Does a better trumpet make you play trumpet better?

This is a topic that I’ve found myself discussing with people a few times recently. I think that instinctively people already know the answer but there is a lot of confusion out there over the definition of “better”, which is (of course) subjective. There is such a thing as a better trumpet for playing one style of music or another, but this post is more about better and worse quality instruments overall. In my opinion, unlike confusion about playing techniques, this confusion is caused by the marketing of instrument makers rather than by our traditions and misinformed knowledge-of-the-crowd.

A simple answer

When approaching this topic I am always reminded of a conversation I had with Trevor Head whilst on one of his instrument repair courses some years ago. When asked about how different things like the weight of an instrument or whether it is silver plated affect how it sounds, he responded by  proposing the following experiment: If you were to take a professional player and a novice player and give each of them two instruments, ask them to stand behind a screen and play you the same excerpt of music on both instruments then a listener would always be able to tell which person was playing, but not always which instrument was being played. You would also find that some listeners may prefer the sound of one instrument or another but couldn’t tell you for certain which instrument it was.

A little about instruments

I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine who plays the bass. We were talking about how the pitch of a note produced by a string is basically influenced by three factors: the thickness or weight of the string, its length and its tension. He was explaining to me how it is possible to get such a deep sound from a bass ukulele, which is a tiny instrument compared to a double bass. He then asked me how this compares to trumpets. Some people imagine that the lips of the player are equivalent to the strings on string instruments because they vibrate to make sound, though whilst the tension and thickness of the lips certainly do have an effect on resonance and tone, the comparison is a misunderstanding. The equivalent to the string is the column of air inside the trumpet.
Modern instrument designers understand very well that it is the shape of this air column that is the primary influence on the intonation of a trumpet, i.e. how the various harmonics relate to each other and how well tempered these intervals are. Interesting people to research on this topic would be Bill Cardwell, Richard Smith, Renold Schilke and Jerome Callet.
So what would happen if you were to simply increase the size of this air column? Comparatively if you imagine the sound of an old “pea-shooter” trumpet from the 1930s-40s and the sound of a flugel horn then essentially the result would be that you gradually move from sounding like one to the other… but this is an observation of tone and not so much about pitch. The pitch would also drop as the instrument increases in size, but I don’t think that this is the important thing to take note of. When you increase the size of the air column you may end up with an instrument that’s freer blowing, that makes a bigger sound, but the compromise is that it may not slot notes so well and intonation may suffer too.
In looking for recordings to illustrate the point in the previous paragraph I watched a number of videos that showed what I describe next. Have a watch of this great clip with Trent Austin demonstrating a Buescher trumpet and I’ll continue: ACB Buescher Demo.
In all of the videos that I watched about the tone of older tightly-wrapped trumpets the player ended up switching mouthpieces to show different tonal qualities. This is because small differences in mouthpiece design make a much bigger difference to how an instrument performs and sounds than the whole trumpet. I demonstrated to my friend how my Stomvi Master trumpet sounds with my own TCE-RC mouthpiece, which is small, and an RPS 18C4, which is a large classical mouthpiece design. He could hear a distinct change in the number of overtones present in my sound between the two mouthpieces, and he also observed that I needed to push my tuning slide in to play in tune on the bigger mouthpiece. The thing that was less obvious in this demonstration is that it isn’t simply the position of one note that changes when you pick a bigger mouthpiece, but also the relative pitch-centre of the harmonics as well. I would argue that most traditional mouthpieces that people use today are too old-fashioned and as a result not designed to play in tune in certain pitch ranges.
What I’ve established so far in this section is little more than the fact that the size and shape of an instrument and mouthpiece combination can affect the player’s ability to play with good intonation. The important point is that if you have a low-cost or vintage instrument that does not play well in tune then every note you play could be a drain on your technique. This is very tiring and can have a pretty detrimental effect on stamina. In this case I would argue that all players could play better on an instrument that is well designed to play in tune, compared to one that does not. It’s also important to choose a mouthpiece that doesn’t compromise the intonation of your instrument, even for the sake of a “nice” tone. But is that everything?

a matter of philosophy?

