Category: Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones! The Bill Jones Trumpet Blog


 

I get frequent questions from customers regarding the trumpet mouthpiece gap. By “gap,” trumpeters are referring to the distance from the end of the mouthpiece to the beginning of the leadpipe inside the mouthpiece receiver.  For this post I am relying on a very fine article by Cliff Blackburn that appeared in the May 1979 ITG Journal. According to Cliff, there are two basic measurements that are fairly standard for optimum gap adjustment: 1/8 of an inch and 3/16 of an inch.  1/8 of an inch may be the most standard and encourages good response, a warm sound that is well-centered, and provides nice slurring ability.  3/16 of an inch can produce crisper articulation, a well-centered sound, and more resistance than the 1/8 inch position.  Based on input from other players I would assume a lot of trumpeters are seeking to get notes (especially high range) to lock in better by making these minute adjustments. It can also be assumed that adjusting the gap will have no impact upon the intonation of the instrument.

 

As with any issue regarding the equipment I am using, I think all of the variables have to be considered before getting too consumed with this issue. First, mouthpieces are not created equal. I have 8 mouthpieces from eight different highly respected manufacturers lined up on my desk in front of me as I write this.  None of the mouthpieces are the same length. The actual length of the shank varies from one mouthpiece to the next. These are observations that can be made visually without having to measure. Second, trumpet mouthpiece receivers are not created equal. How a mouthpiece fits in the receiver will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  Some manufacturer’s receivers have to be altered to get any brand of mouthpiece to fit properly. Third, the shank of a mouthpiece wears down over time so the fit/gap will change. Finally, if I have to adjust the gap by shortening the shank, the same mouthpiece may not fit so well in my other trumpets; thus, I have to have a different mouthpiece for each instrument or else change/or install alternate receivers on each instrument until the optimum gap is attained with the same mouthpiece.

 

Assuming a gap of less than 1/8 inch or more than 3/16 is probably not going to produce good results, a first step would be to adjust the gap to 1/8 of an inch.  At that point I can remove metal from the end of the shank in increments as little as 1/64 of an inch at a time until I reach what I feel is optimum performance.  Once a measurement has been made, I am left with some irreversible options to adjust the gap (short of buying a new mouthpiece or mouthpiece receiver); shorten the mouthpiece shank, make the shank more narrow, or remove metal from the inside of the receiver.

 

Many of my customers ask me to adjust the gap while I have their trumpet in hand. Even with the player’s mouthpiece in hand this can be problematic.  I can adjust it to suit me or adjust it to a dimension that is requested.  In either case this may not be the best position  for the player.  To get a gap position that you will like, it is best for you to be available to play the instrument as the adjustments are being contemplated/performed.

 

Probably the easiest first step in experimenting with the gap is to first check the fit of the mouthpiece. If it is loose or you can actually move it side to side even though it feels tight otherwise then either the receiver needs adjustment or your shank needs some adjustment. A poorly fitting mouthpiece can cause a lot of performance problems. You can wrap the mouthpiece shank with a thin piece of paper or foil and insert it into the receiver to tighten the fit. By play testing using this method you can set the mouthpiece out different distances (by increasing/reducing the amount of paper/foil utilized) and determine if increasing the gap makes a positive change in the way the trumpet feels and responds.

 

Finally, I highly recommend the above-mentioned article by Cliff Blackburn to players that wish to fully understand this issue. If you are not a member of the International Trumpet Guild you can gain access to the very large database of journal articles by joining.

 
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For serious trumpeters one of the early investments that they make is to purchase a C trumpet.  The C trumpet has been very popular in the orchestra for nearly a century and is also utilized frequently for solo and chamber music performance. Many amateur performers also like to have a C instrument for church service melody playing and in some cultures C instruments are utilized for beginning players.

 

In my experience and observation only a few brands of C trumpets are considered to be suitable for orchestral performance. Those that are popular are recognized to have a darker sound than the Bb trumpet with more projection and a bit of “zing.”  Orchestral performers that play in major orchestras have the advantage of auditioning lots of instruments of the same brand and usually further “tweak” the instruments to ensure excellent intonation and response. While there are some custom trumpet builders that assemble instruments much more consistently than factory produced horns, there are still very few orchestra sections that stray from those few brands that are considered to be successful in the orchestra trumpet section. Most trumpeters that plan to audition for orchestras usually feel that they have to have one of the popular brands to be competitive. This logic doesn’t work well in reality simply because the player that wins the audition will be the one that plays the most musical performance, the best in tune, and with the best sound. Once selected for an orchestra position then the section members will make sure the new member gets an instrument that matches the sound that they want the section to have.

 

When first playing a C trumpet most players find that there is a period of time that it takes to master the instrument and to play it as well as their Bb trumpet.  This is true of all higher keyed trumpets and players that can alternate between various keyed trumpets fluently on a concert program usually have at least several years of experience in changing from instrument to instrument. Many players also find that it is necessary to use different mouthpieces on these instruments than they use on their Bb trumpet. The biggest problem that new players encounter is playing the C trumpet in tune.

 

Certain notes are not going to be in tune on all trumpets without making adjustments with the first and/or third valve slides. Low C# (123) and D (1-3) always require adjustment on all trumpets. On most trumpets 1-2 valve combinations are usually sharp and require adjustment with the first slide or the use of the alternate 3rd valve fingering which is permissible in certain musical settings (usually solo or chamber music). On most trumpets the written D (1st valve), Eb (2nd valve), and E (open) can be anywhere from a bit flat to very flat. Seasoned players are used to making adjustments on these notes to correct the intonation of the instrument.

