In 2012, I did a few projects with Tia Wortham, a bassoonist in the U.S. Navy Band, a soprano and a dear friend. One of those projects was an early version of one my own compositions with text by T.S. Eliot. I later had to change that text–which was adapted from his poem “Little Gidding.” The estate of T.S. Eliot did not want his poems set to music. “But!” I replied, “what about the Broadway musical Cats?” Haha. No…I didn’t actually bring that up to the estate. I wasn’t going to earn billions of dollars on my little composition like Andrew Lloyd Weber did with Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Instead, I re-texted the music. But I do still have a recording of the Eliot version of my piece, from when I presented a clinic at the Levine School of Music summer string camp in 2012. The pianist is John Healey.

I also performed a recital with Tia at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. In that recital, we performed Henry Purcell’s “To Arms” from the music he composed for Thomas Shadwell’s play, The Libertine. Here are some brief excerpts from that performance–brief, because I tried to edit out my bad notes! It’s hard to play note-perfect on the natural baroque trumpet. I enjoyed doing a careful “walk on” at the beginning, but I think this could be even more dramatic in my body language (less careful) if I tried this in the future.

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An extreme solo

In 2012, one of my big projects was to work on and perform the Luciano Berio Sequenza X for trumpet and piano resonance. It’s basically an unaccompanied, avant-garde trumpet solo, but there is a piano to help resonate what the trumpet is doing. The piano uses various combinations of pedaling and depressing keys (but never sounding notes with the hammers).

Meg Owens, who ran the contemporary music ensemble at George Mason University, invited me to perform this piece on one of their concerts. I prepared for about six months, which, in my opinion, is not enough. I believe the piece probably needs about nine to 12 months of solid practice to start really sounding good.

One of the features of the Sequenza X is its use of “doodle tongue.” ┬áBerio was inspired by jazz trumpeter Clark Terry’s doodle tonguing. In order to successfully play the doodle passages in the Berio, however, the performer has to get the doodle tongue a lot crisper.

Some notable performers of this piece have been Thomas Stevens, the former principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who commissioned and premiered it. As to premiering it, Gabriele Cassone, famed Italian soloist, also makes this claim. As I understand it, Cassone actually worked with Berio to help shape the composition of the piece. William Forman, an American-born trumpeter teaching in Berlin, made a notable recording. Chris Gekker told me that he performed the East Coast premier of the Berio. He also related to me that the piece benefits from using a microphone to pick up the delicate resonation of the piano. When I performed it at GMU, this is what I did also, and I heartily recommend it for anyone else.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a recording of this performance, but I encourage you to listen to one of the commercial recordings this extreme piece of our literature.

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