Trumpet Artist Profile: Markus Stockhausen

I met up with Markus Stockhausen on a (typically) rainy day at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK on 23rd March 2018. He is a trumpeter at the cutting edge of modern performance, and as I was to find out during the course of this interview, a fascinating one at that!

JH: Thank you for meeting me here in Manchester Markus! You are in the middle of a tour at the moment I believe?

MS: Yes, last week I was touring with Florian Weber, we had 4 concerts in the UK. And here in Manchester I have a guest professorship at the RNCM, so I come here once or twice a year to either teach or do concerts. This time around I am doing a concert of my compositions with Big Band and String Orchestra. There are some smaller scale pieces in the first half with different instrumentation and lots of different elements including free improvisation. The second half is a piece called “Tanzendes Licht” [Dancing Light], a work that I wrote around 10 years ago for the Swiss Jazz Orchestra together with the Camerata Bern. That was a commission to bring those two ensembles together. I also later adapted it slightly to perform with the Metropole Orkest under Jules Buckley. This is the version that we are performing now in Manchester. I am very happy to come here, and the students, particularly the rhythm section, are excellent. I was so astonished to find such good players here, and all so young too!

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Festival Time in Jazz, August 2017 in Ozieri, Sardegna, Italy. Photo: Gerhard Richter

JH: Can I take you back to the beginning of your trumpet experience and ask you what made you choose the trumpet?

MS: My father [Composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen] brought me a small post horn back from England when I was about 8 or 9. I had a blow on that one a few times and somehow, I felt drawn to the trumpet players of the brass section whenever I would go along to hear my father’s works in rehearsals and concerts. I don’t know why, I just found this fascinating! I started on piano when I was age 6, but when I was 12 we had to choose a second instrument at school. I tried the trumpet, and although I don’t think that I was especially gifted at that stage, I loved the sound and also the possibilities of being able to play with other players in small ensembles, wind bands, big bands, dance music, on weddings, funerals! … everything that you can think of! We had a band at school, we started to improvise, I had a small motorbike and with the trumpet on my back I was travelling all over the place going from one rehearsal to another. School wasn’t really that important to me, it was more about making music.

When I was around 15 or 16 we had a lot of good teachers. Jiggs Whigham lived near my home and leant me some important LPs. He also came down to teach our school big band sometimes which was great.

There were 3 main strands to my music making in those early days: The 1st was my classical teacher who took me through the major repertoire – Haydn, Hummel, Telemann, Hindemith etc, and orchestral excerpts and studies. The 2nd was the jazz and improvising that I enjoyed doing. The 3rd was from when I was 17 when I started to work with my father who would take me into orchestras to sit in the trumpet section to play his pieces. And when I was around 18 or 19 I began to take solo roles in some of his projects. He wrote “Sirius” for me which was an incredibly musical and demanding piece, 96 minutes of music we had to perform from memory. I was just 19 at this point! Shortly after, in 1978 he wrote “Michaels Reise um die Erde” as a trumpet concerto for me, which – being part of the Opera cycle “Licht”  – in 1981 had its opera premiere at La Scala di Milano.

The kind of training that I received through my father really exceeds anything that any other student could possibly have! It was so broad.

JH: With this incredibly broad training that you had, with so many different styles, did you identify mostly with and enjoy one particular kind of playing?

MS: At that age, no, I enjoyed everything. I was ambitious and wanted to develop everything. I entered solo competitions which opened the door for me to perform with orchestras. I was taken on by an agent who helped to develop this side with me. I lost count of the number of times that I performed the Haydn concerto… with my father’s cadenzas of course! I had requests from other composers to perform their works, which I did sometimes, but I favoured working and collaborating with my father.

People told me that I had to decide which direction to take. I also considered conducting which I enjoyed, but ultimately decided not to pursue that as my trumpet playing would suffer. That was a big decision. I made the decision NOT to choose between playing different styles, but to continue pushing myself with classical, jazz etc. It became hard sometimes when a concerto one night would be followed by a jazz club gig the next, followed by a project with my father! I tried to space things out but it was not always possible – it sometimes was difficult and stressful.

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JH: And what about now? Do you find that it is difficult to prepare for so many different kinds of projects?

MS: Yes, but in 2001 I took the decision to stop the collaboration with my father and to concentrate more on my own projects. This gives me more space to contemplate and organise. I also no longer take on classical concertos, I think my last Haydn concerto was 2008. There are lots of people that can do that – I think that it is important that I concentrate on what I can do that is unique. I wanted to explore my creative side deeper, and since then I have started various projects, duos, trio, quartet, larger ensembles… I recently started 2 new ensembles with 7 musicians, one is called Wild Life, the other is called Eternal Voyage. Sometimes I composefor them, but Wild Life is completely improvised.

I do not write so much now for larger ensemble. My son is now 25, and when he started to get older I was writing a lot. But when my daughter arrived in 2009, I felt that my energy and time to compose reduced drastically. Part of that creative energy goes into a person rather than into compositions! And it has to be that way.

JH: And are you able now to manage your work schedule pretty much how you want it, around your family life? It is that age-old dilemma for working musicians isn’t it?!

MS: I get complaints from my family that I am not at home enough, but they get used to it of course. It is difficult, but we manage. But if you want to keep the trumpet up at a good level, you have to be performing constantly. So, it is an essential choice for me to be on the road a lot, and away from the family sometimes. You certainly get used to airports and train stations! I try to do mostof my organisational work while I am travelling so that when I am at home, I can be more present. The projects that I do now are all incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, and I am at least able to stay in control of my schedule from this point of view. Sometimes I go on tour with my wife Tara Bouman, our duo MOVING SOUNDS. Then the whole family travels, which is very nice too.

My duo with Florian Weber is particularly busy at the moment, I think as funding gets tighter, a duo is suddenly much more appealing to a promoter than a quartet! And we constantly change our performances and the pieces depending on how we feel. It is incredibly liberating to be able to follow your emotions and state of mind instantlyin a performance.

As an interpreter,preparing a concerto is completely different as you have to train yourself to replicate a state of mind that is particularly suitable to that repertoire. The mental preparation is often the biggest challenge with that. With improvised music, I can just follow my own intuition, emotion and energy levels. “Go with the flow” as you say in English, and ride on the wave of your energy. It is more natural in a way.

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Markus Stockhausen in Starnberg, 2016. Photo: Thomas J. Krebs

JH: You talk and teach on the subjects of the emotional, mental and spiritualpreparations towards performance and music making. Do you think that this is an aspect that can be ignored with a lot of ‘traditional’ trumpet teaching?

MS: No, they are as important for traditional performance also. Yet, I would say that it is very personal. From a young age, I was interested in finding better ways for controlling my body, controlling my breathing, and found that yoga was very helpful. I still do it on a daily basis. When I am travelling I will go for a short run every day and also do some meditation which helps me to stay calm, centre myself, and also to connect to something that is much bigger than we are, I call it ‘The Source’. Everything that we are is a manifestation of something vaster than we can possibly comprehend. And yet every one of us is a representation of that, and if we can make that conscious link to that ‘source’, by reducing our mental activity to an open state, we can have access to a much greater wisdom and energy that we can use in our lives. It brings us forward, it inspires us, it gives us ideas, and also good health. It is nothing strange or foreign, it is our deeper nature. Just open up to it.

JH: Would you say that this outlook changes the way that you approach playing and practicing the trumpet?

MS: I just try to listen to my body when I practice, to see what it needs. There is still some ambition there to cover the full range and to play strongly. I usually do some flapping of the lips and a short mouthpiece warm-up to promote blood circulation. I then activate my breathing as I learnt under Carmine Caruso. I have a pdf available to download on my website of my version of some of these exercises, that I find really helpful, I call them “The Basic Caruso”. Then I proceed with gently soft low register exercises for a few minutes before I start to play whatever I want to.

Coming back to Caruso, I studied twice with him having been recommended to him by Marvin Stamm. I was initially irritated that he was not a trumpeter, and there was a sterile system of how to practice… but then I understood, and it opened up something in me and made me understand that activating your breathing is the MOST important thing. I added a little bit myself, where you exhale completely before inhaling. You are then full of breath which gives you much more energy, even to approach simple things. Teaching your body to work in this way takes a lot of the problems away from the lip.

Another thing is that when you play a difficult passage, of course there is tension in the body. The important thing is that once you no longer need the tension, you should release it and move past it. I learnt this from yoga. The balance between contraction and relaxation is key. We have this in trumpet playing all of the time.

Another piece of advice that I would like to offer is not to overdo the practice. Stop as you are beginning to feel tired, do not push on through. I made this mistake too many times in my youth, it is much better to play in smaller units and then take a break. I tend to do 2 or 3 sessions each day, around 40-45 minutes each time. I try to make sure that I really challenge myself in that time, but then take the time to relax afterwards. A lot of my practice involves improvisation, so I like to sometimes use a metronome to train my timing, as well as varying the spaces in which I play – sometimes a dry room, sometimes a big resonant space. It can feel physically very different playing in different rooms as you need to breathe much more deeply in a bigger space in order to fill it. The whole body vibrates differently, as well as your instrument of course. Sometimes I will also change my equipment depending on the space too.

You can download Markus’ Basic Caruso as a PDF here

JH: Do you tend to stick to a fairly set routine when practicing, or does it change a lot depending on what projects you are working on?

MS: It is pretty fluid really. The warm up is only 10 to 15 minutes and then I practice whatever I need to be working on, whether it be improvisation, pieces with my small groups, or something else. Usually there is a lot of organisational work to do along with lots of travelling so my practice time is limited. I have to really focus on what is coming up next and make the best possible use of my available practice time. My equipment changes depending on whether or not I will be miked up or not, so that also affects my practice.

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Festival Time in Jazz, August 2017 in Ozieri, Sardegna, Italy. Photo: Gerhard Richter

JH: And what equipment are you using mostly?