 

It can be expected that a really fine C trumpet will have many of the problems mentioned above. Some players also feel that it is acceptable to use alternate fingerings for the Eb and E at the top of the staff which is not generally acceptable on a Bb trumpet. Alternate fingerings also change the timbre of a note and the performer has to make sure that that timbre is desirable and acceptable within the context of the music. Unfortunately many, if not most C trumpets coming off the assembly line have other problems. Many times the open C in the middle of the staff is very sharp and the only way to lower the pitch is to use the alternate 2-3 fingering combination. This produces a very dark timbre that can be out of context with other notes within a given phrase. Sometimes the G in the middle of the staff is sharp or flat. Sometimes the Bb first valve is sharp and/or can have a strange timbre. These types of problems combined with the fact that usually the D, Eb, and E may be flat can create a real dilemma for players that are new to the instrument.

 

Once we look at all of these potential problems it is no wonder that players get frustrated with C trumpets. Finding a C trumpet that plays really well can take a bit of time and most serious professionals end up owning several C trumpets over a career in the quest to find one that plays better. Professional players understand that you have to audition a lot of instruments to find one off the factory assembly line that will perform well.

 

I have often wondered why it is more difficult to produce a C trumpet that is easy to play in tune than the trumpets that play in higher keys.  I think the issue may be that most models of C trumpets are basically shortened Bb trumpets with a few modifications usually made in the bell design and leadpipe design. In the quest to produce a C trumpet that feels more like a Bb trumpet the more popular instruments are usually a larger bore size than the same manufacturers standard Bb trumpet. Manufacturers also produced some really poor D and Eb trumpets that were based on shortened Bb or C trumpet designs and these fell out of popularity quickly when D and Eb trumpets started being manufactured that had different pipe and bell length ratios. It is rare that a D or Eb trumpet with a standard tuning system (ala Bb/C trumpets) plays very well in tune.

 

Many of the successful C trumpet projects I have been involved with to date are non-standard designs. For my new C trumpet designs I utilize a bell that has what I consider to be a very superb sound for a C trumpet and it also plays well in tune with many different types of pipes/crooks. From my perspective building a new instrument is a more satisfying route to obtain a really fine instrument rather than trying to tweak existing instruments. This is much more cost effective through TDS and has many fewer headaches for a trumpeter that wants to have a really fine instrument.

 

 

 

Recently there has been quite a bit of news about China exporting low cost cars.  These cars are very low cost vehicles that are produced through reverse engineering; that is, Chinese manufacturers copy models of other successful manufacturers and then produce very low cost imitations less many of the frills and features found on the cars they copied.  They are considered to be “good enough” cars in the sense that they will get you where you need to go and back again, hopefully safely, and at a cost that is much less than your average American , Japanese or European manufactured vehicle.

 

Reading this news got me to thinking.  Is there such a thing as a “good enough” trumpet? There are many low cost trumpets currently available to buyers and if one is trying to locate a suitable low cost instrument it is easy to get confused.  What trumpet might be good enough for a beginner, good enough for a high school band, good enough for college studies, and/or good enough for professional performance? As with all cheap merchandise the rule of “Buyer Beware!” certainly applies.

 

Over my years as a professional performer, teacher, and trumpet designer I have had scores of different trumpets from nearly every manufacturer in hand at one time or another. What always amazed me was how certain (otherwise very respected) manufacturers could come up with designs that were not good enough for performance purposes and then replicate those designs and sell them for years on end.  Keep in mind, these instruments are made to high standards as far as quality and construction but because of the design flaws they simply do not play well. The market has been flooded with lots of trumpets that were mistakes from the beginning and many of my customers send these instruments to me to see if they can be redesigned and transformed into playable instruments. To further complicate matters factory production of professional designs that have the potential to play well is so inconsistent that professional performers are left to sort through a lot of instruments in order to find one that plays to a high standard.  Because of this problem there are now many custom trumpet designers that cater to professionals seeking an instrument that is better than “good enough.’

 

When I say that better than “good enough” is the goal, this only indicates that good enough is not really a standard in the music business.  In music “good enough” would indicate that it could have been done much better, that a really high standard had not been attained. As both a performer and teacher I have often witnessed sloppy tuning sessions followed by the comment “I guess that is good enough for jazz.” The truth is poor tuning is not good enough for jazz, classical music or commercial music. No one wants to hear out of tune music. Imagine an orchestral performer playing a concert and the conductor approaches him after the concert and says “Well Phil, I guess that was good enough for now. I guess you can keep your job.”  The translation is “Man, you just barely made it through that performance–that was not very inspired playing.”  Even when a really fine amateur musician owns an instrument that might only be good enough for certain venues this only ensure that a higher degree of excellence will certainly be more elusive because of the limitations of the instrument.

 

Based on my observations I have yet to come across a low cost instrument that is suitable for a beginning trumpeter to play, much less an aspiring professional player.  When I say low cost I am referring mostly to instruments that have flooded the USA market from China, Eastern Europe, and India. When I first noticed a problem with these instruments it was actually a trumpet manufactured for beginning trumpeters that had the brand of a major trumpet manufacturer on the bell. The model that it replaced had formerly been made in the United States and was considered to be an above average instrument for beginning trumpeters. When the new model (whose production had been out-sourced in the quest for cheap labor) hit the market it turned out to be a disaster. The instrument was so short that you had to pull out the tuning slide over two inches to get it down to pitch thus throwing it out of tune with itself. Since that time I have come across a number of cheap trumpets that have similar problems; in fact, I have yet to come across a cheap instrument that would have any chance of playing in tune with its higher priced competitors. This includes instruments that are too long to tune up to A=440 as well as those that are so short that you have to pull the tuning slide out so far that the basic intonation of the instrument is destroyed (assuming it might be ok with the slide all of the way in). Many times the instruments are made with mouthpiece receivers that only fit the same manufacturer’s mouthpieces. To play another mouthpiece the receiver has to be replaced or altered to fit.

