. Because I was sort of a struggling youth who was constantly in trouble for everything imaginable, I was very surprised that a teacher took an interest in me, so I asked my parents if they were willing to pay the private lesson cost of fifty cents per week for a thirty-minute lesson. Of course, they were thrilled to see me wanting to do ANYTHING positive, so they agreed immediately. McNees was the biggest influence on my career. Without his mentoring, teaching, and friendship, I think my career might have been making license plates at the state penitentiary! Soon, I was the best player in the band, and I began performing little solos for various things. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the attention I had been craving. . . but now it was positive attention.
The first trumpet album I ever owned was given to me as a birthday present by my grandfather. It was of Rafael Méndez, and I was amazed to hear what the trumpet could do. As a result, I decided that I wanted to be a professional soloist like Méndez. Of course, I could never attain the level he did. . . but who can?!
SC: Well, you have gotten closer than most of us, David! Why did you decide to study trumpet at the schools you did? What was your impression of your teachers (and fellow students) at this time?
DH: When I graduated from high school in 1968, very few universities offered performance degrees at the bachelor’s level. My parents could not afford to send me to some of the top conservatories, and I doubt that I played well enough to get into one of them. In looking around, the University of Colorado in Boulder (only 150 miles from my hometown) was the best choice. I studied with Dr. Frank Baird. He straightened out a lot of weaknesses in my playing. Several of the graduate students at CU were amazing, and became good friends and inspiring colleagues. They included Gerald Endsley, Ritchie Clendenin, and Bryan Goff, so I always had strong competition. By the time I graduated, I had won numerous state, regional, and national solo competitions, as well as principal chair of the National Repertory Orchestra (in the summers of 1971 and 1972).
I selected Wichita State University for my master’s degree because I knew that Dr. Walter Myers was a respected teacher and player, and the graduate trumpet assistantship I received included playing in the faculty brass quintet (Wichita Brass Quintet) and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. I also taught eighteen private students, all music majors, which gave me a lot of teaching experience. True, I think I could have received full scholarships to several top conservatories, but by this time I wanted to focus on a solo career. All of the conservatories were centered around orchestra playing. While at WSU, I won several more prestigious solo competitions, began releasing LP recordings with orchestra, and was selected as the National Trumpet Symposium’s “Young Artist,” which involved performing a full concert of concertos with orchestra during the 1973 NTS in Denver.
SC: How do you compare studying music in the 1970s to now?
DH: It’s pretty much the same, but students these days have quick reference to recordings and videos. Also, nearly all universities now offer performance degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctorate levels, so there is more competition and performing opportunities at schools. There are also tons of summer opportunities to study with leading performers.
SC: Which trumpeters have been your favorites over the years?
DH: Wow, there are so many. When I was in elementary and junior high school, my favorites were Rafael Méndez, Al Hirt, and Doc Severinsen. . . all of whom are still my favorites. In high school, I began to listen to Roger Voisin, Adolf Scherbaum, Armando Ghitalla, Maynard Ferguson, and early Maurice André. These days, I also enjoy listening to lots of recordings and performances by Timofei Dokshitser, Derek Watkins, Ronald Romm, Allen Vizzutti, Eric Aubier, Arturo Sandoval, Reinhold Friedrich, Matthias Höfs, Jens Lindemann, Sergei Nakariakov, Philip Smith, Allan Dean and several others.
One of my other teachers was Adolph Herseth, who I studied with on a monthly basis for eight years. Hearing him in the Chicago Symphony was very inspiring!
SC: I remember when I was a student at the University of Alabama in the 1980s, our library had only a few trumpet recordings. . . a couple of Maurice André and one of you. You were my role model for a few of the basic repertoire pieces. Thanks! As a performer, what have been your favorite projects? If you had to pick only one of your recordings for the future library, which one would it be?
DH: You are too kind! I think that I enjoyed performing the Summit Concerto by Michael Conway Baker the most. Michael is a Canadian composer who I got to know during the early 1990s, and I commissioned this 20-minute work from him. I recorded it with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus (OH) with Dr. Timothy Russell conducting, and also performed it with several orchestras around the country. However, my artists management had difficulty convincing conductors to program this work because many thought it was too romantic. I think they wanted this new piece to sound more modern, even though audiences loved this work. It is available on a CD titled “Three Trumpet Concertos” (Summit Records), which also features the first recording of Tony Plog’s Concerto for Trumpet and Brass Ensemble (recorded with the Summit Brass) and Robert Planel’s Trumpet Concerto (with the Naples Philharmonic). I think this album best represents my playing of all of my recordings.
SC: You started the Summit Brass, a 15-piece all-star ensemble that has been going for more than thirty years. I remember seeing you perform with it in 1989 and 1991 (when I was in the National Repertory Orchestra, almost twenty years after you!). What have been your biggest challenges and rewards from your time at the helm of this amazing brass ensemble?
DH: I started Summit Brass during the summer of 1984, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1986 that were gave our first concerts. Since it is a non-profit corporation, the biggest challenge has always been fundraising. We are fortunate that the family of Rafael Méndez has supported scholarships for students to attend our annual Rafael Méndez Brass Institute in Denver each summer for the past ten years.