MS: I mostly play Bb trumpet, Flugelhorns and Piccolo. These are the instruments that I generally travel with. I have a tuning bell, large bore Bach with a lightweight 72 bell. This is my oldest instrument and is the one that I fill has ‘my sound’. I also recently bought a Bach 43B (Mariachi) with a bronze bell. I love the sound of it and I am gradually getting used to having a bit more resistance. I also have an Olds Recording that has been customised, a Callichio with a Bach bell, a Schilke X3 with a beryllium bell and several others! Sometimes I don’t really feel like playing a particular trumpet on one day, so I will change things around and pick something else. On longer tours of course, I have to decide on an instrument to take with me. When I am going to a concert by car, sometimes I may take several instruments with me including perhaps 2 different flugelhorns – I have a very nice Van Laar flugelhorn which is quite heavy – great sound, great projection, but can get tiring playing for long performances. I also have a much lighter instrument, an Adams with a very light copper bell that was made for me by a local maker, Gaertner und Thul. It allows me to play very evenly and in tune in the whole register and does not tire me. I took off all excess weight including the triggers and the regular water-keysto make it as light as possible. At least with the flugelhorn, you can still get the water out quickly and easily by twisting and tipping the instrument. I am quite extreme in the way that I adjust and customise my instruments! My research on flugelhorns lasts about 4 years now …

I also am particular with mouthpieces. I have a wide variety of different styles, cup depths, apertures… but all with the same rim from JBS. These rims were unfortunately discontinued so I made sure that I bought a lot of them! I combine the rims and cups with different Warburton backbores. The difference a small adjustment to throat or backbore can make to the whole response and intonation of your instrument is phenomenal, and I like to experiment until it is as good as it can be.

I must say that in the last 20 years or so, the quality of mouthpiece manufacture around the world has drastically improved and there are so many makers that can produce consistent products. Even the Bach mouthpieces tend to be very consistent now! Thanks to the new digital technology.

Young players now have such an advantage having access to fantastic craftsmanship with instruments and mouthpieces. The only question is making sure that you have opportunities to try them.

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JH: Would you say that things have changed in the past 20 or 30 years to make it even more important for students to be developing versatility in their playing and being open to trying lots of musical styles?

MS: The possibilities are there more than before, and maybe also the necessity to be a versatile player. I you go down the route of being a freelance player, I think that versatility is an absolute ‘must’. From early on I would encourage students to be good readers, to have orchestral experience, to have big band experience, and also some small group experience including improvisation.

But this is one answer only… The alternative answer to this question is, in the end you must realise yourself. Find out whatyou love, who you really are, and try to find situations which match your satisfaction and musical desires and instincts. Or else, you might be unhappy. In the end, we live our lives for ourselves, not for the money, not for anyone else. Through music we have incredible opportunities to express ourselves. It is worth saying that not many of us know at a young age exactly what we want to do, so perhaps a combination of both of these answers is the correct approach, try out many things and distillate your taste, style, abilities and thus find yourself.

JH: What are your plans looking ahead?

MS: Right now, I want to concentrate on the projects that I currently have going on, including my duo with Florian Weber called ‘Inside Out’, our CD ‘Alba’ on ECM has been doing really well. I have a new recording coming out in July with an ensemble that I have got going again called ‘Eternal Voyage’, on Sony Records. There are a lot more ‘world music’ elements in this and it is a bringing together of East and West. I like the name and concept of ‘one world music’ as a way of describing this group, but it is sometimes difficult to get engagements for this ensemble, because we are many players. I also have a new improvising group that includes my brother Simon again – we hadn’t worked together for about 15 years. The project is called Wild Life and we have just had a beautiful festival appearance, which has been filmed for the prestigious arte tv.

The ‘Moving Sounds’ duo with my wife Tara Bouman on clarinets also has some concerts coming up later in the year. We perform together since 2002 and have steadily developed our playing. It is maybe the most spiritual music of all my projects. My quartet ‘Quadrivium’ had a CD release with Sony last August that has been successful. Because of this recording I am nominated for the German ‘Echo Jazz Prize’. We will promote this group still further. We have to put a lot of energy into developing these projects, but I am pleased that we are getting a lot back now as a result of the hard work.

I am also continuing my seminars which give me occasional moments of rest from the touring and concerts. This is almost a second life in parallel with everything else, where everyone can come and participate. We do introspection, singing, voice improvisation and silence – this has the purpose of relaxing and finding your own centre in a more spiritual environment. I find that music is such a perfect means to dive into silence and meditation and expand yourself and relax. I found some beautiful places where I can run these seminars throughout the year and for me it is a really good mix.

MS: We are in a world with more possibilities than ever before, of course also with more competition. Have trust in yourself, don’t compare yourself in a judging way, follow your inner vocation, and if you pursue you ambitions, they willmaterialise. Follow your inner conviction and your desires, and in the long run you will succeed. And above all: enjoy your life. It is the only thing you have, and you will only ever live NOW.

JH: Thank you for your time Markus, and I am looking forward to hearing you perform at the ITG Conference in San Antonio, TX in May!

You can visit Markus’ website here

Full discography is available here

Here are a handful of my favourite recordings to check out!:

‘New Colours of Piccolo Trumpet’ (1993)

‘Alba’ (2016) with Florian Weber

‘Continuum’ (1983) with Rainer Brüninghaus and Fredy Studer

‘For My People’ (1999) with Ferenc Snetberger

‘Far Into The Stars’ (2017) with Quadrivium

How To Be a Versatile Trumpeter

D.H. Lawrence writes: “Never set a child afloat on the flat sea of life with only one sail to catch the wind.”  The same could easily be said about trumpet students and the importance of developing versatility in not only their playing but also their outlook on life.

To discuss how we achieve this, I have been fortunate to have the thoughts and experience of 2 fantastic trumpet players who have both made careers out of crossing musical boundaries, genres and pigeon holes.

Mike Lovatt is primarily a commercial player (John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Big Band and session and show extraordinaire) although classically trained, who is often asked to guest on principal trumpet with the major orchestras. www.mikelovatt.co.uk

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Shaun Hooke is a classically trained player, now Principal Trumpet with the RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin and regularly also plays lead trumpet with the RTE Big Band. www.dublintrumpetacademy.com

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They both have some fascinating insights into approaching very similar problems and challenges, but from different perspectives.

Can you tell us a little about your background as a player, and what you got you into the trumpet in the first place?

Mike: I was born into a musical family. My Dad was head of music at a secondary school and my Mum was a fine amateur singer with the local choral society. Early in his career my Dad began to collect instruments and taught himself to play them. There were no peripatetic teachers in those days and he wanted to be able to teach well enough to form a youth orchestra within the school. By the time he retired he was conducting an orchestra of about 70 children! The trumpet was one of the many instruments lying around the house. I really wanted to play the trombone but at the age of eight my arms weren’t long enough.

Around that age on a shopping trip to the local supermarket, I was drawn to the record carousel and saw a record with a picture of a trumpet player on the front. It was Eddie Calvert ‘The Man with the Golden Trumpet’ I immediately asked if I could have it and after listening to the album I tried to play along with it using an old Selmer. I was hooked! Trumpet playing was all I wanted to do.

I began to play in my Dad’s youth orchestra and eventually the Staffordshire youth orchestra. I really wanted to be a professional and every day I would rush from school to try to play along to all sorts of records. I would pretend I was doing a concert with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra or that I was Maurice Murphy with the London Symphony Orchestra or a member of the PJBE, or the great Kenny Baker. This developed my ear not only for pitch but also for sound, style, articulation, placement of time and phrasing.

Disaster struck when aged 14; I was involved in a serious cycling accident. I lacerated my top lip and lost several front teeth. I thought my playing days were over. Thanks to the skills of the plastic surgeons of the North Staffs hospital I healed and began to try to play again. At first it was terrible, I could not produce a sound. Eventually I got it working again enough to do my grade 8 and I then auditioned for the music colleges. The range I previously had didn’t come back however and it wasn’t until I discovered the Maggio system some 10 years later that finally my chops came together.

I was fortunate to study at Trinity College of Music in the 80’s. My teacher was Norman Burgess, formally principal trumpet of the BBC concert orchestra, and later co-principal in the BBC Symphony.  He taught me to be as versatile as possible with a view to being employable in the future. He also encouraged me to attend the extra-curricular college big band rehearsals run by the great Bobby Lamb.  There were no Jazz courses available at music colleges back then, so I was lucky to be able to learn from these two great musicians who between them had a wealth of experience from all sides of the profession. I quickly realized that whatever style you play, a good solid technique on the instrument is essential. With a strong technical foundation and embouchure, it is possible to cope with the demands of all styles of playing.

Shaun: I grew up in Leicestershire in England.  I was enormously lucky to be able to avail of free trumpet lessons provided by our County Music Service. Particularly Don Blakeson, who was taught by David Mason who in turn apparently could trace back teacher to teacher all the way back to Handel’s time! I’m doing the Messiah next week so hopefully something has worn off on me. I was also heavily involved with Enderby Silver Band. I started with them as they reformed in ’77 when I was a nipper and enjoyed many happy years growing up with so many wonderful people to mentor me.

I decided to do Chemistry at Oxford University rather than going on to music college, but I had the trumpet bug and after completing a doctorate I knew I wanted to at least give pro trumpet playing a go. Jon Holland and Wes Warren at the CBSO taught me orchestral skills and still now I put myself back in their presence the moment before I play something.  What did Jon say to do here?  What was Wes’s trick for this?…

Quite quickly I was appointed to Principal Trumpet in the RTE Concert Orchestra but to this day I’m still thinking about how these guys coached me and I’m passing it on to my own students.

Your job involves you constantly switching styles – do you have a regular practise routine that encompasses everything, and what are the most important things to concentrate on?

Mike: I believe production is key across all types of trumpet playing. In commercial music, big bands and some Jazz playing the style requires a more defined articulation and sometimes brightness and sizzle in the sound. I always maintain that under that brightness there should be a full broad tone across the entire register. High notes are expected in lead trumpet playing and some areas of commercial music and so should be developed. However, they must never be the be all and end all at the expense of a good sound and considered playing. Super C is almost normal range these days but it’s important to have a full rich centered sound. You should always use your ears and listen to all types of music… try playing along with the music you listen to and copy it. You could also record yourself playing different styles and listen back and compare. For a particular style to come across to the listener, it needs to be exaggerated.

