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