 

Even respected and established manufacturers seem to go through periods where their production is faulty and not up to par. A good example is the Vincent Bach Stradivarius trumpet. Vintage models of this horn are highly prized and sell for higher prices than the new models. A number of years ago I realized that I had come across a number of these vintage Bb models that were too short.  The slide had to be pulled out sometimes nearly 2 inches or more to get down to A=440.  In a session with William Vacchiano in the late 1990’s I asked him about this problem and had he come across any of these “short” Strads during his career? Most trumpeters have seen old posters of Vacchiano endorsing the Bach Stradivarius and he was one of the trumpeters whose performance on the instrument made it one of the most popular in American orchestras. In true form, Vacchiano did not directly answer my question but said: “Well, Jones, getting a horn like that would be about the same as going to the bakery to buy a dozen doughnuts and then getting home and finding out there were only eleven doughnuts in the box.”  Vacchiano was famous for his funny statements so I added this one to the list. (Another good example was when a student asked him how often he should take a breath in a certain piece of music, Vacchiano replied, “Does a dog ever pass a fire hydrant?” or, “Mr. Vacchiano, what can you tell us about breathing?” Answer: “If you don’t breathe you will die!”).

 

A problem trumpet buyers have to be aware of is that a lot of manufacturers go through the “eleven doughnut phase” from time to time, outsourcing has added to those phases, and most of the current manufacturers of cheap brands are still in that phase even though they are actually making instruments that are sturdy and repairable if damaged.  In fact, many of the various components are often made to superb standards. However, because of the design flaws, these very fine components assembled together create a trumpet that is not going to be playable in any ensemble or with another instrument.  If the instrument was damaged (which beginners often do!!) most repair shops in music stores do not have access to replacement parts and are usually otherwise overwhelmed servicing the instruments that they sell.  Very few technicians would have the time or the expertise to rebuild the instrument to play well, and by the time the purchaser invested the money to fix the instrument they could have taken the total investment and bought a more suitable instrument.

 

When I began my trumpet design business one of my goals was to offer reasonably priced services to a large variety of trumpet performers.  Many musicians are on limited budgets, and even if not it does not always seem practical to have to invest thousands of dollars in an instrument. Most professional trumpeters own an arsenal of various keyed trumpets and the cost could become astronomical if all of these instruments were the most expensive on the market.  What I offer to customers is a common sense approach.  By assembling and/or modifying existing trumpet components with a large amount of play-testing as I go, a very fine instrument can be created at a reasonable cost.  The true value of an instrument is always in how it plays and “good enough” is never really a satisfactory standard in music.

 

 

It is with great anticipation and excitement that we approach the 50th anniversary of the American Brass Quintet. When this quintet was founded in 1960, brass quintet music was in its infancy. The New York Brass Quintet was founded as the first professional brass quintet in 1954 and only a few composers had written works for this new genre by 1960. As of 2010 it is estimated that at least 1100 composers have written works for brass quintet, many of them multiple works, so the number of existing brass quintet works is approaching 1600 compositions in less than 60 years since the brass quintet became a performance genre. A large number of prominent American musicians that composed string quartets during the last fifty years also composed brass quintets.

In terms of performance excellence and generating new repertoire, the American Brass Quintet has set the example for brass performers around the world since its inception. Two groups with a similar focus are now retired; the New York Brass Quintet and the Annapolis Brass Quintet. Other groups that have consistently remained devoted to enlarging the repertoire include the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the Chestnut Brass Company. All of the aforementioned ensembles can account for nearly one-fourth of the current repertoire by commissioning and/or premiering nearly five hundred works.

Another paradigm that has been placed by the American Brass Quintet is that individual personnel cannot override the underlying mission of the ensemble. That is, commissioning new music and performing it flawlessly is the focus of an institution rather than a group of elite musicians that get together to perform, have a good time, and make some money. None of the current members were in the founding ensemble. While I personally hope that the current membership stays the same for many years to come, it seems assured that fifty years from now the American Brass Quintet will be in existence and still be the faculty that teaches brass chamber music at The Juilliard School and will be recognized in the music world with the same esteem as the Juilliard String Quartet.

So in regard to the “state of the art,” where have we come from and where are we going? The term “brass chamber music” is still considered to be an oxymoron in the art music world because the idea of brass (loud instruments) playing music in an intimate setting seems ridiculous based on our historical role. Of course, once you hear the American Brass Quintet you realize that brass chamber music can not only be powerful and moving beyond an intimate setting, it can also be soft and subtle in a very small space. Unfortunately, their musical example is not fully recognized throughout the serious chamber music establishment simply because so many non-brass chamber musicians are not in touch with the ensemble or the music. In terms of musical elements alone, brass instruments are capable of the widest range of dynamics, with (or without) mutes an extremely wide range of timbres, technical possibilities that match and/or exceed all instruments and the voice, and a human element that comes the closest to vocal music; that is, the lips/body are an integral part of the instrument.

Another underlying problem has been the state of music education in the United States and our failure to develop an audience for art music. A few years back I came across a brass training method for bands that was developed by Dr. Harvey Phillips (renowned tubist and New York Brass Quintet member) in the early 1960’s. This system was demanding, complete and thorough, and was light years ahead of the training systems that are currently utilized. The current “let us entertain you” approach to music education and performance has really set us back in terms of developing an audience for classical music. Even though I was not raised in a progressive musical environment, I had many advantages that today’s music students do not have. Musical excellence has progressed in spite of our poor educational system, but the end result is the lack of an audience for the many fine musicians that we produce.

As a young music student the first brass quintet performance that I heard was by the New York Brass Quintet at the University of Tennessee in 1972. For me this was a revelation. I did not realize how well brass instruments could be played until I heard this performance. As I entered music studies in college I wanted to emulate this example and I also had great teachers (superb performers also) at the University of Tennessee. A few years later I had the privilege of studying with Robert Nagel (founder of the NYBQ) at the New College Summer Music Festival. After four years of diligent practice I was able to audition into the Juilliard School and study with William Vacchiano. Even though brass chamber music was not a focus at Juilliard at that time (they also did not have a jazz band!), I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of hornist and a D.M.A. student David Wakefield through my sister Elga (voice student of Eleanor Steber). David, a new member of the ABQ, always made sure I had tickets to be admitted to the American Brass Quintet performances at Carnegie Recital Hall. My musical goals have remained the same since—though I am not as gifted, I want to emulate in my performance what I hear when this group performs.

