Mary Elizabeth Bowden most likely needs little introduction. Gold Medal Global Music Award Winner, Yamaha Performing Artist and acclaimed soloist, she has received plaudits from audiences around the globe for her scintillating performances and recordings. I am grateful to Mary for her time and for sharing some thoughts with me…
What drew you to the trumpet as a child?
My two older brothers already played the trombone and horn. I really wanted to study with the same brass teacher and be in the same instrument family as my brothers so the trumpet was an easy choice. I started on a Yamaha cornet, an instrument I still perform on today for cornet solos. Our teacher took us to many concerts around the Chicagoland area including many brass concerts and the Chicago Symphony.
Did you have any particular early musical influences or heroes?
My favourite trumpeter as a kid (and now) was Sergei Nakariakov. From 2010-2011, I took a handful of lessons from Håkan Hardenberger and I carry these lessons with me everyday.
I feel very grateful for my trumpet teachers along the way. David Bilger at The Curtis Institute of Music and Allan Dean at Yale instilled a beauty of sound and musicality in my playing. In my late 20’s, Jens Lindemann was the first person to encourage me to pursue a solo career, form my own ensembles, and think outside the box. This turned out to be the best decision for my career path. Now my life has a full balance of solo recitals and concerti, collaborations with many artists, Seraph Brass, Chrysalis Chamber Players, Dash Duo, orchestral work, giving lectures and masterclasses, and teaching.
Career highlights to date?
The release of my debut album, “Radiance,” through Summit Records which won a Gold Medal Global Music Award. Performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 with the Chameleon Arts Ensemble in Boston, performing as a soloist at the Velika Gorica Brass Festival in Croatia, and the concerti I have performed with various orchestras. I also am Principal Trumpet of the Artosphere Festival and I frequently perform as as guest with the Marlboro Music Festival.
I am also very proud of my brass group, Seraph Brass. I founded the group in 2014, and since then we have performed all over the U.S., Finland, and Mexico. We also released our debut album this year through Summit Records, winning a Silver Medal Global Music Award. We will return to the Lieksa Brass Week in Finland this summer as a sextet.
I am also co-founder of the non-profit ensemble, Chrysalis Chamber Players, in Naples, Florida, and we perform a variety of works with flexible instrumentation.
I also tour with my husband, trumpeter David Dash, as the Dash Duo. We both teach at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts; Dave is the Assistant Professor of Trumpet, and I am a Resident Artist.
I love creating new projects and being the leader of ensembles. I am always looking for new collaborations, commissions, and opportunities.
As a top performer, are there any particular routines that you follow to keep yourself in good shape for performance? How do keep on top of your trumpet playing, particularly while you are travelling?
It’s really important for me to keep my basics in check especially while on tour when there are lots of performances. I focus on Clarkes, and I vary the articulation, slurring and multiple tonguing in all ranges. I also love starting the day with lip bends in the middle register and mouthpiece buzzing.
Recently I’ve discovered a new app called RØDE rec, and I will run a piece and listen back to myself at half tempo. This is a very efficient way to fine tune details.
If I am doing a lot of heavy playing, I find it very helpful to ice my face, and alternate with heat. I usually use a cup of tea for this. Turmeric and sleep are amazing for me too.
Do you find that your practise preparations change a lot as you shift between solo, chamber and orchestral playing? Or indeed the changes of repertoire within each area?
The basics always stay the same. I always keep piccolo in my practice every day, no matter what I have coming up. If I am balanced with all of the horns, my playing is more flexible. I think my practice goals shift depending on repertoire. If I have to play lead in orchestra on a heavy piece, I add in sessions of producing a lot more volume, but while the performances are happening, I practice the opposite of that (soft playing). If I have a Brandenburg 2 performance coming up, my piccolo sessions are longer. I need to be able to have the endurance to play Brandenburg twice in one day if I need to, so being able to play it 3 times is ideal for me. I balance this out with low soft exercises on the b-flat trumpet.
When learning a new piece, I spend a lot of time at slow tempi and this has been very beneficial in learning a piece quickly.
What projects have you got coming up?
I am very excited about my next album, trumpet/strings/harp, which will be released in 2019 through Summit Records with new arrangements by Rick DeJonge and original works by James Stephenson and others. I am recording with the Kassia Ensemble, and we will begin performing together as well.
This summer I will be a guest soloist at the Maspalomas International Trumpet Festival in Gran Canaria and at the Tidewater Brass Festival.
Photo Credits: Photos by Lisa Mazzucco, Concerto photo by Kyle Adler