Before I get into this next part I will start by saying that it is not my place to criticise the hard work and research of others. I don’t doubt that anyone who devotes their life to making and selling brass instruments has done plenty of their own research and development and that they honestly believe that their work is the best solution to trumpet-players’ problems. The interesting thing is that when two people look at the same problem and conclude that the solution is the exact opposite to each other then there’s an interesting discussion to be had.
The example that I’ll use here refers specifically to AR Resonance and Callet Trumpets, their marketing approach and opposing design solutions. There are other companies worth a mention; such as Harrelson Trumpets, Lotus Trumpets and Monette; and they’ll get it in due course.
On their website AR Resonance state about their mouthpieces:

We DON’T want the player to acclimate to our mouthpiece, we want to serve the player with the best solution they feel to be the right one. We’ve been through all that crazy stuff and we concluded that we must not be told what to think, do or feel, we want to be in control.

Contrary to this, Jerome Callet’s promotional material says:

[These mouthpieces] were specifically designed by Jerry to help players struggling with chop problems. [They] are small and unforgiving so they work like a bold ‘stop signal’ to close down as soon as your proper embouchure starts to lose its grip […] chop problems are immediately identified and avoided!

These statements represent opposing attitudes towards the way that people play. Callet says “if you don’t play properly then you won’t be able to make this equipment work. It is your responsibility to play correctly and you will be rewarded”; AR on the other hand basically say “play however you want and our equipment will make you sound better”. Obviously these are just my knee-jerk interpretations and my opinion is biased, but there is an element of dishonesty in the AR Resonance statement. Players will acclimatise to their equipment and if they’re already over-blowing a collapsed embouchure then it will make their problems worse, not better.
What’s really interesting as well is that AR Resonance mouthpieces are designed around a very large throat and feature a shortened backbore/shank to compensate for the intonation consequences of this design. Jerome Callet’s backbores, as described on the website linked above, were known to have a longer throat and backbore to solve intonation issues and to aid projection. His latest line of mouthpieces also featured a smaller than standard throat (#29 drill size). It seems that if you don’t wish to work on your technique then you should use a short backbore with a large throat and if you care enough to learn to play better then you should use a smaller, longer throat and backbore!
Jerome Callet was well known for saying that most manufacturers were not actually capable of testing their own instruments because they could not play well over the whole six-octave range of the trumpet. Let’s say for a moment that you’re a good professional player and you make a trumpet that enables you to improve your current range by a fifth. Does this mean that it’s helping you to play better? What if you could have learnt to play more efficiently and had the same result? Maybe you would find that this new instrument doesn’t sound as good overall when compared to you playing better on your original instrument. The real question is whether or not this matters. To me it does.

Telling lies to make money

Like I said in my mini disclaimer above – it’s not my place to criticise someone’s beliefs or hard work, but in the case of the following video this famous trumpeter is unashamedly grandstanding in his attempt to sell his trumpets. He does not demonstrate how he would actually sound when trying to play his best on the “lower quality” instrument: Lotus Trumpets Promo.
Ironically in this next video you can hear that his trumpet is not better than others when played by a good trumpet player. The comments also reveal that the Lotus trumpet is not rated highly by those who’ve left their thoughts: Trent Austin Superhorn Showdown. Trent Austin does state that he loves this trumpet, and I’m sure it’s fine as they are built by Andy Taylor, but the marketing is very disingenuous and not to mention disrespectful.