Another underlying problem for the advancement of brass chamber music is the avoidance by most ensembles to introduce audiences to our new, but very rich repertoire. Early in my career, when I was subbing in a very fine brass quintet for a six-week tour, the manager of the group called and told us to stop performing some very fine works by twentieth-century brass quintet composers. The group members were all shocked and appalled, but we followed the bidding of the manager, who was writing the checks. So, we ended up playing programs that included a lot of transcriptions, jazz arrangements, and Broadway show tunes. It is not surprising that most college undergraduate brass music students do not realize that the brass quintet actually has an original, legitimate repertoire. Sometimes I wonder if they grasp that Bach, Buxtehude, Brahms, Berlioz, and Barber did not compose brass quintet music. This is not to say that transcriptions do not have a place in the training repertoire, but why avoid the 1600+ works that were actually composed for the brass quintet? In addition to this repertoire, the American Brass Quintet has consistently performed works that have some historical basis in brass chamber music. This includes five-part works for cornetti and sackbuts, five-part brass compositions from the nineteenth century, and late nineteenth and early twentieth century works that were composed for brass instruments.

Because the brass quintet has been so successful in the world of entertainment there has become kind of an “us versus them” attitude in the brass world. Many players argue that they need to make a living, therefore they must play music that entertains an audience or else seek another occupation. Of course, the current audience has a limited musical scope and our offerings to them become limited with this approach. On the other side, musicians such as Robert King, Jean-Pierre Mathez, a number of prominent music critics, and many brass musicians seem appalled by the entertainment approach and see little value in pandering to an uneducated American audience. I generally take the middle ground in this argument. There is nothing wrong with entertaining an audience, but, with the rich contemporary repertoire available to us, it is time to start educating this audience and training our students to a higher standard.

From my perspective brass performers should always remain challenged by the example that the American Brass Quintet sets. The ABQ has proven that flawless intonation is possible in a brass quintet, that dynamic range and timbre can always be moved to new and interesting levels, that balance and blend can be achieved at all dynamic levels, that stylistic considerations of all musical periods can be addressed successfully, and that technical performance possibilities can reach new heights. Striving for less than this standard will not pay off in the future for brass musicians. Brass chamber music has all of the musical possibilities (and maybe more) of any other chamber music performance genre and the ABQ example must be taught and emulated.

So what is the future? Who will carry the torch other than the American Brass Quintet? Fortunately, many ensembles that exist through universities and conservatories also carry the torch. Other groups such as the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the Chestnut Brass Company, and the Saturday Brass Quintet also remain devoted to the art music endeavor. Even more importantly, composers keep writing music for brass quintet and we can support their efforts by performing their music. For the last fifty years, nearly every composer of significance has composed a brass quintet, so the future projects more wonderful and interesting music for brass performers.

A Tribute to Harvey

 

The recent passing of Harvey Phillips has left a void in the world of brass playing. As the weeks pass, I am sure the accolades from his colleagues and former students will be posted to further document his contribution to the world of brass playing. Long recognized as the “Paganini” of tuba and recently in the New York Times obituary tribute as the “Titan” of tuba, Harvey left a mark on the music world that will never be erased.
Prior to the 2004 Brass Chamber Music Forum I had never met Harvey or had a conversation with him. I felt it was appropriate to celebrate the 50th year of the New York Brass Quintet (founded in 1954) and had talked with trumpeter Robert Nagel (founder of the NYBQ) about having such an event. With Bob’s advice and blessing I began planning this event in early 2003. To me, this was a monumental milestone in brass chamber music, very similar to the recent American Brass Quintet 50th anniversary celebration. Rising out of an interest in chamber music in the post World War II years at the Juilliard School, the New York Brass Ensemble began playing early music that had been composed primarily for cornetts and sackbuts and gradually melded into an ensemble of 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba that gave its premiere at the New York Town Hall in 1954 and became known as the first professional brass quintet–the New York Brass Quintet. Except for a few modern compositions such as the “Sonatine” by Eugene Bozza, the “Quintet” by Robert Sanders, and a composition by Ingolf Dahl (originally intended for a larger brass ensemble) the NYBQ had to become quite creative in order to present full recital programs and get the attention of artist managers and concert audiences. The end result of this creative spark, nearly sixty years later, has produced an original brass quintet repertoire of well over 1500 works for brass quintet by more than 1100 composers (for documentation see the database at americanbrassquintet.org).
Harvey was always an eloquent advocate for the tuba, for first-rate music education, and for creating new solo and brass chamber music repertoire. His successor in the NYBQ, Toby Hanks, propelled tuba performance and brass chamber music repertoire possibilities to new heights. Other tubists have gained reputations as soloists and chamber musicians including Roger Bobo, James Self, and Oystein Baadvik. I have always been the kind of guy to go to tuba, double bass, and bassoon recitals even when they were not so popular, but now the fact that these instruments are popular as solo instruments stems from the kind of energy and enthusiasm that Harvey brought to the music world by championing his instrument.
Once Harvey was brought into the planning of the 2004 Brass Chamber Music Forum, my “to do” list started getting much longer with each phone call and e-mail. Like me, he wanted the whole world to recognize this remarkable musical milestone. Naively, I thought that once I announced the event would be held at Podunk University the whole musical world would notice and come flocking in. The members of the New York Brass Quintet and American Brass Quintet had always been my musical idols and I certainly assumed that all brass players felt the same. I guess Harvey knew better because he really encouraged me to develop the public relations part of the event and we managed to get articles and announcements in the “Instrumentalist,” “Chamber Music,” and a number of national news sources. We secured letters of endorsement/tribute from the governor of North Carolina, Gerard Schwarz, Eric Ewazen and other prominent musicians. Harvey made collector’s buttons for all of the participants, issued an historic NYBQ recording, and contributed money from his foundation to help fund the project. Harvey also made suggestions along the way to make sure that we were including people in the music school in the event.

