A Testament to Somerset Music’s Past

Last week I had the pleasure of being hired by Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society to play in the band for their performances of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. I always enjoy playing for a musical and this one featured a proper lead trumpet book for me to sink my teeth into.

Although it’s not frequent for me to write about my gigs this one is of particular note for reasons beyond the music itself. On my way to the band call I was thinking about who was playing in the band for the coming week. It sprang to my mind that this band (full list below) featured three generations of musicians from the Somerset area. Luke Holman, the Musical Director, is an ex-pupil of mine from my teacher training days. He has recently graduated from RNCM and will be heading off to London to finish his studies next year. He was also taught by one of the wind players in the band, Kat Stevens. Both Kat and I were taught/conducted by Kieth Thomas, the trombone player, when we were young. He was my first brass teacher and also got me involved with both the Strode Saturday Morning Music Club and Somerset County Youth Concert Band. Another wind player in the band was Jamie Phippen, who conducted the Centre of Somerset Youth Jazz Orchestra, which I played in as a teenager. Jamie and I still regularly gig together with Kat in the function band DT8. Paul Denegri has been head of brass at Wells Cathedral School since 1986 and as well as being my teacher for three years he introduced me to the paid music scene around that time.

When pressed for a quote on the subject Luke said: “It’s a privilege to conduct your musical ideas in front of the teachers who encouraged you to explore those musical ideas in the first place.”

The reason I think this is of particular significance is that not only is it a real testament to the Somerset Music education infrastructure of times gone by, but it is also quite unlikely to be possible in the future. Unfortunately music education isn’t what it used to be, particularly in schools but also in community music projects. There are vastly fewer brass bands in Somerset than there were twenty years ago, the Saturday-morning music club in Shepton Mallet, which was responsible for the development of many of my peers, doesn’t exist any more because of funding cuts. On top of that, and more importantly, is that there is no-longer subsidy for instrumental lessons in schools. To the best of my knowledge and a quick check on the current Somerset Music website, they don’t even employ peripatetic one-on-one instrumental teachers any more. The closest thing is Whole Class Ensemble Tuition.

When I was at secondary school my teacher had a full timetable in both of the schools of mine that he attended, as well as other schools that I didn’t know about. Being a peripatetic music teacher was actually a viable career path. Nowadays it is down to enterprising self-employed musicians who want to teach to approach schools themselves and try to inspire children to take up instrumental lessons. Even in schools where I’ve had a number of pupils the school doesn’t or cannot provide orchestras or bands for them to play in and will not pay me to do it. Because of the lack of community music projects the children don’t get any ensemble experience and in a very short time parents realise that their lessons are both expensive and pointless. When I was fifteen years old I was playing my cornet for eight hours a week before personal practise. A single twenty-minute lesson per week is not going to produce the same results, and nor is WCET in my humble opinion. After discussing WCET with a colleague I can only conclude that it would be a great addition to a pre-existing infrastructure but that statistics show that by itself it is not an effective way to produce musicians in the longer term.

What at first seemed like an overwhelmingly positive article soon descends into a depressing snap back to reality. There are a lot of hard-working professionals around that want nothing more than to inspire the next generation to take up music for the immense proven benefits of its learning but with vital parts of the infrastructure gone, and the talk of GCSE music disappearing from some schools altogether, things are looking pretty bleak. Whatever the solution is to getting these people together and paying them a wage that reflects both their expertise and hard work, it has yet to be found or seriously discussed in a public forum. I’ve found myself in a position where I’m now earning more money from playing the trumpet than teaching it. I don’t even know whether I’m comfortable with that being the case but after the decade of poverty brought on by giving priority to teaching I’ve had enough.

~iii<0

All views stated above are my own and not reflective of those belonging to any mentioned parties.
Full list of band members:
Luke Holman, Musical Director
Nigel Dodge, Bass
Jonty Hedges, Drums
Matt Holmes, Keys
Mark Shelvey, Keys
Gill Lawson, Keys
Jamie Phippen, Winds
Kathryn Stevens, Winds
Jennifer Campbell, Winds
Keith Thomas, Trombone
Paul Denegri, Trumpet/Flugel
Myself, Trumpet/Flugel

Defining the range of the trumpet

Intro

For the most part the purpose of this article is as a reference. A lot of trumpet players love to talk about high notes. But there is also a lot of discussion about how to define these notes. At what point is it acceptable to start using terms like “Double High”? Is “High A” the one that sits a tone above the treble staff, or an octave higher than that? Some people believe that there is already an accepted terminology and that others just don’t know it. All I’m going to do here is explain the terms that I have gravitated towards from talking with other players for a long time and explain why I’ve come to these conclusions. My intention then is to stick to this formula in further writings, in my teaching, and general discussions.