All about efficiency

When discussing the topics of good instruments and good playing then inevitably the subject of efficiency arises. In the simplest of terms I usually define efficiency as “putting less in but getting more out”, but apparently this isn’t universal. To some trumpet players it can mean “how efficiently can I put as much air as possible through the trumpet?”. I don’t want to argue the matter of right and wrong here, but it’s so easy to see that we still have a lot of ideas to unravel before the general standard of trumpet playing and teaching can improve.
Jason Harrelson talks a lot about what he refers to as “Standing Wave Efficiency” in the design of his components and custom kit-trumpets. Jason has put a lot of time into improving the efficiency of his instruments through damping and preventing loss of energy through the walls of their tubing. You can learn more about that in this video: K.O. on Heavy Bracing. Funnily the only comment on this video at the time of writing is Harrelson trying to refute what K.O. has to say. In the interest of fairness, here’s is his definition: SWE Explained.
These two videos demonstrate the same points of contention mentioned above in reference to mouthpieces. Whilst one is talking about accurately playing in pitch centre to create a resonant sound, the other is saying that if you buy his instrument then it’ll do that work for you. I think it’d be easy to go round and round in circles on this issue for quite some time, also discussing how the same opposing views exist in pedagogy: Is it the player’s responsibility to learn techniques to improve their playing, or should they focus purely on music or breathing and allow the rest of the system to figure itself out? Which of these is a more efficient way of learning?

A conclusion?

My opinion is that it is common for people to seek the path of least resistance. There are plenty of people out there who are willing to take your money in exchange for an instrument or mouthpiece that is easier to play, but won’t make you play better.
Changing how you play is difficult and it takes time, but it is the only way you will improve as a player in the long term. Both equipment and ideas that result in you playing more accurately will also result in you playing more efficiently but it’s also easy to take any one idea too far. A brilliant projecting sound is good in the right musical contexts, but when you’re in an ensemble that puts a premium on blending and not standing out then you could come unstuck fast.
To answer the question in the title: Playing well on an average instrument will always sound better than playing badly on a good instrument. When looking to buy a trumpet judgements should be made based upon sound and intonation first. Just like with a mouthpiece, doing the same thing and expecting different results will only get you so far. Sometimes a drastic change that results in you learning how to play differently can teach you more than years of routines that promise longer-term gains …and sometimes not.

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

Is There Actually A Trumpet Method By Jerome Callet?

A short discussion by Richard Colquhoun

Jerome Callet was a truly unique figure in the world of brass pedagogy. He was a constant innovator in everything that he did; instrument design, mouthpiece design, embouchure methods, trumpet teaching. I have spent most of the last decade digging around online, chatting with his ex-pupils, travelling to Europe for lessons and conferences and studying his books and videos. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve dug deeper than most would ever be willing. Most people don’t even get past the initial shock of somebody sharing seemingly mad ideas and praising pupils who don’t sound very good (to the untrained ear). For some reason I just trusted this old guy’s experience and my trumpet playing has been immeasurably changed in this time.

I think that Jerry’s influence in the brass-playing world will never really be recognised for what it is. This is partly due to him being hard to understand (Trumpet Yoga seems quite nonsensical the first few times your read it) but also because he had the decency not to shout from the rooftops when he had helped some (very) famous players who then went on to teach his ideas without giving credit where due.

Celebrity endorsement?

There’s an awful problem relating to Callet’s teaching that I’d like to take the time to clear up. Many  of his pupils or followers would make wild claims such as “Maurice Andre used the Tongue Controlled Embouchure” or Harry James, Roy Eldridge, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Bud Herseth, Phil Smith… the list is endless. All of these claims are based upon misunderstanding of how Jerry taught and my two cents on the subject read like this: Jerry developed his methods by watching and listening to great players, copying aspects of their playing and sharing what he discovered. When he saw or heard a player use their tongue on their lip he would tell pupils and show them photos as proof. He would also play recordings of great players to show how some ideas which are taught about how a trumpet should sound are incorrect, and that these great players all share certain tonal characteristics that come from playing efficiently with a resonant, articulate sound. These great players, however, did not “use TCE”; nobody that hasn’t actively chosen to study and learn the technique is using TCE by chance. There is clear video evidence of Louis Armstrong doing things that Callet taught and his unique tone is even quite TCE-esque (you can here that same kind of brutal compression that Ralph Salamone has in his sound), but he didn’t “use TCE”, TCE exists because of studying how players like Louis played. I know it’s pedantic semantics, but these kinds of errors are what gives advocates a bad name. Many of Jerry’s pupils wanted to argue with others about the merits of the things they’d learnt and in doing so would make wild claims that ultimately just lead to more criticism of the ideas.