Shaun: I don’t really have a set practice routine. As a full time performer, I think it’s important to have some time away from the trumpet. I try to have one day a week where I’m neither playing or studying repertoire to help clear the head and relax the muscles. My emphasis on preparation is looking after the basics. Generally, I always have plenty of strength, stamina and range because I’m working pretty constantly. There are skills however that might not be required week in week out, and these are the ones that I’m careful to maintain at home. Flexibilities and double and triple tonguing can get rusty pretty quickly if you don’t end up being asked to produce them, particularly valve/tongue coordination so these are the things I always make sure stay sharp. The other golden rule is “practice what you’re NOT doing currently.”  If I’ve been doing lead big band charts at work I try to make sure I play something at home on my regular orchestral mouthpiece and something on the piccolo trumpet – choose something for my own pleasure rather than something coming up in the schedule. Vice versa, I always try to do 15-20 minutes on my lead mouthpiece, 2-3 days before I start a project that is going to need that. Other than that, I try to listen to recordings of stuff I have coming up. Not really to familiarise or learn repertoire but more to guard from getting “stuck in your ways”.

It’s nice to be inspired by others and try to do repertoire differently the next time it comes around. I listen to lots of players from the 20s,30s and 40s and try to emulate their styles. There are lots of transcriptions of their solos and I like to collect the original recordings.

Do you have a basic instrument and mouthpiece setup that covers most things, or is it very different depending on what the schedule brings?

Mike: My basic trumpet and mouthpiece set up is the same for most of the works I perform. I play my own signature model Mike Lovatt Smith-Watkins Bb Trumpet exclusively. It is a 460 bore. The bell is similar in size to a Bach 37 except that is a heavy weight.  I have two gold plated instruments and one that is silver-plated. I use my own range of signature mouthpieces of which there are three models: Studio, Lead and Classical.

The majority of my playing is done on the Studio mouthpiece. On this set up I play first Trumpet in the John Wilson Orchestra, perform lead on the West End show 42nd Street and the BBC big band, and when on first trumpet in Studio sessions.  Mouthpieces are very personal and what works for me may not work for someone else. Lip formation and lip thickness determine what might work and feel comfortable to the individual.  My mouthpieces are perfect for the various styles required of me. It seems other players like their ability to be used in different settings. When playing in the high register, I find the Lead with its large back bore, medium shallow cup and the comfy 5ish Bach diameter rim enables me to produce a bright sound I need, and stamina is helped by the resistance being transferred to the trumpet through the large back bore. I use my classical piece (more or less a Bach 3C) for studio sessions sitting down the line, my practice and occasionally on first trumpet if I require a broader darker sound.

My instruments have different qualities because of the plating. The silver ML Smith Watkins trumpet enables me to produce a cutting bright sound not only useful in Lead but also certain styles of orchestral music too. I don’t change lead pipes for different styles of playing. I could if I wanted, as the trumpet features an interchangeable leadpipe system. However, I like to keep the feel (resistance) of the instrument the same regardless of the genre of the music I am playing to help me with my production and familiarity in supporting the notes and sound. I use the ML designed pipe that comes with the trumpet as it balances perfectly with the 37-size bell and the bore size of the instrument. The most important thing here is sound quality whether it is classical, jazz, lead in a big band, pop horn section or solo.

Shaun: To be honest, kit is everything in my job. We try of course to perform in the correct style, but the range of sounds and timbres required is so varied that it really means you need some different equipment to achieve that. At the beginning of my career I did that mostly by playing on my beloved Bach (then later Yamaha) B-flat and using quite a variety of mouthpieces. It had a degree of success, but it is hard work on the embouchure, chopping and changing rims, cup depths, throats, backbores etc… and I certainly felt that my tuning and accuracy suffered.

For the past number of years I have had a different approach. My responsibilities at RTE were putting more emphasis on my role as lead trumpet in the RTE Big Band and I felt I needed a dedicated lead instrument. I tried great gear from Shires, Smith-Watkins and Schilke but I fell in love with B&S’s JBX trumpet. When I’d decided to buy this, the store asked if I’d like to try the B&S Challenger II trumpet (their standard classical model). Well I loved it. So now I have two B flat trumpets, one for classical work and one for light repertoire. The huge advantage for me is that the reverse leadpipe is almost the same on both, the bore is the same, the bell profile is the same, so the tuning slots and the way it “blows” feels entirely similar, making it so easy to switch back and forth.

But the JBX bell is lightweight and has a French bead giving it a really exciting live fizzing sound. Whilst the Challenger II bell (a 43) is much more solid and rounded sound much like the Bachs I’d been playing for the previous 30 years. Since then I have B&S C  and E-flat trumpets both light and heavyweight bells. As to mouthpieces I use a Bach 1 1/4c on both of my B-flats for orchestral (Challenger II) and “Show” work (JBX). For lead work I use a Marcinkiewitz 3/3C.  I turned up at work once without my old lead mouthpiece and was loaned this by my excellent co-principal Eoin Daly – I liked it so much I bought 2 so I could keep one at home and one at work and therefore wouldn’t be caught out again. I have a Schilke piccolo that I use for recording work but have recently just bought a Scherzer rotary valve piccolo for baroque and orchestral repertoire.  Again, it’s all about making the right sound. I use a Marcinkievitz 7s mouthpiece on the piccolo. I found one in 1989 in an “odds and sods” box at a band competition thinking it would be a good “screamer” mouthpiece but it didn’t work for that. It got me through a tour of Brandenburg 2 though so I’ve stuck with it.

How has the versatility that you require affected the way that you approach teaching? Do you recommend that advancing students work on a wide variety of playing styles or concentrate on fundamentals?

Mike: The versatility that I have developed over the years is something I try to pass on to my students.  I encourage listening to all types of music. This is essential for stylistic development.  Occasionally this is done in lessons but I encourage listening to be done on a regular basis to keep ones ear in tune with different styles. A couple of years ago I gave a trumpet class at a major conservatoire in London and when I asked if anyone had listened to any music recordings or attended concerts recently, not one of the 12 classical trumpet students had. One of them admitted to listening to Bruno Mars three days previously!

I teach fundamental trumpet techniques. First and foremost, I make sure the student has a solid embouchure formation and can make a good basic sound. I’m a stickler for note production and articulation so there are exercises based around those techniques using Arban and Schlossberg. I use Caruso, Stamp, Maggio and my own ideas to develop the embouchure. I try to instill playing with reverence for the music. Long notes are important to develop resonance and to find the ‘soul’ of the note and the core of ones playing. When you have control of the sound, this can be adapted and applied to whatever style you are playing. I teach different vibrato techniques and ways to help note projection whether at the back of an orchestra, in a west end pit or in a studio microphone technique to record well.

Shaun: The music business is hard and getting harder. I always encourage my students to be flexible even if you’re pretty sure that you will be going in one particular direction. Make sure you have the skills to be able to say ‘yes’ to the next call and go in and do a good job. It is a wonderful way to earn a living but at the outset, you need to be out there making contacts and proving your professional credentials. One of my colleagues in the RTE CO was a regular in a German Beer band to put money on the table while he was trying to break into the orchestral scene. Work hard but don’t be over focused is my advice.

What is easier, a classically trained player playing light music or a commercial player playing in a classical orchestra section?

Mike: As someone who has dipped my toe into both sides of the profession, I am inclined to say that both styles are as difficult as the other to play convincingly. You need to apply yourself honestly to the style and exaggerate it enough to come across to the listener. I have always had the view that trumpet playing is trumpet playing and that the most important quality to have is solid musicianship built from listening. Always listen carefully to your sound and the music going on around you. If you’re playing third trumpet in a classical section on a film soundtrack recording, you then respect that and whoever is on first trumpet. Try to blend with them and above all support the sound style they are playing. The same goes for an orchestral player playing big band repertoire on a symphonic pops date. I have played with orchestras from San Francisco Symphony, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, CBSO, BBC Symphony, LSO, LPO, Philharmonia, BBC Scottish, BBC Philharmonic, RTE Concert, Gothenburg Symphony, BBC Concert and many more. On many of these occasions my role is to help shape and lead classical players into becoming commercial big band section players in a three-hour rehearsal followed by a concert. Some seem more capable of giving up to the music and using their ears more than others. If they have a solid technique and command of their instrument, then they are more able to adapt successfully.

To quote John Wilson “anyone who can play good lead trumpet in a dance band can play first trumpet in a symphony orchestra”.

I think it can be difficult for ‘classical’ players to get used to playing swing quavers, combined with the way in which articulation changes in commercial playing. I always try to help by singing the phrasing to them and making them feel confident they can do it. It’s also important to tell the players to articulate and play the shorts and longs accurately.

Shaun: I think that it is not always right to pigeon hole people like that, but there are people who specialise of course. I remember taking the chance to have Tony Fisher come over to cover a James Bond concert for me when my wife was about to pop with our first child. Of course, I waxed lyrical to our management – he was interviewed for RTE radio about the very first Bond sessions including of course the original theme track – it was a brilliant week. Then the baby was born, and I was gone for a few weeks and they asked him to come and do a week of Mendelsohn… he gracefully declined – although it would have been interesting I expect!

I come from a classical background, trained over the years and “on the job” to do light repertoire, and I have local guys here that slot in well in the RTECO and RTE Big Band, but similarly we have guys who mostly do commercial work who are fine sitting down the line on orchestral repertoire. We have lots of mixed programmes where this is required. All the “classical” guys have plenty of “light” experience and the commercial guys are for the most part classical trained so have orchestral skills and can TRANSPOSE.  That is the key!

What challenges and projects have you got coming up?