After the event was approved by the university, an independent on-campus funding agency used their whole annual budget to fund proposals to get the seed money needed for the event. Another non-music school entity agreed to hire the American Brass Quintet for a 3-day residency to perform a concert on their series. Other proposals were funded by the Southern Arts Federation and the ACMP Chamber Music Network. Todd Stanton (ABQ manager) had a proposal funded by the NEA to help offset the expense of the ABQ residency. Things seemed to be going well. Then the university changed the weekend of the annual Homecoming game to coincide with our event, creating parking nightmares. To further complicate matters, the music school (referred to henceforth as “Podunk U.” to protect the competent), dean, assistant dean, and wind ensemble director at Podunk U. seemed to think the event was not worth promoting to the university, to the local community, or to the music students. It seemed to them like an obnoxious interference in the day to day job of training band directors, rather than an educational bonus. I had lined up the American Brass Quintet to play “Shadowcatcher” with the wind ensemble, Frank Battisti to conduct, and the composer, Eric Ewazen, to be on hand to assist with the performance of the composition. The wind ensemble director (now retired) decided he wanted no part of this (even with him conducting and Frank watching) so we ditched this effort as part of the event. Frank Battisti, Eric Ewazen and the ABQ still showed up and the ABQ sweated through a rather mediocre composition for brass quintet at my request to try to create a sense of community and teamwork in the event for the music school.
On the other hand, the brass faculty worked their butts off to help create an event that is still memorable to all that attended. The music faculty presented perhaps the longest Eric Ewazen concert in history that included the flute sonata, trombone sonata, horn sonata, trumpet ensemble works, works for trombone and trumpet, and more. Master classes, discussion forums, and individual interviews with key members of the NYBQ were videotaped for posterity (and have been utilized by brass DMA students at other music schools for projects since). Student and professional quintets performed new works for quintet and 43 composers submitted brass quintets for review and performance at the event. In addition to the ABQ, the Bay Street Brassworks, a military band quintet, several amateur quintets, and a number of student quintets from other music schools came to perform and/or for coaching. Gunther Schuller stopped in to sit on a panel and conduct a work on a concert (thanks to Harvey’s invitation).The only tuba students from Podunk U. that may have met Harvey Phillips were the tubists that happened to play in the five quintets that our brass faculty had prepared to perform on the event. (One was a bass bone group so we are looking at four tubists at the most). The rest of the tuba students from Podunk U. did not attend or meet Dr. Phillips.

Further to my embarrassment was the fact that our facility, even though fairly new, was not very accommodating to the disabled. Harvey could only get around in a wheel chair and it took quite a bit of maneuvering to find him a parking place, get him into the music building and into the right hall/room for master classes and performances. He never complained. He was so excited to be there.

For me, the highlight of the festival was when the ABQ and members of the NYBQ played a two-choir Gabrieli piece to end the ABQ concert. John Swallow had to leave the event early because of a family emergency so my good friend and trombonist Harold McKinney filled in for him and Martin Hughes, trombonist and long time member of the Annapolis Brass Quintet, played bass trombone to fill out the NYBQ group that included Bob Nagel, Allan Dean, and Paul Ingraham. Harvey did complain about this programming because the grand finale had failed to include a tuba. (Whoops!).

Harvey had the kind of energy that the rest of us can feed off of if we were lucky enough to meet him and know him. A number of times over the past couple of years I have picked up my phone and started to call him, then stopped because I could only envision my “to do” list as getting longer from the experience. This is to my discredit. I love his energy and hope to have it someday!!

Everything about Harvey was big. He was a big guy, he played a big instrument, and he went about everything in a big way. I suspect if I have the chance to visit the field in Bloomington where he is now laid to rest, he would have the biggest headstone. This would only be fitting.

 

For trumpeters, the mouthpiece is a very personal and critical piece of equipment. When I studied at the Juilliard School, one of my teacher’s most common sayings was, “A mouthpiece is like shoes, you have to find one that fits you.” (William Vacchiano). Since my father was in the shoe business, this hit home really fast. Having been raised and trained in a shoe business where my father designed custom shoes to fit individual feet, I knew that no two people were exactly the same when it came to a correct fit.

Trumpeters tend to gravitate toward several common mouthpiece designs (and variations thereof). There are so many variables that I have often felt that it would be nice if serious students and professionals were enabled to try a large number of mouthpieces to ascertain what is best for them. Even more confusing, great performers often promote designs that work for them without consideration to the fact that everyone has different shaped lips, embouchure configuration, dental formation, jaw alignment, etc. A true “custom” mouthpiece would be one that fits the player for which the mouthpiece is designed, and no other.

I have gone through a number of transitions in my approach to playing the trumpet. During these transitions, I designed mouthpieces that met my performance standards and supported what I wanted to produce musically. Interestingly, I now play mouthpieces that are fairly traditional and I am also able to change mouthpieces, if necessary, to match the performance environment and players that are in that environment. I also change mouthpieces to meet the desired sound and style for the period of music that I am playing. From my perspective, I am happy that I had the ability to design “transition” mouthpieces and I feel certain that they helped me move forward in my musical development.