Having a relatively clear understanding of a lot of the ideas that Jerry taught over the course of fifty years I can see why crazy claims about famous players get made though. Here’s another example: I’ve seen a video of Håkan Hardenberger giving a masterclass in which he teaches the exact same thing as Jerry does on his 1987 VHS Superchopsjust for a moment. Håkan holds on to the sides of a student’s face in the same way that Jerry would when trying to encourage a pupil to let go of mouth corner tension and stop flattening the chin. He also mentions the problems that the player is causing with their tongue that Jerry describes in all of his books. I wouldn’t dare to suggest for a second that Hardenberger knows anything about Superchops because it would be a stupid thing to say. But I would point out that he studied with Pierre Thibault, who did have lessons with Jerome Callet. Callet designed his Opera mouthpiece for Pierre, who wrote about the benefits of double pedal tones in his own books. Callet has definitely planted seeds that have grown throughout the international brass-playing community that most will never realise the source of.

His own worst enemy?

The problem with Callet’s endless innovation was that he didn’t only contradict most traditional teachings about brass playing but over time he contradicted himself a lot too. In fact, when you talk to people that he taught over a period of time the same story keeps coming up:

“Every few weeks I would go for a lesson and what he would teach me would be completely different from what he had taught the last time. It was very frustrating and often disheartening.”

Often there were just little tweaks to tongue position, or where the bottom lip would be before you place the mouthpiece; but there were also massive changes to the whole system. In the days of Trumpet YogaBrass Power and Endurance, and Superchops a lot of emphasis was put upon building up wind power. A big part of the teaching was that if the embouchure didn’t work properly then it wasn’t possible to use all of your body strength to play. Later on, all of this had changed… During the 1990s Jerry realised more and more what an asset the tongue could be as a part of a brass player’s embouchure. Putting an exact date on when he changed his ideas from holding the tongue flat in the mouth after each attack to anchoring the tongue on the bottom lip is basically impossible with the knowledge that I have at this time, but that shift in the basic set-up of the lips and tongue changed everything because the fundamental result of the method became efficiency and centred sound rather than strength and power.

Like I’ve said before, there still could be those who disagree with what I have said. Someone I mentioned earlier in this post still goes around chanting “Tone, Power, Range and Endurance” like in the days of old, but he’s not a professional performer and appears to lack perspective when it comes to the bigger picture regarding trumpet playing techniques. The thing that I find almost ironic is that in his pursuit of easy Double High Cs Jerome Callet may have accidentally stumbled upon the easiest way to just be an all-round great-sounding and efficient trumpet player. But the thing that is missing is a definitive method.

“I vowed to myself [that] if I could achieve this dream of mine, I would share it with all brass players.” – Trumpet Yoga, 2nd Edition, 1986.

Although it could be seen as quite heroic and self-sacrificing to constantly change and innovate your method; the unfortunate longer-term problem is that now that Jerry has died, he hasn’t left an obvious legacy. Unlike the books of Claude Gordon, Roy Stevens, Herbert Clarke, Schlossberg, or Arban; you cannot go to Amazon.com and buy one of Jerry’s books or mouthpieces. These method books have all become pretty mainstream because they are easily available. All of Jerry’s books are now out of print and at the time of writing you can only buy his latest mouthpieces from his website. On top of this, to the best of my knowledge, there are only four people in the world who advertise as teaching Callet’s methods (and one of them isn’t very good at it). Will the fruits of half a century’s hard work be lost in obscurity? Maybe.

I’ve been teaching the TCE, specifically to those who ask for it, for a little over two years. It doesn’t sound all that long, but I’ve interacted with a lot of people in that time. Overwhelmingly I tend to find people who are confused, in a mess of conflicting methods, and who don’t know what to practice. Even those who have heard of TCE cannot explain what it is, which is why I created my tonguecontrolled.info and started writing books.