Mike: I’m so happy I’ve managed to carry on doing many varied projects, gigs and recordings with orchestras, bands, groups and big bands all over the world. My future projects include my first solo album with the amazing Fodens Brass Band, directing the Stockholm Radio Symphony Brass in a concert of Billy May’s Big Fat Brass music, big band lead trumpet sessions for Gary Barlow, UK jazz festivals this summer with the Skelton Skinner all-stars, concerts with the John Wilson Orchestra, concerts and broadcasts on lead trumpet with the BBC Big Band, continuing on lead trumpet for 42nd street and as guest first trumpet for the Symphony in Antwerp. I am fortunate to be looking forward to such a stylistically varied schedule.

Shaun: A few highlights of upcoming stuff are: The Classical Series at the National Concert Hall featuring Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven; studio work with Irish singer/songwriters for rock station RTE2FM; Giselle with visiting English National Ballet, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle with the Irish National Opera. Up to our summer holidays we are also doing 4 sell-out shows at the Donnybrook Dublin Rugby Stadium and The Marquee in Cork with RTE2FM of 90s dance anthems! Hopefully we will tour this show in Australia in the autumn.

For further information about Mike Lovatt, please visit www.mikelovatt.co.uk

Mike’s signature ML Smith-Watkins trumpet is reviewed here if you would like to read more.

For to find out more about Shaun Hooke, please visit www.dublintrumpetacademy.com

Shaun is a B&S Artist and you can view the trumpet range here.

You may also be interested to read a review here of good all-round B-flat trumpets.

For a great range of trumpets, mouthpieces and specialist advice, please visit Thompson Music

Trumpet Artist Profile: Matilda Lloyd

There are not many 22-year-olds that made it onto my list of fabulous trumpet players that I wanted to try to interview. Matilda Lloyd’s biography however, is glitteringly impressive and it does not seem possible to have achieved so much in music at such a young age!

Matilda came to prominence in the UK in 2014 by winning both the Brass Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year, as well as the BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Award. A BBC Proms solo debut followed in 2016, and in October last year, Matilda won the inaugural Eric Aubier International Trumpet Competition in France, beating off competition from 53 other top players along the way.

Graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge last year, she is now studying for a Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I am grateful that Matilda could find the time in amongst her studies and trumpet engagements to share some thoughts with us:

What made you choose the trumpet as an instrument? Were there any particular early musical influences?

My Dad played the trumpet while he was at school. As a very curious 8 year old, I was rummaging around in our cupboards one afternoon and stumbled across his very old trumpet. Naturally, I wanted to have a go! As I could make a decent sound on the instrument, which isn’t easy to do, I decided that I wanted to start having lessons and that’s where the story began. My Mum is a piano teacher and accompanist, and she started teaching me the basics on the piano a few years earlier, so my ability to read music and rhythms really helped when I first started to play the trumpet.

What are some of your performing highlights to date?

I think my absolute performing highlight has to be playing as a soloist at the BBC Proms in July 2016. Walking onstage at the Royal Albert Hall to an audience of 6,000 and many thousands more watching when the Prom was broadcast on television, was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It was absolutely exhilarating, and an experience like no other. Performing with the BBC Philharmonic, led by Alpesh Chauhan, was just incredible as I really felt the support of the orchestra and that they were following me – it felt more like chamber music than a concerto. And I was lucky enough to be able to do it twice! Aside from the Proms, another performing highlight was playing First Trumpet in Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony with Bernard Haitink conducting in his home, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. To work with such an incredible conductor in a place that means so much to him with an audience that were so mesmerised by the performance was absolutely unforgettable.

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What are your long term goals after leaving the Royal Academy of Music?

My ambition is to be an international trumpet soloist. I would love to be able to expand the trumpet repertoire, both through the commissioning of new works and also the revival of forgotten works. Too often, works are performed at their premiere and then rarely played again – and I am trying to re-introduce lost works into the repertoire by recording them and playing them in my recital programmes. I would also like to do more educational and outreach work as a soloist to try and encourage more young people (especially girls!) to take up a brass instrument.

What instruments and mouthpieces do you play on?

I’ve had my Bach Stradivarius LR43 Bb Trumpet for about 10 years now! I originally wanted the more standard 37, but at the time of my purchase the UK warehouse had just burnt down and the shop didn’t have any in stock to sell! Luckily, I decided in the shop that I preferred the 43 anyway and haven’t ever wavered from that decision. I have recently purchased the new Yamaha C trumpet that I absolutely adore – it feels very easy to play. I also have a Yamaha Eb/D trumpet, and a Schilke piccolo. I play on a Warburton mouthpiece – 10* backbore with a 3M top.

You have had success in a number of high profile competitions now, while still very young. How do you manage preparing so many programmes for a gruelling competition week while also continuing with your studies and other engagements?

This is a difficult question as different methods work for different people! What’s best for me is to learn pieces well in advance. If I know I have a quiet period say five months before a competition, I will learn a few of the pieces in the repertoire during that time. This enables me to leave them alone during busier patches when I have more urgent things to prioritise. I also find that this ends up improving how I play those pieces as I always find them easier at the second time of practising them! I also always try to perform the pieces for a competition beforehand, whether in a recital or a masterclass, just so that the competition is never the first time performing the repertoire.

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Do you have any particular advice on keeping your chops in good physical shape during these preparations?

I recommend not doing much more than 3½ to 4 hours of practice a day. And ideally this would be split up into smaller chunks spread throughout the day for the best stamina. It is very tempting in the run up to a concert or competition to panic and do last-minute over practice, where you suddenly increase the amount of practice or the length of practice sessions. This is very bad for the lip so try to avoid this as much as possible! I would recommend tapering down the amount of practice over the few days before the performance to rest the lips and give them a chance to recover and be on top form for the day.

Congratulations on winning the inaugural Eric Aubier Trumpet Competition last October! Can you share with us any insights into what it was like going through that process in particular? 

Thank you very much! The competition was a great experience for me, particularly as I was able to share a flat with a fellow student from the Royal Academy of Music. This was an absolutely fantastic idea and I think my experience of the competition would have been completely different if I had stayed alone. It was great to have company throughout the week as it was a complete rollercoaster. With the quick-fire rounds often on consecutive days, emotions ranged from being nervous before performing, the adrenaline and high after performing, the worry about whether the performance was good enough or not, the anticipation of the results, the elation at finding out I had got through a round, the stress of having to then rehearse with the pianist for the next round on that same day, and then the nerves for that performance in the next round the next day! Having someone to share all of this with made it a whole lot easier, so an enormous thank you to Aaron Akugbo for his company and support. The competition in Rouen was an incredibly enjoyable week for me. All the other competitors were very friendly, and many of them stayed the whole week to support us in the semi-final and final, which was really lovely.

Do you have any general advice for any young players?

I just want to say something that I think will resonate with every brass player in the world! Every single musician in the world has periods or moments of self-doubt, wondering whether they are good enough or not for something, or comparing themselves to other players. So often, people are afraid to enter a competition or put themselves forward for a concert or opportunity because they are afraid that they won’t play as well as they know they can or fear that someone else will play better. All I have to say about this is that you are not alone! The only outcome of not applying for something is that it won’t happen. If you don’t apply for a competition, you can never win it. So the one thing I would encourage all brass players is to put themselves forward for opportunities and embrace them!

Please visit www.matildalloyd.com for further information and for upcoming concerts

You can also follow Matilda on Twitter at @lloyd_matilda and on Instagram as @matildalloydtrumpet 

 

Trumpet Artist Profile: John Thirkell

Johnny Thirkell is one of the most recorded trumpet players still working today. Through the 80s and 90s, as well as being a member of Level 42, Swing Out Sister and Jamiroquai, he has also worked with George Michael, Bruno Mars, Phil Collins, Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue, Eric Clapton, Buddy Rich, The Who and Tina Turner. He has performed on over 6000 recordings including 23 No.1 records – most recently the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson smash, “Uptown Funk”. The list goes on and on!!

For 10 years, John had a self-imposed break from the trumpet to concentrate on his various businesses in music and technology, but he is now back playing again and very graciously agreed to meet me in a my local pub to discuss his career…so far!

JH: What got you interested in the trumpet to start off with?

JT: Well an old friend of mine from school in the North-East of England made me want to start. Ken Brown, now 2nd trumpet with the Hallé Orchestra was a boy-wonder cornet player at school and I saw the kudos that this got him at school. This piqued my interest, and then when I found out that band practise was the same time as 2nd period maths, I thought “I’m in, where do I sign?”. I loved it immediately, and there was nothing that I wanted to do more from that point onwards.

JH: And apart from Ken, where there any other particular musical influences or inspirations?

JT: My father took me to see the Syd Lawrence Orchestra at the Billingham Forum. Freddy Staff stood up and played ‘Manhattan’ and this blew my mind. The next big damascene moment was hearing Tower of Power for the first time! “THAT is what I want to do!”. This is probably what guided me towards the pop music scene. And then, before long I came across the playing of Jerry Hey. He is an incredibly nice guy, but his trumpet playing was sublime, and his arrangements are incredible. This is the pinnacle of the craft! Jerry was very much the inspiration for the ‘Phantom Horns’. We could never dream of coming close, but you always want to try!

I have worked with Lisa Stansfield on and off for 25 years and on our most recent album and the previous one, Jerry did half of the horn section stuff in LA, and I did the other half in Rochdale! Trust me, when you listen to the album, you can tell who is who! For me that is such a thrill. This guy has been my idol all through my career. They say “never meet your heroes” but it was amazing having lessons with him.

JH: So, talking about horn sections, when you set up ‘Phantom Horns’ was there a particular identity or sound that you wanted?

JT: No. Really, we wanted to be able to adapt to whatever the artists and producers wanted. Flexibility and versatility were absolutely key. Our job as a horn section is to blend and provide what fits with the particular artist. I have recently been going through a load of old recording and video clips, and I was struck how we sounded incredibly different from project to project. I think that if a band booked the Tower of Power horns they would be wanting and expecting that particular sound. Our job was to fit in!

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JH: I really like the incredible stat about your chart appearances. Can you tell me about that!?