Summit Brass has toured the world, released eleven CDs, and performed at such venues as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Alice Tully Hall in NYC, the Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, and in many hundreds of cities. I think the most satisfying thing about it is the long-term relationships the members of the group have had with each other. Through Summit Brass, many of the leading brass stars of the world are my best friends. Summit Brass has also helped develop the repertoire for this type of group.
SC: Perhaps your biggest contribution to the trumpet world has been your teaching.
DH: I think you are right, Stan. Teaching has been the center of my career for over forty-five years. I take great pride and gratification from seeing hundreds of my former students land significant jobs with major orchestras, chamber groups, bands, and universities. In fact, about thirty of my former students were able to be at this year’s ITG Conference in Hershey, PA, and performed a tribute concert in my honor to recognize the Honorary Award given to me by the ITG. It was a fantastic concert, put together with only one rehearsal (!), and I had a huge smile on my face the entire time.
SC: I do wish I could have seen that concert. I bet it was amazing! What teaching ideas of yours do you hope will be the most lasting?
As for what teaching idea I hope will continue through my students and theirs, I would have to say the word “pedagogy.” Pedagogy is the study of various teaching methods, and my book, Trumpet Pedagogy, stresses that there is no single way to teach an instrument. Each student has a unique set of skills, physical set up, and musical awareness. Forcing all students to play exactly like the teacher will result in the majority of students failing. A good teacher knows several ways to approach physical and musical problems, and can help each student find the best way for them. . . even if it is contrary to their own.
SC: A few years ago, you helped design a five-valve trumpet with Clifford Blackburn. Can you tell me about this instrument and why it is important?
DH: Back in the mid-1970s, I was fortunate to briefly study with Roger Voisin and Armando Ghitalla. Both of them played C trumpets with an extra (ascending) valve that cut off part of the leadpipe or tuning slide to raise the key of the instrument to D. They showed me all sorts of musical passages in the repertoire where the fourth valve could make trills, fingerings, or intervals easier. The advantages of the four-valve trumpet were instant and amazing. Of course, Voisin’s trumpet was made many decades ago by the French company, Thibouville-Lamy, which no longer makes instruments. Ghitalla had a similar instrument made by William Tottle in Boston, but Tottle had retired, and later died in 1976.
I took photos and measurements of Ghitalla’s C/D trumpet to a talented brass repairman named Ron DiVore at the University of Illinois where I taught from 1974 to 1982. DiVore made a four-valve C trumpet for me that worked quite well, and I performed on this instrument for several years. (One of my albums for the Crystal Records label, “David Hickman with Eric Dalheim,” has a photo of me playing this instrument on the cover. I use the instrument on the Dello Joio Sonata contained in the album.) The only reason I stopped playing this instrument was because the bore sizes of the trumpet (a Bach large bore C) and the rotary (4th) valve (off of a French horn) did not match well. The instrument felt “stuffy.” However, I knew that if the bore sizes could be made to work together, the instrument would be fantastic.
I made a design of a five-valve C trumpet in 2011. It took me a couple of years to develop accurate drawings and to perfect the design. The fourth valve was designed to lower the pitch one-half step, placing the trumpet in B-natural. The fifth valve was designed to cut off some tubing, raising the overall pitch a whole step to D. If the fourth and fifth valves are added at the same time, the pitch goes up a half-step to D-flat. Thus, the instrument can play in D, D-flat, C, and B-natural, but it is mainly a C trumpet.
I showed my drawings to Cliff Blackburn in 2014, and he liked the concept. He began building the trumpet within a couple of months, but wanted to change some of my designs, which ultimately improved the instrument a great deal. We worked on the prototype, adjusting bore sizes (it has a progressive bore) and valve slide lengths until we came up with an instrument that played extremely well. To our surprise, it plays in-tune well enough for any of the four key centers to be set by locking down the forth and/or fifth valves, and playing entire passages in either D, D-flat, C, or B.
Cliff and I presented a lecture-demonstration on the instrument during the 2015 ITG Conference. I also made two 20-minute videos of me playing various orchestral passages on the instrument. To date, Blackburn Trumpets has built numerous five-valve C trumpets that are being used by professional orchestral trumpeters and soloists. Like any radical idea, change by the masses is slow. . . similar to the gradual adaptation of double and triple horns over the past 150 years.
SC: What do you think your single most important contribution has been?
DH: Hard to say. I categorize my main contributions into eleven areas: performing as a soloist; recording artist; teacher; brass quintet performer; founder and president of Summit Brass; founder, president, and once owner of Summit Records; one of the founders, presidents, and conference hosts of ITG; founder (through the generous support of the Méndez estate) of the Rafael Méndez Library at Arizona State University; founder and owner of Hickman Music Editions; instrument designer and consultant with Blackburn Trumpets and SE Shires Trumpets; author. I suppose history will decide in time, but I feel that my teaching is the most important contribution because it can affect several generations of trumpeters directly and indirectly.
SC: What advice do you have for young trumpeters today?
DH: Stick with it. Never give up. Embrace the concept of “pedagogy” by trying different approaches to every problem. Eventually, you will succeed.
SC: What do you like to do when you’re not playing or teaching the trumpet?
DH: My wife, Miriam, and I are super movie buffs and love to travel. We also enjoy our two dogs and two cats. I used to be very much into offroad Jeeping and enjoying the Arizona desert, but I have had to give that up for health reasons.
SC: Well, thanks so much for your time, David. It has been a pleasure!
DH: Thanks, Stan. We all appreciate what you do!
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