Conclusion

I remember writing in a previous post that maybe the wisdom of Callet will live on through derivative methods. But a part of me thinks that except for being embodied in the man himself, that’s how it has always existed. I really think that those who have found the most success from studying Superchops or TCE are those who could already play, or who had already studied music before picking up the trumpet. This isn’t all bad, because I think the same of many other famous pedagogues. My college teacher Philippe Schartz is a truly world-class trumpet player (he’s on Spotify, go and listen to him!) but his teaching was not focused solely on the scripture of one guru. He taught me from Arban, Maggio, Clarke, Gordon, Stamp, Irons, and that was only the technical side of playing – music came on top!

I find it sad that so few people today understand what Jerry was after. The most important lesson he taught was about listening to the great players and learning to hear when people (especially you) were playing incorrectly. This one thing appears to be what’s missing from all other methods, regardless of their other merits.

“Very centred and brilliant where you can hear the total resonance of the sound. Solid, but never overblown.” – Jerry describing correct trumpet sound.

To answer my original question: Is there actually a trumpet method by Jerome Callet? I would have to say no. I think there are a series of guide books and videos that outline the development of Callet’s opinion of how to best play a trumpet.

Edit: I decided to revisit this post after writing and include the following quote. It comes from a book called Beyond Arban, written by Jerry Callet in 1991. I think it’s the simplest explanation of his general principals and a good starting point for anybody interested in improving their brass playing.

Do not play with stretched lips and tight mouth corners. Firm your lips as you ascend in range by sliding your lower lip up and over your bottom teeth, pressing it up and under the top lip. You cannot do this if you stretch. Teeth should be open about 1/2 of an inch in all ranges but for the higher range the jaw recedes slightly to allow the entire lower lip to slide up over the lower teeth edges.
The smaller the aperture between your lips, the better you will play. A small aperture with the lower lip pressing against the inside of the top lip will make both lips very thick under the mouthpiece rim.
Remember two very important rules:
1 ) Always tongue through the teeth. striking the lower lip. Tonguing behind the teeth is wrong and causes problems.
2) Teeth must be open in all registers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of Jerome Callet then I’m always open to talk with those who want to learn more about it. Use my contact details above, or find me on social media. Thanks for reading!

Introducing my first ebook!

Regular followers of my blog will be aware that over the last few years it has really changed from its roots as a simple means for me to share idle thoughts and clips of recording experiments into a way for me to explain my somewhat alternative view on trumpet playing techniques and equipment. My most popular posts to date are the ones about Vincent Bach’s mouthpieces, the difference between trumpets and cornets and understanding Jerome Callet. I feel that a few of the gems have slipped by but this says a lot about how my views are alternative – if I were after a huge read count then I could write a lot of generic articles and have the most boring trumpet blog on the web…

A short while back I wrote a slightly ranty post about why I felt I should write a trumpet instruction book and I received quite a bit of positive feedback. Whilst that book has been started I have also been very busy in the last few months since I began teaching people the Tongue Controlled Embouchure over Skype. This has lead to me writing a series of exercises to give to my pupils when addressing development and awareness of their embouchure.

Another thing you may know about me is that over the last five years I have been quite an active member of the Trumpet Herald Forum (actually much less-so in the last six months for reasons explained here). I have spent many long hours reading through almost fifteen years worth of conversations about the Jerome Callet’s various methods and notes from lessons as his ideas developed during this time. The general views that this has lead me to are these: 1) Very few people can get what it’s all about because the information is insufficient. 2) There are not enough quality recordings of good professional brass musicians that use Callet’s techniques. 3) Because the ideas are contrary to many current brass teaching methods people aggressively deny their viability. I see the third of these as being the biggest problem and it is obviously a result of the first two. Seeing as I have the knowledge and experience to tackle these issues it has become a bit of a mission for me to try to take them on and so far I have begun in four ways.

  1. Last year I created the TCE-UK website. It is a factual, mostly static, website that exists for the purpose of explaining the Tongue Controlled Embouchure and attracting those interested to my other work.
  2. This blog has been operational for some time, and there are a series of posts that explain my philosophical approaches to playing and teaching.
  3. I recently began a new channel on YouTube. Although it is still in its infancy the idea is for it to be an informal collection of videos that show me practising and problem-solving using the TCE. The intention is for the videos to be unedited and contain explanations of how I use the TCE and associated exercises to improve my trumpet playing.
  4. I have written and self-published the first of a series of ebooks on the topic.