JT: Yes, I was on at least one album in the UK charts without a break for 13 years and 4 months. This was with dozens of different acts through that period. At one stage there were 11 albums in the top-50 that I was playing on at the same time! I think that this is not symptomatic of being earth-shatteringly brilliant, more that I always had a business mind. I would approach my work as business, and on keeping good working relationships with people and always treating the artists and their music with respect. If a parent came up to you with their baby, you wouldn’t tell them that it was ugly! It is the same with musicians and their music. You have to treat people well and remember how important it is to them. You also have to remember that once your name is on an album, it is there forever! If I was not happy with the way that I had played on a particular take, I would sabotage it to make sure that nobody would ever hear it. It didn’t make me popular with other musicians on some occasions, but it is important that you take pride in everything that you do. If you don’t, it will come back to haunt you.

VIDEOJamiroquai – Tighten up – Live at club Citta, Tokyo 1993

VIDEOBuddy Rich Band – Prague 1984

JH: Through busy patches and big tours, how do you keep on top of your playing and technique?

JT: I certainly have a strict-ish 20 minute warm-up routine that I do when I am busy. I will vary it though. I had this idea a few years ago, coming back to playing again, that it would be a great idea for a book to talk to all the great players about their practise routines. I sat with lots of great players – Craig Wild, Andy Greenwood, Simon Gardner, Wayne Bergeron, Malcolm McNab, Gary Grant, Jerry Hey… and discovered that hardly any of them seem to have one. There’s the book out of the window!

I love to be organised with my practise and use various apps to keep track of what I have been doing. I suspect that I am rather OCD with it all, but it works!

I had some lessons actually with Gary Grant, Jerry Hey and Malcolm McNab. I love to go and talk to these guys, you can learn so much from them. I have been a massive Jerry Hey fan since I was around 18. He is so gracious and we spent a whole day at his house just talking about the trumpet.

JH: Does that leave you with a feeling of worry or anxiety if you haven’t been able to do your daily routine, like if you have just got off a flight or something?

JT: Yes I think sometimes it does. I also have an emergency short routine too, that I can do in the car that mainly involves buzzing. Jerry Hey would always do lots of practise including long warm-up/set-up before work. I asked what he does if he is on in LA at 9am in the morning. He answered very matter-of-factly that he would just get up at 4am so that he has time to do it and then travel in to the city!

JH: So here is the geek question… Equipment?

I’ve played on the same trumpet throughout my entire career. It is a 1962 Doc Severinsen Getzen Eterna, and I find that it just does everything that I need it to. It started out silver plated, I painted it white for a while during the Phantom Horns period, and it has now been beautifully replated like new. I am also playing on the same Marcinciewicz mouthpiece that I have had for years. I also use a Getzen Eterna Flugelhorn which I bought from Giardinelli’s in 1979. I absolutely love it and everyone comments what a big warm sound it has. I would not swap it for anything!

I must be any music shop’s worst customer! I think that given a bit of time, you end up sounding like yourself on any instrument setup. Some will obviously make it easier, but I have always felt comfortable on what I have so have had no reason to change.

Johnny Thirkell

JH: Would you say that the music industry has changed a lot over the years?

JT: Certainly. Some avenues for work have changed and dried up but there are also huge opportunities that have been created by the internet. Even I am able to build my own website, and I’m an idiot when it comes to that! If I can do it, there is hope for us all. I may have run a software company, but I got clever people to do all of that! I think that young people coming into the industry need to be exploring those avenues for promoting yourself and generating additional income streams. We have to be much more self-starting, the world has become much more democratised. In music there are all these outlets, and the long-term winners are the ones that really take advantage of this. Blockchain technology in the distribution of music is also going to keep changing the way that we all work, allowing us to track every digital file that we create.

Some younger UK players are really building a great reputation for themselves. Louis Dowdeswell for example – loads of the top guys in the US like Wayne Bergeron are talking about him. I love the idea of young people just making it happen. What’s really interesting is when I was a young player, all the ‘old-school’ trumpeters would tell us that they would hate to be starting out on a career then as there wasn’t enough work around. It didn’t deter us, and here I am, still playing the trumpet all these years later! So that is the lesson that I would pass on to these younger players. Forget what those ‘old farts’ said! The nature of the beast changes – there was a period of around 10 years where I was surviving entirely on studio work, but then you get a show or whatever, but it has started to get a little more fragmented now. The ‘playing’ industry is certainly different to how it was, but I do not think that it is necessarily worse. The smart ones are the ones that get with the program and make a career for themselves. What these young guys like Louis and Tom Walsh are doing is fantastic. They are really making use of all of their talents.

The key is to embrace a portfolio of careers, whether it be playing, teaching, writing, producing, and to put your heart and soul into it and make it the best that it can be. Embracing the changes and the new technology is key and makes for a much more interesting way to earn a living.

JH: There is a big emphasis on ‘identity’ isn’t there? And I think that if you embrace the fact that being a trumpet player today is so much more than just being a trumpet player, you are going to be a lot happier! And a lot of these younger guys are really going for it.

JT: Absolutely, and in my day, we were very much compartmentalised to an even greater extent. You were either a studio player, or a show player, or a function band player or whatever. That started to break down as there became less studio work and less work generally. I never forget hearing for the first time that a guy like Derek Watkins would take on a show – we were amazed that he would do that. We never thought of him as a ‘show player’ but looking back, that was ridiculous. Why on earth wouldn’t he? It is great work, and he was a great player.

Things are certainly more fragmented now in the music industry, but as I said the key is to embrace it instead of bemoaning it. It is like when the drum machines were first introduced. It showed up that there were 2 kinds of drummer – those that complained that the drum machine was taking some of their work, and those that went out and bought one! Who better to programme a drum machine than a drummer? And for me, that sums up the differences.

JH: So we have talked about compartmentalising and pigeon-holing players. What ‘slot’ would you have put yourself in 20 years ago?

JT: Pop. Almost exclusively pop music studio work. I would tour sometimes. There were 3 bands over the years that I had a spell in: Swing Out Sister, I did about 4 or 5 years. I was with Level 42 for 8 years, then after that, Jamiroquai. Now those bands only toured for part of the year so a lot of the rest of the time was studio work. Myself and sax-player Gary Barnacle set up a horn section called ‘Phantom Horns’ which we branded and treated like a business. For 15 years, I would say that I was exclusively pop music.

JT Purple

JH: And if you had to give yourself a job title now, and ‘pigeon-hole’ yourself, what would you say? I am guessing that it is probably a little more complicated!

JT: My wife describes me as a retired business man, but I am not so sure that I like that particular moniker! I am enjoying being a trumpet player again and feel that I am playing better than ever. For the first time ever, I have TIME to practise, and I am loving it! I had many years as a full-on professional musician, then 10 years as a full-on business person building up and running a number of businesses – throughout all of that though, inside I still feel like a trumpet player, and dress like one too!

I like to be stimulated and love being on the board for various things like the Music City Foundation in Sheffield, and also being involved with numerous projects involving music, education and technology. It keeps me busy and interested. Underneath it all though, there is no hiding from the fact that I am a ‘trumpet player’!

JH: So, here’s a strange thing: Reading your discography I see that you are listed as playing flute on a Kylie Minogue track. Surely that is a mistake?

JT: That is not a typo! Steve Anderson was the producer on that track and booked me on trumpet. We were at Olympic studios in London, I was the last instrument to go on and they needed rough mixes by that night. Steve was struggling to find good flute samples in a hurry so I said, “If it is not too difficult, I’ve got my daughter’s flute in the car!”. I went and got it and played one bar of flute, for no extra money I might add!

JH: Any other projects on the go at the moment?

JT: I am starting the next Lisa Stansfield tour in April 2018 for a couple of months, I then will be working with Marti Pellow for a month after that. I have also just finished doing some arrangements for a great new young artist. Hopefully I can say more soon!

JH: What advice would you give to a young JT?!

JT: Treat your career like a business and don’t worry about what other people think!

Please visit Johnny’s awesome website at johnnythirkell.com

Be sure to also check out the great videos and audio clips on there!

Podcasts & Podcasting

Podcasting as a tool for engaging, educating and entertaining has been growing rapidly over the past few years. There are two questions that I want to pose here: “What are the interesting existing podcasts aimed at trumpeters?” and “Is a podcast becoming an important marketing tool for today’s professional musician?”

There are a number of great trumpet-related podcasts that I like to listen to when I am on the move:

‘The Other Side of the Bell’ from Bob Reeves Brass – Every month or two, we get a new in-depth interview with top artists and educators. This year has seen some really interesting features with James Thompson, Jon Faddis, Marquis Hill, Randy Brecker, Caleb Hudson and Chris Coletti among others. You can get more details on this podcast here.

‘Trumpet Teacher Talk’ is a great podcast, each episode featuring a top trumpet teacher going in detail on one main pedagogical topic. We have not had a new episode a little while, but the back catalogue is definitely worth checking out here.

‘Trumpet Dynamics’ by James Newcomb is also a good listen. Interviews with a mixture of established and up-and-coming artists as well as comeback players and teachers. There is a nice focus on marketing and musical entrepreneurship too. You can get some more details here.

‘The Brass Junkies’ by Andrew Hitz and Lance LaDuke – Put together by top pros (although not trumpet players!) there is a great variety of interviews here and is definitely worth a visit.

A number of artists are also using podcasts as a way of engaging with and expanding their fanbase. It allows a much more personal touch than your typical Facebook and Twitter posts, and current trends show that more and more people are subscribing to podcasts than ever before. It gives an opportunity to put your message across in much more detail and allows the listener to feel that they are getting to know you better. It is also very cheap and easy to do, with minimal software/hardware requirements and cheap and easy hosting options.

There are a number of different approaches that you can take in developing a new podcast. For performers, it can be a way of bringing the listener with you to work – for instance many groups will do a tour podcast as they are on their travels. For teachers it can be a tool to promote your work, perhaps by offering particular courses available on podcast. For manufacturers and retailers it can be a way of offering added value to your customers through interviews (see Bob Reeves Brass above) and also bringing new customers in through a different door. The possibilities are endless, you just need something to talk about.