System 1: Scientific Pitch Notation

Scientific Pitch Notation is a system based upon a standard 88-key piano. Although different manufacturers of electronic keyboards have produced instruments that recognise this system differently, the original system recognises the middle C on a piano as “C4”. All tones that ascend from this point until the next C are also designated with the number 4, for example the standard tuning note in an orchestra would therefore be A4. The following graphic shows how the transposed range of the trumpet would look when following this system. Now that it has been explained I will use it as a reference for the rest of the article.

I have included the F#3 as it is the lowest note on a standard trumpet, and G6 for reasons I’ll explain…

System 2: Supers, Highs, Pedals and Doubles

Having a numbered system is really nice if you want to be specific, but it’s not really what people use in every day conversation. “Did you know that the Michael Haydn Concerto goes all the way up to G6 on a nat? That’s like a Bb6 on a modern-pitch Bb trumpet!” said nobody ever. So instead we tend to use terms like “high”, which has exactly the opposite problem. What many would call a “High A” is an octave lower than the note I would think of upon hearing those words. So who gets to decide? Well I think that Maynard Ferguson was a pretty good authority on this matter and so I would stick with his answer to the question: C7 is called “Double High C”, for the octave descending from there the notes are “High” and below that they’re not. Therefore a G6 is known as High G, not Double High G and an A5 is not and should not be referred to as high, ever. Thanks Maynard.

When I was a teenager I played in a few big bands and the terminology that was used was slightly different. I think that it’s almost an exclusively British term, as I’ve seen in online discussions that people in other countries deny the existence or validity of the term (and often quite rudely), but we used to call notes above D5 “Super”. It made it sound like a real achievement to be able to play a “SUPER F“. I haven’t heard this in many years and so wonder if it’s still used.

When going below the note F#3 we venture into the range of pedal tones. Pedal C (C3) is on the diagram above and Double Pedal C is an octave lower than that (C2). Theoretically Triple Pedal C (C1) is down there too, but so far my practice has only allowed me a reliable Double Pedal Db. Sometimes adding a semitone to your range is harder than a perfect fourth!

The only other terms that get used a lot, which I believe cause genuine psychological issues and resulting problems in playing are the words “top” and “bottom”. “Bottom C” is an understandable term: it’s one of the first notes that brass players learn, it is written at the bottom of the treble staff and there isn’t a lower pitched C that is generally used in music. However, “Top C” is not only inaccurate, but it puts a ceiling on perceived playable range of the instrument. When you consider the idea that we become confident in our ability to play a particular note by knowing that we can play above it, this wouldn’t be possible if there were actually a limit to how high one could play. I have found when teaching that when people don’t know what notes they’re playing, whether obscured by transposition, or playing harmonic patterns by ear, that they can play higher than any note that they think of as a limit because habits, both psychological and physical, don’t kick in and ruin everything. Admittedly I exist in a strange self-constructed environment of brass-playing elitism, but the last time I heard somebody say “Top C” I did a double take and spent hours wondering how my perspective has become so skewed.

Here is a chart of common names for notes, and often-used alternatives:

System 3: If I ruled the world

Those who know me would say that it goes without saying that I’ve come to use a system of my own for this topic. Being pedantic and daydreaming as I am I’ve found that when talking about technique that being able to refer to different registers of the trumpet is particularly useful. However, using C as a reference point doesn’t actually work very well. I want things to be uniform and so if I were to call notes below C4 the bottom register, and then notes above G5 the high register then we end up with one register only spanning a fifth and the next spanning a twelfth. I can’t deal with that, so we need to change the point of reference. If you use the note G as the upper and lower limit of each register then not only does it mean that each register can be an octave in size (more or less, allowing for an extra semitone in the low register), but also that it quite accurately defines different levels of development and reflects how we use different playing techniques for mastering each register. With this in mind I would propose the following:

Altissimo is a term that is used with other instruments and has been used a few times in reference to brass too. I think it is particularly suiting for the range over G6 as the way that notes are produced above that pitch is not that same as in the high register. In fact it is more similar to how notes are played in the pedal registers as the instrument is behaving as a megaphone rather than a resonator. The point of rarefaction for setting up a standing wave in the tube has moved too far beyond the end of the bell for a player to feel and slot notes and for many this is experienced as a ceiling in developable range. If you are interested in this topic then I would recommend the following article [click] by Dr Richard Smith, or the scientific explanation in the beginning of Kristian Steenstrup’s book Teaching Brass.

Ending

I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on this topic, and my attempts to write a shorter article. If you have anything to add then please feel free to comment below or get in touch. Like; Share; Reference; Please Subscribe… all of that!

~iii<0