The fourth of these bullet points is the reason for this blog post. I would like to introduce you to my first ebook titled “Exploring The Double Pedal Register“. The purpose of this book is to share some of the ideas and a brand new set of exercises based upon Jerry Callet’s 1970s book Trumpet Yoga. Specifically these exercises focus on learning and using both the Einsetzen and Ansetzen embouchures as a way to develop your tone, power, range and endurance. I use these exercises every day as a part of my warm-up and doing so makes the process very quick and easy. I have opened a store on this site where you can purchase this ebook using PayPal. For any further information on this topic please be sure to read all of the linked posts, pages and videos in this post and as always feel free to get in touch.

And I would encourage you to VISIT MY STORE.

Perfect!

The concept of being perfect can be an admirable goal for a brass musician. We all dream of concert performances where we perform with no split notes, spot on intonation, a resonant projected sound throughout, etc etc etc. But the truth is that we are all human and this isn’t going to happen every time.
Whilst not having the goal of progressing as a musician will put a limit upon how far you can ever progress, I believe that striving for absolute perfection can have a massively detrimental effect on your life as a trumpet player.
Years ago when I had just graduated from music college and I was beginning to find my feet as a freelance musician this was a lesson that I had not yet learned. As it happens I didn’t realise at the time that was moving away from focusing mostly on classical playing and becoming much more of a commercial player. When you first venture into the profession nobody knows what sort of work they will find (unless you have a laser beam focus on your end game like my college tutor Philippe Schartz!) and my moving into pit orchestras and function bands required that I learned new techniques and how to handle vastly different equipment. At this time, as well, my practise schedule had dropped significantly from the hours and hours a day I previously had for blowing hot air down a tube. The thing that really knocked me for six, though, was that I had unrealistic expectations of perfection in my performance. One split note early on in a gig would ruin my experience of the entire show. From the first out-of-tune high D until I hit the sack 4 or 5 hours later I would be ruminating about my failures as a musician and how I wasn’t going to make it. This went on for years.
Thankfully this story has a happy ending, but that can be saved for another day. The reason I have chosen to address this topic now is that I recently read an article by Clint ‘Pops’ McLaughlin in his BbTrumpet News Quarterly Ezine (Volume 14, June 2015) and wish to recommend that you read it yourself. In the article Pops talks about the difference between a “live recording” and a real live performance and how sometimes it is the minor imperfections that make music what it is. Follow this link: BbTrumpet News to read more.
Writing this introduction has made me think a lot about this topic which I am now sure that I will revisit. Please check back for Part Two!

Download Trumpet Fantasy

A short while ago I posted a recording of the piece Trumpet Fantasy by Matt Dury. Take a quick look here if you haven’t seen it (opens in a new tab so you can listen whilst you read this!)
Recently I was honoured that Matt decided to dedicate the work to me.  Whist that is great, it is not the purpose of this post. I wish to share with you that you can now purchase a copy of this music for yourself. Below is a link to a website where, for the menial price of $3, you can download the sheet music and learn to play it yourself.
Personally I see this method of self-publication to be one of the best ways that an independent music professional can get their work out to the world. Often musicians are only exposed to the generic mass-produced books that are promoted by the exam boards and that is a shameful dis-service to the international music community. My rant about the music education cartels is yet to be published so you’ll have to keep checking back for that one!
Now, do your bit for independent music professionals and support my friend by buying his music!
Click here. Many thanks.