In a world that is becoming increasingly mobile and with the popularity of voice-activated technology in our homes (Alexa has become a important family member now!), convenience means that the written word plays a less important part in our lives. The R&D efforts that are currently being put into developing the uses of this technology further show that the big multi-million dollar tech companies agree with me. We need to think of podcasting as ‘YouTube on the move’, and be as proactive with creating audio as we are with video. After all, for all of us that enjoy making music, what we hear is always going to be our priority.

 

 

 

 

Trumpet Artist Profile: Eric Miyashiro

With a trumpet in his hands, Eric Miyashiro is a force of nature. The powerful sound, blistering range and flamboyant lyrical playing suggest a very different personality to the one that I met! Eric is one of the gentlest, nicest people that I have come across so I was thrilled when he agreed to spend some time doing this interview for Mouthpiece Online…

What drew you to the trumpet as a child?

My dad was a well-known trumpet player in Honolulu, Hawaii, so music and trumpet came naturally.  It was like a “toy” for me, I really don’t remember when I started to play!

Who are/were your main musical and trumpeting influences?

Well, there are sooooo many… my dad, Maynard, Bobby Shew, Snooky, Doc, Herseth, Vizzutti, Jerry Hey, Chuck Findley, Freddie, Stahl, Chase, Audino, Clark Terry, Faddis, Wynton… too many to list. I like everybody! I always try to find something in a player that I like, and then learn from them.

As a young pro, one of your first big touring band gigs was with Buddy Rich – What was it like as a young player going into that environment on lead trumpet?

To tell you the truth, I was too green to take that chair, I was not ready… but I think that Buddy saw something in me and he let me grow in to that chair. It was brutally a tough, difficult book to play. Buddy’s energy was so strong that you can’t help but to get caught up in that typhoon of power – it was real tough to try to keep up with him. But it was also the best, and the most fun I had on the road… I would not trade those years for anything!

You have worked with a few manufacturers over the years on custom mouthpiece and horn designs. Can you give us any insights on the design process from a players’ perspective, particularly in relation to your GR mouthpiece and Yamaha trumpet?

Over the years, I was able to meet and work with most of the famous makers. Each company has their own philosophy and systems in designing their products, some of them contradicted the others, but overall the science is the same. Yamaha and GR are at the highest level of product tolerance control in my opinion. To me, the horn and mouthpiece are just tools, it really doesn’t make you sound any different or better then you are capable… depending on how long the “honeymoon” period lasts!

But having a horn that is easy to work with is the key to letting your personal voice come through your playing. I have had about 600 mouthpieces, 47 Bb trumpets, 2 MF Firebirds, 5 flugels, 4 piccolos, 3 melophoniums and a superbone. I have tried all the gadgets known to mankind, and my conclusion is in the end, it’s you and your “voice” in your head that matters. You can change the way you sound by finding a sound that you want and need, that comes from listening, and trying to get a strong image etched in your head. Your priority should be finding equipment that is easy to handle. Only then can you concentrate on the music at hand, rather than fighting the horn, and blaming the horn and mouthpiece for your performances.

Mouthpieces are like your shoe size, bigger is not better! And resistance, from your horn or mouthpiece, is your friend. Learn how to use resistance. Lean against it, and let the resistance help to keep your buzz from opening up too much.

In some recent ‘clinics’ of yours that I attended, you discussed some really interesting approaches to playing high notes! You demonstrated with a leadpipe and some tissue paper that it is not necessarily about airspeed. Can you share some of your thoughts, theories on this? How did you come to start using these techniques?

I always knew from early on that it wasn’t all about the “Air”, “Tongue Arch”, “Pedal Tones” etc. Everything is important, and it’s about balance. We often base our playing on physics with fluid dynamic and acoustic theories. What we do is completely unique. There are very few detailed, and scientifically proven studies done on the physics of brass playing. Any studies are not accurate and reliable because of the player’s physical and personality differences.

The amount and the speed/pressure of the air is a factor that will come into play with the lip tension, tongue position, mouthpiece design, the horn, acoustical condition and the size of the room etc… and on and on… So many factors are involved, but one thing that is certain, is that we “overblow” when things are not working with the chops.

I know this because I am guilty of having done this for most of my life. So, I have been doing my share of studies and experimentation to figure what does and does not work. The bore size, bell size, venturi size, or the gap and drill size on mouthpieces does not necessarily determine the resistance. It is the balance between all of this, plus the most unstable factor, you and your preference.

For you, what are the key factors in keeping on top of your playing when you are travelling?

Sleep, (which is hard to do….) Lots of water, avoiding alcohol, (which is really hard to do)… and keeping your chops in shape by carefully maintaining the buzz centre and the mouthpiece position.

If you could give any advice to a teenage Eric, or suggest that he does things differently, what would you say?

Take lessons!!!! I have never taken a lesson in my life, I am self-taught so I have many bad habits!

Please visit www.ericmiyashiro.com to find out more.

To see the range of GR Mouthpieces, please visit Thompson Music and purchase with an additional 11% off over Thanksgiving weekend.

pBuzz: Brass Playing for Younger Children

Encouraging younger students to play brass instruments in a crowded marketplace full of competition for children’s attention is a tough task. Warwick Music (the team behind pBone and pTrumpet) has set about opening up “buzzing” to the masses in the hope that the pBuzz can be the gateway instrument to get children interested in brass. Recorders have been a mainstay of primary schools across the world for many years, and ukuleles have also been very popular as an affordable way for hard-up schools to introduce musical instruments in the classroom at an early age. So, why not brass?!…

I have had the use of some pBuzzes (I think this is the plural) for a few weeks and below have put my thoughts as well as those of my 7-year-old son.

pBuzz: Priced at under £15 in the UK and under $30 in the US, and made from durable brightly coloured plastic, the pBuzz is clearly aimed at a younger user but is also fine for older users like myself! It uses a small trombone mouthpiece, requires a simple right hand slide action (like a trombone) and is pitched between a trombone and a trumpet. Due to it’s short length, there is just one natural pitch/harmonic available to players which anyone that has taught whole classes of brass will appreciate – it is great to have a room full of children actually playing the same pitch from the outset! This obviously brings with it a limit to this instrument’s musical uses, however I think that this is very much the point. Brass (or plastic in this case) has been simplified to make it easy and accessible to all, while also encouraging good fundamentals of breathing, buzzing and posture from the outset.

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The pBuzz website (pbuzz.co.uk) has links to some great teaching resources that help you to get the most out of it.

From a personal perspective, I do not like to place too much emphasis on buzzing as a way of producing the best possible sound [Please click here to read my interview with Allen Vizzutti on this subject]. However I believe that buzzing is a great tool for encouraging good breathing and control and is a fun way of introducing brass playing to younger musicians. The pBuzz certainly ticks these boxes!

7-year old Nathan writes: “The pBuzz is a really fun way of making lots of noise and learning about music. I like being able to play with the sound and make different sounds using the slide and my raspberries!”

Steven Greenall, Chief Executive of Warwick Music Group has also been kind enough to spend some time to do a short interview with me and give some background on the processes involved in developing a new product like this:

I have been struck by the amazing accessibility of the products launched so far by Warwick Music. What are the main motivations and influences when it comes to design and launch of new products?

The primary motivation comes from our own experiences as musicians, teachers and parents – in that sense we know many of the challenges and issues which students, parents and teachers face each week. We are fortunate that the whole team has a deep appreciation and understanding of our vision to get more children into music and that means we also have a lot of fun and enjoy watching and hearing the innovative ways that teachers, students and amateurs use pBones, pTrumpets and pBuzzes.

We also care a lot about giving a quality experience – we are proud to have some of the best quality review rates in the industry. We are not perfect – and we are always learning from customer feedback – in fact we have a “team email” which is sent out to our whole company every week that discloses all the comments we’ve received. It keeps us motivated for the great impact we have had, and also serves as a reminder to improve constantly. Being “disruptive innovators” is a mantle we wear proudly – if we are going to really engage the next generation of children, then we have to shake things up!

When it comes to using non-traditional materials to manufacture instruments for student brass players, there must have been some difficulties and surprises along the way! Can you share some of the challenges that you have had to overcome with us?

Yes, of course – failure is par for the course in innovation. But that is not a bad thing – because we need to be fearless in how we tackle problems. If innovators play everything safe, then there is really no progress. Understanding how materials can be manufactured – the critical need for tolerances, the right type of plastic at the right temperature – there really has been a ton of stuff we have learnt as a team. But, we are always good at asking ourselves – why? We like to challenge the status quo.

There are 2 huge differences in the way we do things: firstly, the material and secondly the way we make things. Whether brass or plastic, it is easy to make things cheaply – but to offer a quality product that also has pedagogy at its heart – we believe in our niche, Warwick Music Group are really pioneers. The biggest surprise has been how the music world has embraced what we do and why we are doing it.

What was the primary motivation and design brief behind the pBuzz in particular?

The pBuzz had its genesis in a car journey with 3 of our team in the USA. We were talking about the recorder as a music education instrument and discussing how there is no brass starter instrument in the early grades (or years in UK parlance). Buzzing is just cool – kids love it, but the only way they can access it is via a “proper” brass instrument such as cornet, trumpet or trombone – which by default means we leave brass learning later and later. In some cases, it is simply too late – especially in this technological world where children want immediate results.

So we built a brief for an introductory brass instrument that would be accessible for the youngest children and also be colourful and fun – and pBuzz was the result!

A number of retailers report that traditional sheet music sales are struggling at present. Is this a pattern that you have noticed through the Warwick Music publications, and how do you think that publishers can adapt to a changing marketplace?

I think all types of publishing have changed radically with technology – at Warwick Music we have been selling “digitally” for some time, but of course the challenge is protecting the copyright of your composers whilst enabling customers to access music in a world of free music, free TV, etc. We have been discussing looking at subscription type models, whereby customers will essentially have access to a complete instrument catalogue i.e. all the trombone music, and can use it for as long as they’d like to pay for it – we are also moving more into online learning such as with Ian Bousfield’s Unlocking the Trombone book and videos, or Peter Gane’s Circuit Training 2 online course. There will certainly be a lot of interesting developments over the coming decades – I always like to see what companies like Fender or Hal Leonard are doing . . .

