I have succumbed to the most popular enquiry on here. ‘What stuff do you practice?’
Things have changed a lot recently and I have been travelling much more than usual. In two months, I have been to Scotland four times, Hof in Germany three times, Stuttgart, Nuremburg, Malta, Birmingham a couple of times, Manchester, London and, oh yes, a couple of solo engagements and recording session in Liverpool of all places!
I might add that I went from 20 degrees in Malta to minus twenty degrees in Hof, Germany, in January. That was a noticeable change!
All this travel has meant that I have seen many new things and been forced to try lots of different food!
The sad news is we had to say goodbye to Scooby in December. We will take a long time to get over him but he had a good life and was almost sixteen!
It has been a bit hectic but that’s the way I like it. I have had some days at home too, of course and have done my best to do justice to my increasing ‘stable’ of students. They all appear to be studying hard in my absence as all are getting stronger, more technically assured, and musically more interesting with the message they are conveying through the trumpet.
Perhaps I should go away more often!
As an aside, I always say I am going to do less teaching. Also, I always advise my students not to take on too much teaching incase it interferes with their form and development. However, I realise as much as anyone else that taking on students can really help to keep the wolf from the door.
Having made that last statement it would be unfortunate if I were interpreted as putting teaching in purely financial terms. To see a student blossom and fulfill their potential is as rewarding as playing a good J.S. Bach second Brandenburg Concerto or to play the glorious Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauß.
My point is, and some people really don’t appreciate this sentiment, that I am training professional standard trumpeters to play to and achieve their optimum. Let’s take a look and perhaps define ‘professional’. The word was first explained to me as ‘one who is paid in fees, rather than a salary’.
Perhaps having the type of job that is respected because it involves a high level of education and training would be another way of looking at it. The word is often used to describe someone who does a job for money that people do as a hobby. Maybe a consummate professional would describe someone so experienced they can rescue any given situation in their field: who’re yah gonna call?!
Therefore, call me old fashioned, but teaching is part of the ‘nineteen guineas’ scenario of a professional musician. I have been criticised for this outlook and one silly person in a former organisation told me as she left that she didn’t consider me for any education work for five years because I mentioned money! ‘Give advice away freely but don’t give it away for free’ – Mega trumpeter Graham Ashton on teaching.
Anyway, I have digressed far enough from the point of all this. Sometimes, as professionals we have to balance the budget somehow. I advise students to do whatever it takes. Professional playing could mean undertaking tasks that perhaps the professional didn’t envisage when entering that chosen lifestyle. I have played dressed as a chicken.
On the other hand, I have been paid to sit at a bar on a stage set, just holding a trumpet, for a month and drink as much as possible for a month. I once received a princely sum for playing about five notes on Delta Force Two (Paris for the week too!) but, on the other hand, I have received very little recompense for being frightened to death, for something really lonely and hard, in front of three thousand people and on live television.
One of my greatest professional pleasures is to play something new. Of course, another pleasure is partaking of the well known tribute act to dead composers, known as the canonic repertoire. A great Brahms 2 or a superb Beethoven 7 would reward our soul! For me, I would turn down the familiar for a walk down the wild side of contemporary music.
At this point, speaking of diversity, I would like to interject with one of my favourite pieces of poetry…
The Road Less Travelled By
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I don’t play a lot of authentic period instrument music these days but people do get in touch when they want difficult parts written by Bach & Handel to be played on modern instruments. Given a choice, without any denigration, I would rather do this than the established core of the symphonic repertoire. It is generally a little more involving even though partaking of the canonic repertoire does stimulate the hairs on the back of the neck.
When brand new music comes along, I am all ears. New music can be hit and miss. You may be in an artistic cul-de-sac, you may never hear the ten minute BBC commission again (even though, as one piece did, it took two months to learn), or you may (as I have) suffer the odd playing injury from time to time from playing like a Barbarian!
I have ‘wandered’ into doing a lot of new or contemporary music. One of my most respected mentors says ‘if a piece isn’t improved by rehearsing it, then don’t bother taking any trouble! ‘For myself, I don’t think I’m so judgemental. Well alright but I would rather take part in case I miss the making of history. Something new could pass me by whilst I continue the old tried and trusted music and I always like to try new techniques and experience new sounds.
The point of this long drawn essay is to illustrate a few things in a conversational manner. There is a whole myriad of opportunity out there. You can make a turn in any direction, each and every time you arrive at an artistic crossroads. It is an easy thing to say but to be ready in situ, at the drop of a hat can be the hardest thing of all. I find that I have to cope with a whole mountain of diversity. Stay calm and cope with entirely different stuff being thrown at you all the time.
Preparation seems to work for me.
Some seem to get by doing nothing; I have to work at it. I don’t mind the struggle because I have wanted nothing else since I was about eighteen months old and nowadays I want to get as far as I can in the practice room too. However, we are not paid as professionals to practice at home. We have to turn up all over Europe and impress at all times, in any situation. Diversity is healthy but does come at a price. You have to stay in shape, just in case the worst nightmare of horrendously difficult music is around the corner to surprise us.
