Designed in Australia by Lisa Holownia, BuzzBuddy provides a lip cushion to make it more comfortable to play. It has revolutionised trumpet playing for students with braces or dental work and is also great for outdoor playing. Lisa talks to us here about the process of design and what brought her to create BuzzBuddy in the first place.
Please can you give a little background on your relationship with brass, performance and teaching?
I started playing brass instruments when I was 8 years old. That was quite a long while ago! I lived in a small town in Victoria, Australia called Port Fairy, and on New Year’s Eve in the mid 70’s, saw their little brass band marching down the street in the street procession. The local teacher, Mr Murdoch, agreed to teach me tenor horn. Over the years, whilst growing up, I pretty much played all of the instruments available, including snare drum, and developed a life-long love of brass, especially trumpet and horn. It was such a wonderful part of my childhood. As a result of winning competitions on tenor horn, I decided I wanted to become a professional, and the local dentist had a French horn for sale. I bought it with my pocket money, and that was that! I left home at 17 and did my final year of high school at a music school in Melbourne and went on to Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music. I have now been playing professionally for over 30 years on French Horn and occasionally, trumpet, which is also a great love of mine. I find trumpet cheeky, fun and exciting, whilst I find the horn warm and gorgeous with its smooth chocolatey timbre, so I have never been able to focus entirely on one. (I also have a secret love of the euphonium, which I play for fun). I have always been a freelance player, as I love teaching as well. I have been very lucky to have performed in some amazing concerts with many wonderful orchestras, including Melbourne and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, and got to work in the UK as well for a while, mainly with the English Chamber Orchestra. What an incredible experience that was!
Teaching-wise, I have always felt a responsibility to pass on my knowledge to others. I have, throughout the years taught thousands of students. I have taught primary, secondary and tertiary horn/brass, and still just love working with young people. It is genuinely fun, and I have never worked a day in my life! I think young people get a really hard time today, but I genuinely think they are incredible. I also teach classroom music at the moment (since Covid happened), have a very exciting advanced music extension class this year, and have conducted many bands and ensembles over the years. Simply put, I just love all types of music-making and teaching! The joy of my life is when a young adult bumps into me somewhere, as happened last week whilst I was picking up my car from the garage, and tells me they still love music, and play in a band.
Any particular musical influences?
My horn teacher, Alex Grieve was a huge influence. He started the International Horn Society with some colleagues and was the most amazing, musical player. He was great- he used to take me out for lunch because I was so poor as a student, and introduced me to foods of the world – and I am very close to his family still, now he has passed. He introduced me to Dennis Brain’s playing, and I like to think I have tried to model my playing style on his – not that I could even come close – he was a true freak of nature. Hector McDonald gave me my very first French horn lesson, whilst on tour in our local area, and he was a great influence too. I also love Alan Civils’ playing – especially his Britten Serenade, and these days adore the playing of Alec Frank-Gemmill. Trumpet-wise, Hakan Hardenberger was a huge influence – it was so thrilling to do concerts with him as the soloist when he came to Melbourne in the 80’s. Our very own Aussie jazz great, James Morrison was also a huge influence, as well as Wynton Marsalis.
What led you to identify a need for the Buzz Buddy?
For years, I struggled to keep students playing when they had dental braces on their teeth. Invisalign also wasn’t the answer as it still has little dots on the teeth which cut the mouth when you play. I would get my students to a good standard, and then alas, they would give up due to the pain. I am a farmer’s daughter, so very practically-minded, and I had tried everything known to man to fix it, including rolled up Blue-Tac!
Life has a funny way of twisting and turning – a few years’ ago, I developed an awful, chronic, inflammatory, demyelating illness. My left leg was paralysed, and I was having horrid treatments to stop it progressing throughout the rest of my body. I was working as a Director of Music in a school, and resigned. At the time we were in the middle of a house renovation, so I asked the builder to make me a sound-proofed music room in the carparking area…and so I started a lovely little business teaching brass at home.
One student who came to me was the daughter of a music teacher. She was doing incredibly well on trumpet, and one day, came to me very upset because she had had braces put on her teeth, and couldn’t play a note. I knew I had to really do something about it because this student was truly gifted on the trumpet and I had to help her. And now I had the time!
Please can you talk a little about the process of design?
I started with a pen and paper actually, just drawing shapes as I lay on the couch recuperating. I lay awake at night trying to figure it out as well. Then my brother came to visit me from Canberra (I live in Brisbane). We had a long chat about this, he was once a cornet player, and I showed him my drawings and drew some more ideas, showing him what I thought would work. He went home and literally went to the hardware store, got some curtain rods, and all sorts of other cylindrical things, and cut out some very rough shapes for me. I got Sophie to try them, and she told me the ones that worked. Then my Father-In-Law came over from the UK; he is a retired engineer specialising in rubber. He took a trumpet mouthpiece with him back to the UK, my designs, and my brother’s bits and pieces that he had fashioned, and made me some very crude rubber samples in his garage. I tried them again on Sophie and we picked the best one. After further designs, drawn up by my engineer friend John Chanson, I had some 3D printed – and that was a total disaster. I was so excited to receive the package and gave it instantly to my student Kristy, who also had braces. She put it on her mouthpiece and it fell apart completely! Disaster! Then I found a guy who knew a guy who made food grade silicone products. And Buzz Buddy was born! Finally, we managed to get some prototypes that really worked. That was exciting.
How long did it take to get from initial concept to a finished product?
About 3 years.
What were the particular challenges that you faced bringing Buzz Buddy to market?
Starting a product business from scratch was a significant challenge for me, given my lack of experience in inventing products. Fortunately, I have had the assistance of Scott Farley of F3 Designs, who generously offered his expertise to help bring my invention to life. While I have encountered many obstacles along the way, including not having paid myself yet, Thomann has been a great advocate and provided strong support for my product. Although I had not anticipated the difficulties involved in getting a start-up product to market and all the responsibilities that come with it, I have learned a tremendous amount, to the point that my son says I have essentially earned a business degree. The most rewarding aspect, however, is that my product has allowed thousands of people all over the world to continue playing brass instruments and enjoying music. It’s truly incredible, and I still can’t believe it!
Where can readers get hold of them?
You can purchase Buzz Buddies through our online shop at www.buzz-buddy.com.au as well as through international seller Thomann and various retailers in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
We have not yet expanded to the USA, but we do have a full patent there and have received a lot of interest. We are working on generating enough orders to attract big companies to take us on so fingers crossed!
Check out our list of suppliers here: https://www.buzz-buddy.com.au/suppliers.
Anything else that you would like to add?
I think I have said a lot already. Thank you for listening to my story, and I truly hope that Buzz-Buddy can make a difference to people’s lives and keep them playing for longer, more comfortably. You don’t just have to have dental braces to use it – many people are using it for general comfort, allergies, marching, sealing their embouchure, and even one lovely fellow with a moustache gave me a good review- as the hair was upsetting his embouchure and my Buddy fixed it! Also, I would like to add that Buzz Buddy fits many other instruments – including horn, cornet, flugel horn and even squeezes onto a small trombone mouthpiece. I am yet to develop it for other instruments, but that will happen in the future. Best wishes to you all for a long and happy life, playing the music you love!
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