It is important to understand that the player must be on a course to improve their approach to playing and not just looking for a mouthpiece that acts as a

“crutch.” Early in my career I had a difficult time switching back and forth from smaller piccolo trumpet mouthpieces to standard, robust mouthpieces designed for symphonic and classic solo music. At that time, I just thought it was due to my lips and did not realize that my approach to playing was not efficient, and, in fact, my embouchure and aperture were simply incorrect. I usually (and with some success) played my piccolo trumpet music first on a recital/concert program and then played my larger mouthpieces as the program progressed. To further complicate matters, my embouchure looked perfect to my teachers so they never questioned this. Now, because I corrected my playing problems, I am able to switch back and forth with ease. During the course of my studies and experimentations, I played a lot of different mouthpiece sizes that assisted my progress. I think the point here is that players should study with a teacher that really understands mouthpieces in order to progress forward. If we look at finding a really fine mouthpiece as an adventure that could last a number of years, I think we learn more and will ultimately be more successful.

Ideally, we want to avoid a mouthpiece that might hinder our progress. One of the most disastrous mouthpieces on the market is the Bach 3C. I have worked in a number of regions in the USA where band directors insisted that all of their trumpeters play this mouthpiece (especially in marching bands). William Vacchiano told me that this mouthpiece was designed for one performer (by Vincent Bach) to play lead trumpet in a jazz ensemble. For this purpose, and even for some performers to play the piccolo trumpet, this mouthpiece has desirable characteristics. It has a much more shallow cup than a Bach 5C, 2C, 1 ½ C or 1C etc. To play a Bb or C trumpet in-tune in a wind ensemble or an orchestra, this mouthpiece does not work for 99 out of 100 players. I have also seen young trumpeters run into some serious problems when switching to this mouthpiece thinking it might be an improvement over a 5C, 7C etc. First, it makes no sense to force a whole trumpet section to play the same mouthpiece. Would we make all of the members of a band wear the same size marching shoes? Of course not. Second, this mouthpiece is not desirable in concert band/wind ensemble/orchestra sections simply because it does not produce the desired sound and intonation. For most players, they will be flat in the lower register of the trumpet and sharp in the high register on this mouthpiece. I remember one student that played extremely well that refused to change from the Bach 3C to a better mouthpiece. Toward of the end of his studies with me he played in master class with Phil Smith and Phil told him that he would sound better and play better in tune if he selected another mouthpiece. In a lesson shortly after that class, he asked me “Should I change mouthpieces?” My reply was basically, “Well, what did Phil say?” (what I had been telling him for several years). Why argue with the Master?

I am a big fan of the Vincent Bach product, but if you study the line of mouthpieces, there is not a consistency or rational in the sizing. This is because Bach designed each mouthpiece to fit an individual player and then put a size on it. Many of the mouthpieces in the 5-8 range are close to the same size rim diameter. For example, a Bach straight 8 feels much larger than a Bach 7C. In my opinion, out of this confusion comes a great benefit (once you understand the sizing) because there are so many different rim contours and cup shapes from which to select. Other manufacturers generally make the same rim configuration for each line of mouthpieces and the cup depths are standard and consistent.

From my perspective, experimenting with mouthpieces has no benefit unless I am also addressing my weaknesses as a player and playing studies/exercises/etudes that are designed to improve my embouchure/aperture/blow and approach to playing. During transitions, I am able to direct students toward mouthpieces that will assist them with sound and intonation. I also learned from William Vacchiano that certain mouthpieces used over a short term in the practice room can improve sound, intonation, and endurance, with the understanding that we usually move back to a more standard mouthpiece when it is time to perform in public.

Another interesting anomaly is that I have often changed a student’s mouthpiece in a lesson that improved their sound and intonation immediately. The next week, they sound just as bad on the new mouthpiece as they did on the previous mouthpiece. This demonstrates that sound and intonation have to be developed in the “mind’s ear” to really make progress. If we don’t hear sound and intonation, the mouthpiece really doesn’t help much.

There are an infinite number of ways to design a trumpet mouthpiece. This can be frustrating and confusing to serious musicians. This includes rim shape, contour, diameter; cup shape and depth; throat (hole) size and contour; and the design of the backbore. When we experiment, we often can ruin a good mouthpiece by making a change that is not desirable. This can get costly. Often, a successful custom design is difficult to copy by reputable custom mouthpiece businesses. Asymmetrical designs are nearly impossible to copy.

Some really fine performers do not feel comfortable changing rim sizes, so they design screw-rim mouthpieces to change cup size, throat, and backbore while still using the same rim. Other performers seem to be able to change rim/cup sizes at will to match the trumpet that they have in their hands and to assist with high-range considerations or quality of sound.

To further complicate the matter, sometimes we need to play the mouthpiece for several days (even weeks) to see what kind of progress we can make. This is because it can take the lips some time to start vibrating properly with a new rim surface/contour and cup depth.

So, how do we find the right trumpet mouthpiece? First, I think it is important to try a lot of mouthpieces. Have a good musician listen to you to help judge sound and intonation. Be willing to play it a while to see what progress you can make. Second, don’t get consumed with range (high notes). A high range mouthpiece will have drawbacks for standard playing in orchestras, bands, and chamber music. If you are aspiring to play lead in a jazz band or high notes on the marching field, use one mouthpiece for that purpose but practice and play other music on another mouthpiece that encourages good intonation and sound. Finally, be curious and adventurous. Invest in a number of mouthpiece designs and see what they do for your playing. If a mouthpiece doesn’t work for you, you can always sell it to someone else. Match mouthpieces to the instrument you are playing, including your piccolo trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, and all keys of trumpets. We have to develop our ears by listening to sound and intonation, so learn to listen to the sound and intonation of each individual mouthpiece. I am constantly buying/selling/trading mouthpieces and there has not been a point in my career for the last 30 years where I did not own at least 60-80 mouthpieces. This is a great assistance in the teaching studio and I also have the flexibility to match mouthpieces to my horns and the style of music that I am performing.

I have always been an admirer of Cliff Blackburn and his superb trumpets. Interestingly, if you look at the price of factory (so called “custom made”) “professional” trumpets and the cost of a superb custom trumpet from Blackburn, I am not sure why a trumpeter with the funds available would not engage Cliff to make them a trumpet. Cliff is a great trumpet performer and he has decades of experience in designing trumpets. He understands sound and intonation regarding classic trumpet performance and his product is perfect in every way. He interacts with his customers, many of whom are the world’s greatest trumpet performers.