One problem with travelling a lot is the necessity to take a practice mute. They are not especially good for trumpet playing but are better than nothing. They make my lips bruise up to be honest.
I like to have a fairly regular set of routines. Simple things, which are easily remembered and portable. Stuff I can do anywhere really. Here goes…
How to stay in shape!
This is what is hard about imparting knowledge.
What to do, how much, and when: if anyone could ‘can’ that, they would be rich!
I don’t teach dogma. I have to say set formulas just don’t work. There are too many variables to be precise about trumpet practise.
At the moment, I personally do these studies. I do change at the drop of a hat!
Many readers may be surprised at how simple my chosen studies are.
If I feel a bit bruised up or under-practiced I do Chicowicz Flow Studies.
Sometimes I leave these studies alone.
If my ‘chops’ feel like they are already in the zone I just start playing…
Next, on a free day I do some Arban, a few studies only. One of my favourites is:
Arban Page 14, number 16
I do this little exercise almost every other day, I suppose. I play it as sustained as possible. The psychology for me is to treat each phrase as one long note; at least, as far as the use of air goes. I play this one four times: single tongue, back tongue only, double tongue and backwards double tongue (yes, k,t,k,t,etc).
I would progress to the next exercise in the book but I have never perfected this one to my satisfaction! Adolf Herseth would play this simple study four times as his daily warm-up and he did okay.
I play the next two pages for stamina. Numbers 41 – 45 are just for limbering up. Sometimes, if I have been out all day and get in about ten at night, I will play number 46 through once because if I don’t have time to practice, this will give me a workout.
Number 47 loosens me up again after the ‘chops-crusher’ which precedes it!
Arban p.142 & 143
These two pages are something I try to play several times per week. If I don’t have time for a longer warm up or to play anything else before leaving for work, these will do just fine. Once again, I try to play them as smoothly as I can. I try to use the air as though each line is one long note: nothing short here. The manoeuvres are subtle and they keep me supple. They work me through all the keys and cover much of the range I have to play. I try to use these a study in playing perfection.
The fingers and tongue must work together precisely.
Arban pages 150 & 151 were set for a Royal College of Music examination whilst I was there. I didn’t have to take that particular test, as I was already graded higher when I arrived but the studies have proven very useful for me. I play them as I have marked, alternating between quiet and short and loud and sustained. They are great for coordination.I have never actually played no. 61!
I have always been impressed by the trumpet playing of the American Tim Morrison. Apparently, the great John Williams wrote this piece, Summon The Heroes, especially for Tim. It is a good study in sustained playing. I challenge myself to play it as perfectly as possible.
I recently did some concerts with the amazing Kathryn Tickle, who plays the Northumbrian pipes so beautifully. This was her encore and I treat this as my multiple tonguing exercise. I triple tongue from the second bar, even at a slow tempo. So, the lower Gs in the second bar are played utilising the back tongue. Half way through I change to double tongue when the music slips into duplets. Once again, I try to play all the notes as long and as smoothly as possible: treating each phrase as though it were a long note again. Short notes can come later in the day. My routine is mainly about smooth air.
This study may be a little tough for some , so I recommend Arban. Page 155 and onwards for intermediate players is as good as anything out there. I don’t particularly concern myself with speed, in fact slower tempi give more time to evaluate. In ‘Bill Charlton’s Fancy’ (and Arban) I switch my triple tonguing between TTK and TKT and I employ backwards double tonguing sometimes too. Even though I am playing smoothly with the air I try to clearly pronounce the starts of the notes; just no gaps.
A little multiple tonguing practice goes a long way.
If you listen to Kathryn Tickle playing this super little piece you will have in mind the exact concepts I am aiming for.
I always like to finish my routine off with a good old fashioned cornet solo. They test everything! Slow, low, fast, high, style, stamina, all the techniques. I try to vary the piece each time. The great Philip Smith plays a cornet solo every day!
The most important thing here, in my mind, is to perform like there is no tomorrow. Imagine there are two thousand people out there, paying $70 a ticket to hear you play. As you play, tell them a story they will never forget!
I learnt this particular solo from memory. I didn’t actually have the music until my great friend, the cornet virtuoso Howard Bousfield (he has a very famous trombone brother and a very musical, welcoming family) recently generously donated his part to me. I learned it via ear, from vinyl recordings and live performances of the great soloists in the UK.
It turns out I wasn’t too far off!
I try to play a different cornet solo each day. Watch out for my new solo cornet album!
Most questions to my website are concerned with my daily routine. The above is it! There is no magic!
After that, I simply practice whatever it is I am getting paid for as that is what pays the bills. The exercises will be familiar to my students (well, most of them!). You will not find endless pages of pedal tones or lip slurs here. I don’t pay them any heed. I did all that stuff and all the wicky-wacky exersises for years and now wish I hadn’t!
Works for me anyway!