Further information on pBuzz is available at pbuzz.co.uk

pBone, pTrumpet and pBuzz are available to buy from Thompson Music

Trumpet Artist Profile: Allen Vizzutti

Regular readers will most likely need no introduction to Allen Vizzutti – an artist of the highest calibre: soloist, recording artist, composer, educator and master clinician!

On a visit to the UK earlier this year I caught up with him and wanted to discuss two main topics with him – a fascinating topic on which Allen often talks in clinics and also in his method books that have become standard literature for students around the world: whether there is an over-emphasis on the word “buzz” in a trumpeter’s vocabulary; and also the design process behind the impending launch of the new Yamaha Vizzutti Model Trumpet.

I had a (brief!) opportunity to have a blow on a new prototype 9335V when Allen was touring Europe recently, and my first impression was that it felt very similar in response and tonal character to the 9335NY New York model. There was perhaps a slightly richer tonal core across the range though. I very much look forward to having a proper test-drive when the instrument is launched later this year – watch this space!

Below, Allen tells us a little about the thoughts and processes behind this new model:

The new Yamaha 9335V Bb trumpet will be launched in it’s second iteration in November. The Vizzutti model idea was born in a conference room in Japan several years ago and I was given the go ahead to help design a personal model from the ground up. It was an exciting opportunity and one for which I am very grateful. I worked on the project with Yamaha genius designers Bob Malone and Wayne Tanabe in New York at the Yamaha Atelier on 5th Ave.

Even though we had permission to start from scratch I had been enjoying using a gold plated but otherwise stock New York Xeno for some time. Logically we chose to start with that trumpet as the basis for the new model. If that didn’t prove successful we could always begin again from scratch. I would like to make clear that I am not a trumpet designer. My input was based on evaluations of the physical feel, the sound, timbre and the trumpet’s characteristics in different registers. Again, I was pretty happy with my stock Yamaha New York Xeno. I should note that I brought along a Bach Strad that belonged to one of my students because there were characteristics of that horn that I liked and wanted to reference.

The short story is after a few hours of experimenting with different small part changes we were getting amazing results. We blew the Bach away early on. Changes consisted of using different small parts made of varying materials and having different weights. We moved bracing and tested myriad slides, water keys and valve parts. I would ask for something and Bob and Wayne would head into the workshop and return to the testing room with changes. The final result came relatively quickly. The new 9335V had a better harmonic structure and was slightly more open and free blowing without being a large bore. It was much easier to play above high C regarding both response and resistance. The sound was a little darker than the New York Xeno. In reality, the improved characteristics of this trumpet are most noticeable by professional or near professional level players. When played with maximums of flexibility, power, control and beauty it is the best horn I have had.

Later when production was in full swing I tried 40 examples of the trumpet. Asked to pick 2 for my personal use I couldn’t really tell the difference between them. In the end I randomly pointed at a couple and those were the horns I ended up using. Unfortunately the first run of the 9335V was limited to a small number of units. The good news is the newer version will be unlimited!

Yamaha 9335V 2.0. What’s been changed? Over a couple of years Bob Malone worked on small tweaks to the 9335V. After he was happy with it I tried out several examples. We ended up with a minimal version of changes through evaluation most of which you cannot see. The water key structure is probably the most observable difference to the newest 9335V. It plays great. I like it a little better. I can honestly say I would be happy performing on either version.

Like a great automobile company, Yamaha is committed to constant development and improvement. The evolution never stops. The Yamaha 9335V should be available in November 2017.

Regarding the question, “To buzz or not to buzz?”, Allen has kindly pointed me towards the relevant page in his method which I have reproduced below this. From my perspective, buzzing has always been a fundamental part of my teaching and important concept for beginners to grasp early on. The main priority for me is that the buzzing is used to show students how relaxed the chops should be and to put the emphasis on the air and support.

Aged 16, I was put through quite an aggressive embouchure change that set the mouthpiece onto a “buzzing embouchure”. This meant that my embouchure barely moved across the range of the instrument, but unfortunately my sound went to crap! It was only when I started at the RCM at 18 that James Watson told me to ignore the past 2 years, and I suddenly had my sound and flexibility back! Therefore Allen Vizzutti’s theories below strike a chord with me…

The use of the word buzz in trumpet study is pervasive. When creating sound with the lips alone or playing the mouthpiece alone it is easy to understand why this is true. The sounds created are sounds of buzzing. However, buzzing one’s lips into a trumpet mouthpiece will create an unwanted “beginner’s” sound. Even actual beginners can avoid ever having a beginner’s sound when taught to blow and not to buzz.

Using the embouchure [described on page 153], one can learn to send a steady and firm airflow through the aperture – made by the lips, into the trumpet, creating a wonderful tone without ever thinking of buzzing. The tense, tight sound of buzzing and the accompanying weeks of frustration associated with “unlearning” this habit can be completely avoided. Unfortunately, for most of modern history, the conventional wisdom of trumpet pedagogy has been to instruct beginners to buzz their lips. Aggressively sending air through the trumpet without buzzing causes the air column to cycle in waves against the tubing of the horn. The vibrating air column is a result of the air meeting the resistance set up by the lips, mouthpiece and leadpipe. The trumpet bell amplifies the vibration. The smoother one blows through the horn, the smoother the sound. Buzzing does not create the sound.

ls there any purpose in buzzing? Actually, yes. Buzzing is just a different entity than trumpet tone production. Buzzing the lips without the mouthpiece and trumpet, including flapping them (loose and low-pitched), is a very useful relaxation technique. I do it to loosen my lips, warm down and as an emergency substitute when warming up may be impossible. Lip buzzing exact pitches to then match on the trumpet, as suggested in some educational material, is of little value (other than ear training), in my opinion. My range on the lips alone is very limited. My range on the trumpet is much more extensive.

Playing the mouthpiece alone is often referred to as mouthpiece buzzing. lt can be very useful as part of an organized warm-up. The concept of playing the mouthpiece should be the same as playing the trumpet. lmproving one’s mouthpiece sound can really help improve one’s trumpet sound as well. Eliminating the trumpet and its sometimes-confusing technical concerns can encourage successful breathing and relaxed blowing. Playing melodies on the mouthpiece is very helpful for ear training and embouchure pitch control. Ultimately, the smoothness of playing the mouthpiece alone will translate to a smooth and steady trumpet sound.

To find out more about Allen, his projects, recordings and publications please visit www.vizzutti.com

1st things 1st…

A new school term is just starting, with thousands of children picking up a trumpet for the first time this month. The purpose of this article is to look at how we as teachers approach these crucial first few weeks, what our priorities are to ensure sustained enthusiasm and a solid technical and musical grounding… and also any tips and tricks that we have learnt that help to achieve this.

I will start with my tuppence-worth, and then welcome my fellow trumpet teachers to share their thoughts here too. Any top tips that any of you may have will be received with interest and gratitude!

The first priority has to be continuation – no child can get the educational, personal and emotional benefits that we all know learning an instrument can bring, if they are desperate to quit after a handful of lessons. For me, most of the activities are centred on materials and music that is already familiar to the new-starter: very simple (sometimes one-note) arrangements of pop songs, lots of full-on singing and ear activities including improvising with backing tracks from lesson 1. I have found this to be a really brilliant way of building confidence and enthusiasm from the start – there is no such thing as a wrong note after all!

As far as a technical grounding goes, I tend to concentrate on 2 main aspects: Breathing and Tongue Level. I will also do a bit of mouthpiece work and buzzing with them to get them used to the feel of it, without worrying about it sounding rubbish!

The purpose of the controlled breathing is hopefully obvious. I have spoken to a number of teachers who do not start to talk about tongue level until months or sometimes years in. I have found that getting students to think about and sing melodies using aaah, eeeh etc gets most kids comfortably with a workable range of a 5th or an octave within 2-3 weeks. The sooner they can play some ‘proper’ tunes, the better! I cringe when I hear (often very experienced) brass teachers telling their students to ‘blow harder’ or ‘squeeze’ to get up to that 2nd space G.

There are loads of fantastic all-in-one tutor books around. I tend to use mostly my own materials for the first 5 or six weeks until half term, and then ask the parents to get their wallets out for a good book.

I have spoken to a number of colleagues with some great technical tips. One was to ask the student to grip a thin drinks straw (the type that comes with a Capri-Sun) to form nice centred and relaxed embouchure. Then put the mouthpiece over the top of the straw, and then finally remove the straw, leaving the mouthpiece perfectly centred. Repeating this at the start of each practice or lesson gets the student used to exactly where it should go. I used this myself for a while, and it worked very well with most students. However, I found that in these early days, especially if you have an excited younger student, you do not want to be doing anything that tempers and gets in the way of their enthusiasm and love of what they have just started. As with any of these things, it is a balancing act.

What are the priorities for you as you set another student off on their adventure? What are the things that have worked well and perhaps not so well? Have your priorities (or indeed the students) changed over the years? Please do comment here…

What difference does mouthpiece material make?

This is too a broad question and also very difficult to judge!  I ask it because I came across a now-discontinued Sterling Silver Yamaha 14B4 trumpet mouthpiece a short while ago and was very interested to find out…

1. What difference the silver makes…and

2. Why they were discontinued.

Question 2 is probably pretty straightforward to answer. Where they are still showing as available in the UK, the retail cost of them is around £300, which is most certainly not a price bracket that we are accustomed to with Yamaha.

What difference the silver makes requires some playing and listening, so I have lined up 3 mouthpieces that are all advertised as having the same rim and cup profiles from Yamaha and will test them on a Xeno 8335RGS and a Bach 180ML37:

Standard 14B4 Trumpet Mouthpiece

Custom GP (heavyweight) 14B4 Trumpet Mouthpiece

Custom 925 Sterling Silver 14B4 Trumpet Mouthpiece

I played each mouthpiece on both trumpets at a range of dynamics and registers using a variety of attacks and articulations. I took notes based on how they ‘felt’, and also recorded them closely-miked to get an idea of how they would perform for me in the studio. I also asked a trumpeter friend (although they may not be for much longer after the racket that I subjected them to!) to listen from the other side of the room and take their own notes.