When we look at the development of the modern trumpet, several designers stand out as true innovators that responded to professional performer’s desires and tastes regarding the instrument. This includes Vincent Bach, Renold Schilke, Donald Getzen and Zigmont Kanstul. In my opinion, Cliff Blackburn has been able to improve upon the work of these great trumpet designers and is on the leading edge of trumpet design.

In the world of expensive custom trumpets there are a lot of strange horns that cost a lot of money. This includes horns that may be better named as “flumpets,” “crumpets,” “monetophones,” “flugelbones,” “cornetaflumpets,” or whatever. The truth is a trumpet should sound like a trumpet. If a person wants a specialty horn for jazz or solo work the previously mentioned horns are fine if you can afford them. For that matter, if you want a really funky horn, I can make you one for a few hundred dollars, instead of thousands or tens of thousands. Bottom line: When Gabriel sounds the final call it will be on a Blackburn TRUMPET, not some funky, weird-assed horn.

To get a really superb Blackburn trumpet, performers have to get over a few obstacles. First, it takes a while to get one (waiting period that can extend to months, year or more). Second, you have to be able and willing to make the investment. Sure, you can get a factory made “professional” trumpet in a matter of days for a few hundred less, but why? “Professional” trumpets are assembled by someone that can’t even play the trumpet in a factory that was out-sourced to save money on production. Quality is inconsistent. Cliff’s horns are made in the USA (Tennessee to be exact, Go Vols!) and are truly custom designed for his customers. Third, if you buy a Blackburn horn your colleagues will not like you because you sound better and play in tune much better than they do. They will be forced to buy a Blackburn trumpet to keep up with you.

Ok, point number three was a bit “tongue in cheek” but I have found that orchestra sections that I have played in really have an easy time when all of the players have a Blackburn instrument. The blend, intonation, and sound—superb! I have also really enjoyed playing chamber music with other trumpeters that have a Blackburn trumpet.

It takes so much time and detail to perfection to make a Blackburn trumpet that I am sure Cliff has a lot of confidence that no one is going to try to copy his designs and cash in on the success of his instruments. Time and attention is donated to each instrument—in my opinion this is something that you do not have to pay for when you buy a Blackburn trumpet. I doubt that he will ever be copied—if a large music company that out-sources production makes the attempt, they will charge thousands of dollars more to deliver an instrument that may be inferior to what they are trying to copy.

I would challenge my colleagues to research the information on trumpet design in the ITG Journals and other publications. The only contributors to this research are Cliff Blackburn, Renold Schilke, and a few other manufacturers that used to take the time to publish information about their product designs. There are an infinite number of ways to design a trumpet. Over the years there have been a lot of successful trumpets in production, many of which are yet to be copied or improved. The problem is that production has always been inconsistent, which means that you never know what you are getting unless you have the time, expertise, contacts, and perseverance to find a really fine instrument.

As a professional trumpeter with over 35 years of experience my goal with the Trumpet Design Studio is to help trumpeters get a horn that meets professional performance standards within a reasonable budget. I have a number of instruments that I play that have been through several modifications to reach the level of performance that I desire. I also own horns that were produced by other technicians that meet my performance desires. I do not compete with other designers/manufacturers. My goal is to help players avoid what I call the “in-between” trumpet that really has no function other than to make sure you want to sell it and get another horn. If you can’t afford a Blackburn trumpet, at least you can have a superb instrument until you can.

Blackburn horns are affordable because no one is being paid to endorse them. They are also affordable because Cliff simply does not try to cash in on his success. He is an honest person that cares about his profession. His instruments speak for themselves through the listener’s ears in public performances. Some of the finest trumpet performances I have heard were played on Blackburn trumpets. This includes performances by Terry Everson, Britt Theurer, Mike Tunnell, David Hickman, etc. These performers would play superbly on any horn, but they chose the Blackburn product. I personally think the Blackburn product is the modern standard when it comes to trumpet design and classic performance.

I think it is very important for players to understand the many variables regarding playing the trumpet in tune. In my opinion, if a trumpet is not built so that it can be played in tune, it has no value whatsoever until it is reconstructed and the problems are corrected. The market is flooded with instruments of varying quality that really do not meet up to an acceptable standard for intonation. I have often wondered why reputable manufacturers will turn out certain models for decades that do not meet a minimum standard for trumpet intonation. To compound these problems, many modern instruments are made with mouthpiece receivers that do not fit most standard mouthpieces, many are either too short or too long (too much, too little tubing), and many are made with incorrect valve slide lengths.

All trumpets are “out-of-tune.” The best instruments available have notes that need encouragement in one direction or the other. Generally speaking, a Bb trumpet is usually somewhat sharp with the 1-2 valve combination, a little flat on the written fourth line D (concert C) and often tends to be flat on the written fourth space Eb and E (concert Db and D). It is a given that 1-3 and 123 combinations have to be lowered in pitch by extending the 3rd valve slide. C trumpets tend to be sharp on the written third space C and flat on the D, Eb, and E. The 1-2 valve combination tends to be high on all instruments. What professional players know is that a really fine instrument will lessen the amount of pitch adjustment necessary and they usually search for horns with controllable intonation that responds to what is in their mind’s ear.
The player is ultimately responsible for playing in tune. We are the instrument; the trumpet only amplifies what we are able to do with our air/embouchure/aperture/lips. The art of listening/hearing pitch comes naturally to some players. For others, this has to be developed. Most of us are trained in ensembles that have a lot of wind instruments with similar pitch tendencies. There often seems to be a level of tolerance for poorer intonation in wind ensembles than is allowed in orchestral, solo, and chamber music performance. A poor approach to the trumpet also compounds intonation problems. Players with inefficient air and/or an improper lip aperture often will play incredibly flat on notes below the staff and incredibly sharp on notes above the staff. Other poor wind/aperture combinations will do just the opposite; the player will be sharp below the staff and flat in the mid to high range. Using a tuner during practice sessions can help develop the ear and also will identify notes that are consistently played out of tune. I frequently practice with the tuner just to make sure that I am practicing at A=440. I do not have perfect pitch and players that do not have perfect pitch can actually get in the habit of consistently playing too sharp or too flat during practice sessions. Because of this our mind’s ear starts hearing the pitch too sharp or too flat and it can sometimes be a struggle to get back in tune when we are playing with fixed instruments such as the organ or piano or with ensembles that tune carefully. Again, wind ensembles will often play so sharp that a piano, organ or fixed pitch percussion instrument will sound like it is tuned too low if it is introduced on a selection in the middle of a concert.

