Trumpet mastery is like writing a fugue

Facsimile of Bach’ Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, beginning of movement III

Do you like fugues by J.S. Bach? I do. But writing a fugue is a compositional challenge, because you cannot just write anything for a subject and then expect the fugue to work out. Once you start putting the counter subject in, and then layering on a third voice, and maybe a fourth voice, each with its own countersubject, then you will have to go back and revise the subject, so that the imitative entries make sense. Then as you change the subject, the other entries have to change. If it doesn’t work out, then you have to revise again. Of course, this is even more true for a cannon (a stricter type of composition where there are no deviations from imitation).

By the way, if you want to really learn how to write a fugue, your best bet is to find an old book by George Oldroyd called “The Technique and Spirit of Fugue,” published by Oxford University Press and designed to help music students at Oxford write a fugue for their examination. Try to find this book in a good music library and make a copy for yourself, because it is out of print. 

But why is composing a fugue like gaining trumpet mastery? Because their are many psychological/pedagogical components to master. And once you start making an effort in one area, the other areas are affected and they will need redirecting. This process continues for the rest of your life. For me, the basic components of trumpet mastery, and trumpet satisfaction, can be divided up in this way:

  1. Awareness of the larger musical world as it was, as it is now, as it probably will become
  2. Awareness of yourself–your personality, your capabilities, your probable potential
  3. A goal to achieve: what niche do you want to occupy? This must be constantly revised as the realities set in. There should be an almost perfect match between the optimistic ideal and the practical necessities.
  4. A process to achieve that goal. This process must be full of time commitment, focus commitment, organizational commitment, a commitment to quality control and a commitment of effort. This is almost always made better by working with a great teacher
  5. A positive way to react to real results. Things will not happen the way you want. You will try and you will fail. In the failure, you will rise like a phoenix and try again (hopefully). This cycle can be very short: you practice a passage, and you fail. But you think about how you can do it better, then you try again. Thousands of times, until you get it. This cycle can be long: you perform a recital or an audition and you have an implosion. You want to hide under a rock, but you must crawl out and schedule another performance or audition and try again. The best is to keep your cycles of “failure/trying again” as short as possible, so that you can have a little more control. Your resiliency is key here. Each personality reacts to failure differently, but push yourself to optimism and happiness. This is really the reason I am doing a year-long Trumpet Happiness Project.

Most trumpet methods focus on number 4 (the process). This seems natural, since they assume that you already know the musical world and yourself and that you want to join the legions of working musicians who have gone before you into glorious orchestras and bands. You will need to constantly revise your goals to somehow connect with the realities of the musical world as it is today. What is it that people want from musicians? What is it that you think you can give to the world audience? What are your limitations now? How much can you improve to achieve your goal? Keep asking yourself these questions, just like Bach kept wondering about his counterpoint from beginning to end. The more you do this kind of recalculation, the more you can see the problems before you even get there. Just like Bach saw much of his composition in the whole before he finished–but if he didn’t, he had the technique to get himself out of the corner he painted himself into.









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.