Mnozil Brass, Jason Harrelson, my month…

It’s been another crazy and enlightening month at Trumpet Planet towers. I’ve played a varied list of gigs; moved house; seen some of the best live music in the world; and experienced a huge growth in perspective regarding my understanding the functioning of the trumpet, resulting in affirmation of my practise goals and new ideas for my plans for the future.
My playing gigs this month have included performing with Fiesta Resistànce (an authentic Cuban-style Salsa band) in Cardiff, Dorchester Chamber Orchestra, a wedding for Funkty Dumpty (website here), and a morning mass at Downside Abbey. For me it has been a nice balance of classical and commercial playing (including improvisation too).
Whilst at one of the gigs another trumpet player and I had a few hours to spend talking shop and it was a pleasure to meet someone who agrees philosophically about preferring smaller trumpet equipment and aiming for an efficient technique rather than the ‘large bore plus more air power’ style that seems to be as popular as ever. (Note that Vincent Bach Corp has just released a trumpet aimed at the commercial market which is a large bore horn. This coupled with my other gripes about their other recent instruments, about which I’ve heard nothing but bad reviews, reinforces my opinion that this company really doesn’t demonstrate any forward development since Vincent Bach himself was making trumpets.) Although this opinion does exist in some circles in the commercial enviroment (Roger Ingram’s XO 1600i trumpet is medium bore design) it’s unusual to me to meet a classical player with this view.
This same trumpet player hastened me to take a look at Jason Harrelson’s blog (link here), and I’ve found it immensely interesting.
Jason Harrelson is a custom trumpet maker based in Denver (USA). The tag line on his website says “where science meets sound”, and I think this is a good definition of what makes his approach different. Jason takes his vast knowledge of physics and applies it to instrument design with the aim of creating the best trumpets in the world. He quite rightly highlights how most, if not all, other brass instrument manufacturers are making instruments based upon 19th century technology and discusses at length the way that his products address these issues. His writing and talks (on his youtube channel) about efficiency and lost energy have been of particular interest to me and have sparked a lot of thoughts about why some trumpets just don’t sound as good as others. On top of this it has reinforced my thoughts about the way a trumpet player hears themself when performing. I have talked with my pupils quite a lot about how practicing exclusively in small rooms gives a false impression of the tone that you are making with your instrument and at the moment I believe that the only way you can really know how you sound is to learn to make recordings of yourself.
Harrelson Trumpets also make and sell parts so that you can upgrade the efficiency of your own trumpet too. This is something that I think I will look into in the future if it looks unlikely for me to be able to save up for a Harrelson trumpet of my own.
During the last month I have been to three awesome concerts! The first of the three was Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban jazz pianist. He presented a varied programme with long improvised tangents. The stage was set up with a keyboard, organ and synth; as well as a sofa, radio and fridge, as you’d expect. And this arrangement enabled him to set the narrative for a musical journey that included some music from his childhood (introduced by a recording of his mother playing on the radio), a beautifully emotional rendition of Bésame Mucho and skilfully executed rhythmic piece using a loop machine.
The second concert I attended this month was Hugh Masekela playing at the Bath International Music Festival. Before finding out about this concert I had heard of Hugh Masekela – I knew he was a South African trumpet player, but that was pretty much it. In my mind had a vague connection with him and Paul Simon, but from what I have learnt on wikipedia this connection it is quite weak (they toured together on Simon’s Graceland tour, and Masekela recorded on one of Simon’s tracks in 1984 titled Further to Fly). I found this concert to be fun, full of energy and very musically interesting. For me one sign of a good concert is when it sets off my creative mind, making me want to go home and compose, which is exactly what happened at this gig. Hugh sang, played flugelhorn and directed from the cowbell throughout the concert.
Thirdly, I went to see Mnozil Brass in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. This was a brilliant concert – it was musically outstanding, theatrically entertaining and comedically brave! On top of this the audience was packed full of brass players I have met and played with from all over the South-West of England and South Wales. Players from the BBC and NWO orchestras, teachers, professional players and old college friends. The thing that was the most outstanding for me was the variation in tonal style, timbre and dynamics throughout the concert. Stylistically the members of this ensemble demonstrated switching between authentic orchestral sound to Russian folk music and Spanish traditional music. There were also moments of jazz and beautiful soft melodic playing. This level of discipline and control is extremely rare and was an amazing experience to see. If you have not heard about or seen Mnozil brass then I would recommend spending an hour on YouTube watching clips from their DVDs.
Hopefully I will have more months like this one. For me it has been full of everything that being a freelance musician involves. Performing, learning and listening. Without any one of these three elements I feel that I am doing it wrong. It’s also pretty fun. 🙂