The whole lot makes for a long (and not particularly interesting) read, so I have done a summary below and would very much welcome thoughts from other players (and indeed designers and manufacturers) on these and any other mouthpieces made from non-brass.

The Standard mouthpiece gives a nice even sound across the range, although it gets overly bright for me in the upper register and doesn’t really open out enough for my taste in the lower registers.  This is probably partly to do with the fact that although I generally have always played on 14 style (Bach 3) rims, I have also always opened out the throats to give less resistance.  The brightness and ‘edge’ that I was experiencing was also picked up on by my audient and to a lesser degree by my close-miked recording.

The Custom GP mouthpiece is also brass and has more mass around the outside of the cup.  Immediately I felt a huge tonal difference.  The sound was much more centred and had a richer and more solid tonal core across the registers.  I could not however get a brightness of sound (even on the 8335RGS) at louder dynamics that I would want.  Interestingly, my listener at the other side said that there was not much difference at louder dynamics to the standard model.  This was also the case listening back to the recording, suggesting that the biggest difference with the GP model is in feel and comfort from a playing perspective rather than necessarily in sound.

The Sterling Silver model has a similar volume to the standard (a bach-ish style blank) but is certainly a few grams heavier than the standard due to the material.  It felt instantly different – more tonal core (quite similar to the heavier GP), but surprisingly also a massively quicker response.  Unlike the GP model, what I was feeling as a richer sound did actually come across to the audience and the difference could clearly be heard on the recording.  Generally you would expect this from a tighter or shallower-cupped mouthpiece, but not necessarily from something like the 14B4.  The rim and cup profiles, the throat and backbore should all be the same as the standard model, however this mouthpiece responded completely differently.

I mentioned earlier that I generally open out my mouthpieces to a 25 or 26 throat. This silver model has a standard narrower 27 throat, yet has a strange combination of the open sound that you associate with a larger mouthpiece with the quick response and overtones that you can get from a smaller more resistant piece.

What do my fellow trumpeters think? I would be really interested to hear what you have thought about non-brass mouthpieces.  There are obviously a lot of options now available made out of synthetic materials and plastics. Has anyone experimented with metals other than brass, and is there scope and/or a financial viability for designers and manufacturers to explore this further?

Numerous mouthpiece options are available along with specialist advice from Thompson Music.

Resources for Group Trumpet Tuition

Music education has changed drastically over the past few years, and is a topic upon which instrumental teachers have often lamented.  In the UK in particular we had a sudden shift to whole-class and group instrumental tuition 12 years ago, which has taken a long time to establish itself as anything more than a musical experience for children.  Now that teachers are getting more accustomed to this setting and scenario, approaches to teaching beginner students are having to change with the focus particularly in the early weeks and months on having fun, rather than a technical grounding.

From my experience, I felt ill-equipped with suitable resources moving into group teaching (2005-2010), so found that I was primarily relying on writing and creating my own.  I know that this is a similar story that I have heard from many other trumpet teachers too.  In many respects this is a good thing as you do not become bound to a ‘method’ and any materials that you do use are purely as a resource rather than a learning guide.  In this setting particularly, improvisation (both from students and teachers!), singing, general musicianship and listening become even more important tools.

As we have all adjusted to these changes, many of the available teaching materials and ‘tutor books’ have now changed as well.  Here I have given a run-down of many of the methods and resources that can be useful for teaching beginning students in a group situation.

Trumpet Basics – John Miller (pub. Faber) 

This is a great step-by-step method, with a nice mix of different styles too.  The ensemble pieces included here are well-arranged and work really well.  The layout is clear and is engaging for learners of all ages.  The only negative aspect is that there are not many pieces that are suitable for a mixed ability group, and it does rely on everyone progressing at a pretty similar rate.

Standard of Excellence – Bruce Pearson (pub. Kjos) 

The variety of exercises and tunes here is great, and the ensemble stuff, particularly mixing with the other brass instruments is well thought out and fun.  The layout though could probably do with being updated as younger children particularly seem much more engaged by an open layout with pictures and diagrams as well as the notation.  Some of the repertoire could also do with a facelift.

Team Brass – Richard Duckett (pub. Faber) 

I really like the step-by-step nature of this method as each page introduces new elements while also consolidating the previous page.  This alongside the nice ensemble arrangements makes this a good resource particularly for mixed instruments.  The repertoire and the layout though are a little outdated now and perhaps is not as engaging for younger children as some of the other options available.

Essential Elements (pub. Hal Leonard) 

This has good varied content and works well with combinations of all brass and woodwind.  The ensembles work nicely, although involves some adaptation to work with mixed abilities.  The online resources are also really well integrated, with apps available for phone and tablet.

The Boosey Brass Method (pub. Boosey & Hawkes) 

This has a lovely, clear and engaging layout.  It is full of great games and activities that are good for at home as well as in the lesson.  A particular feature that I really like is visualising of notes as ‘building blocks’ to help encourage controlled air flow.  This tutor book is however aimed more at individual or small group tuition with lots of nice mixed ability duets, but no arrangements ‘ready to go’ for larger ensembles.

ABRSM Music Medals (pub. ABRSM) 

The Music Medals offer good targets and in-class assessment for children learning in a group, and there are a number of good resources too.  The ensemble book has a nice selection, but it is very narrow in style.  The ‘musicianship’ side of the syllabus seems a little dry and is also quite hard to teach to groups of younger children in an engaging manner.

Trinity College London – Small Group Tests, & First Access Tests for whole classes (pub. Trinity) 

As with the Music Medals, this is a way of setting targets and offering individual assessment (and certificates) to children learning in groups.  There is a nice variety of repertoire with many different styles represented.  There is also a real emphasis on ear work and improvisation, and all of the tunes have lyrics to encourage aural development.

There are obviously a lot of other resources both in print, as audio, video and online that I have not covered here, and I am very interested to hear of teachers’ experiences with the materials above, or indeed any others that have been useful to readers.

Many of these and numerous other great teaching materials and equipment is available at Thompson Music.

Mike Lovatt: Interview and Instrument Review

Mike Lovatt has one of the most heard and recognisable trumpet sounds in the world right now.  If you do not think that you have heard him play before, you are probably wrong!  Starring on more movie soundtracks than I can even begin to list, he is instantly recognised by his signature scintillating yet full, rich sound and his smooth, understated style.  His versatility means that he is equally at home in his lead trumpet chairs with the John Wilson Orchestra and Superbrass as he is as guest principal with all of the UK’s major symphony orchestras.  He is also sought after by the biggest names in the pop and commercial sectors and is a true A-lister of the trumpet world.  I never had the opportunity to sit in a section with Mike in my trumpet playing days, but was fortunate enough to work as producer on some Superbrass sessions that he was involved in.  I got to see first hand his incredible skill, musicianship and professionalism.

This incredible level of versatility requires an instrument to match it, which has led to Mike’s latest project, a collaboration with trumpet builder Richard Smith to design a new instrument capable of fulfilling all of these varied requirements.  The ML Smith-Watkins is the result of this partnership.  My review of the new model follows these thoughts and insights on the design process that Mike has kindly shared with me:

Mike:The process of designing was quite slow as Richard Smith is in York while I am in Hertfordshire, which meant a lot of bits of trumpet being sent backwards and forwards as well as trips up there for me to tweak and try things.  

I wanted to improve all of the things that that weren’t quite right for me on the original SW models which Richard designed in consultation with the late, great Derek Watkins.  After nearly 30 years of playing one of those models I felt that I was in a position to develop them further for my needs.  I always liked the way those trumpets blew though, and wanted to keep the interchangeable lead pipe system.  I think that this part of the design (dual lead pipe) is key to the feel of the instrument and helping the resonance and efficiency of the energy going through the horn.  

We started off by choosing a valve block – I had about 4 different ones to try just as they come (a valve block and slides). I was looking for good compression yet good mechanical movement of the valves.  I sat in front of the TV wiggling valves for hours on end and ended up choosing a .460 bore which had good compression and worked really well !

Next was a bell to balance it up.  I tried a different bell in lots of different settings on a trumpet all taped together!  I tried lots of bells of different sizes and gauges.  In the end I settled (not knowingly)  for something equivalent to a Bach 37 – the only thing was that I thought it sounded a bit bright and wanted to have the full picture range of sound from dark to bright when pushed!  After trying the bell in standard gauge metal we tried a heavyweight version.  This was perfect.  At this stage I still hadn’t tried the instrument soldered together! 

Lastly and importantly we worked on developing a leadpipe to be adaptable in lots of different styles of playing and one which lent itself well to the smaller bore and smaller bell than I’d been used to.  After the ‘core’ of the trumpet was sorted, we addressed little things like a new style finger hook and water key position.

Since the launch of the new trumpet in Summer 2016, demand has vastly outstripped supply.  Interestingly, they are not only proving a hit with jazz/commercial players but can also be seen in a number of symphony orchestras across the UK and Ireland.  I was therefore very keen to get my hands on one to review and see what all of the fuss has been about!

The trumpet has a .460” medium large bore valve section, heavyweight yellow brass bell and is supplied with the custom ML leadpipe.  A lovely distinguishing feature is the laser-etched titanium finger buttons. It is supplied in silver plate as standard, but gold plate is an optional extra.

I was immediately struck by the ML model’s response.  Most of the Smith-Watkins trumpets that I have played in the past have required a tighter feeling late-taper leadpipe to give you that delicate and immediate response.  I found that with this model, I could get that immediacy yet combined with a rich full sound even at quieter dynamics.  The tonal core feels really stable across the range and dynamics, and there is a lovely sizzle to the sound when you open up the throttle.

In short, I was not disappointed!  For my own interest, I also tried this model with #10 and #32 leadpipes.  For quality of sound and general versatility, the supplied ML leadpipe definitely wins the day though, and I can certainly see why this trumpet’s appeal seems to have reached out of the commercial sector.

If you would like to find out more about this trumpet, please visit the Smith-Watkins website at www.smithwatkins.com

To find out more about Mike Lovatt, please visit www.mikelovatt.co.uk