The mouthpiece is also a critical component that must be evaluated. When I studied with William Vacchiano he often reminded me that the wrong mouthpiece will make a good instrument play out of tune. I have designed mouthpieces with a great feel and sound only to discover they are hard to play in tune on the instrument that I have in my hand. Generally speaking, the smaller the instrument, the more critical the mouthpiece selection. However, there are popular sizes of mouthpieces that will force the finest Bb trumpet out of tune. Mouthpieces that are popular with marching band trumpeters are often a disaster for concert band intonation and sound. Another thing to remember that for very small horns, most, if not all of the venturi is actually located in the backbore/shank of the mouthpiece. Imagine the infinite number of ways just to design a mouthpiece for a piccolo trumpet. The finest piccolo trumpet in the world will not play in tune if we select the wrong mouthpiece.
I think a good example to use here is the player that has never played a C trumpet and decides to purchase one. Without proper instruction, frustration will ensue and the player immediately thinks something is wrong with the instrument. The truth is that most players find the adjustment to a higher keyed instrument to take a few days, weeks or months. It is my job as a teacher to hopefully help them shorten this adjustment period. In many cases, the C trumpet will require a different mouthpiece than we have been playing on our Bb trumpet for better intonation/blow. Another common problem–that sharp concert C in the middle of the staff–needs to be evaluated. On a Bb trumpet, if we play the concert C (written D) in tune this usually requires vibrating a pitch inside the mouthpiece that is actually slightly higher than a concert C. We pick up a C trumpet and play the same pitch and it is really sharp. We have to remember that we are used to vibrating a higher pitch on this note. Most C trumpets require that this C be encouraged downward in pitch. Seasoned players switch horns easily but this is because they have trained themselves to make these adjustments quickly, they have selected the correct mouthpiece for the horn, they have spent a good deal of time and money to make sure that have a horn that suits their playing and preferences, and they know their instruments well.
Sound and timbre are, in my opinion, issues that often are addressed without considering intonation. A great player sounds like a great player on any horn they play. They control the sound and the timbre because the sound and timbre they want (and intonation) is what resides in their mind’s ear and they expect this sound to come out of the horn. A trumpet will contribute to what our expectations may be regarding sound and timbre, but a poor player playing a great horn will still sound like a poor player. Sound and timbre are also very personal issues. How we sound will be determined by the style of music we play and it is often dictated by the expectations of the ensemble in which we are playing. For solo music (jazz and classical) and some chamber music players have a great freedom in regard to sound and equipment. Style and period can also dictate the sound that is necessary or desired.
Another one of my philosophies is that we ultimately sound the way that we want to sound. A good example is that I have an Eb trumpet that many players say sounds like a Bb trumpet when I play it. That is because this is what I expect from this horn, because of the mouthpiece I have selected, because of how the horn is designed, and what I have established in my mind’s ear. Other players playing the same horn would sound much different.
A possible stumbling stone in instrument selection is actually what players call the “blow.” Also, “slotting” is another term I hear used frequently. So, we pick a horn that we think “slots” well or “blows” well; it feels really good, but, it plays out of tune. If I play one horn with a great “blow” and another with more resistance, if the one with more resistance is easier to play in tune, this is the better choice. A trumpet that “slots” well is slotting out of tune–we have to remember that all trumpets are out of tune—hopefully, there is a place in that “slot” where we can center up the correct pitch!! Trumpet is not played by feel. It is played using the ear.
Let’s think through another example of a player that is struggling with a C trumpet. The “Promenade” from Pictures at an Exhibition is one of the best know sound pieces for the C trumpet. We want to really sound great on this selection. However, the greatest, richest, most vibrant sound in the world combined with impeccable musicianship and style will not win an audition on this selection if I play it out of tune. As we go through this note for note, we see the problems. First, we will assume that the opening G is played at the pitch to which my trumpet is tuned. (I had a C trumpet in my hands last week where the G was really sharp—not a keeper!) The next note, an F, tends to be somewhat flat on many horns. The next note, a Bb can often be sharp, next note, a C, wants to be sharp, next note F (top of the staff) probably sharp if we are not careful or fail to use the first slide if needed, next note D, flat etc. Of course, if I am worrying about splattering the high Ab later, or if I push too hard on the slurs and destroy the musical context, then playing out of tune is not the only thing I am doing wrong. The “Pictures Tune-up” has always been an excellent way for me to evaluate an instrument and my playing. We have to remember that trumpeters are not the only ones evaluating our performance. Great conductors and musicians hear poor intonation immediately and they don’t want to hear it again in the finals of an audition.
As a performer I have owned scores of trumpets in my lifetime and hundreds of mouthpieces. As a teacher it is rare that I am willing to spend more than a few lessons discussing equipment with a student over four years of undergraduate music studies. There is nothing more frustrating than a student that becomes consumed with equipment selection, expecting something from equipment that really needs to be established in the practice room. My experience does enable me to help a student correct equipment problems quickly so that we can move on to the matter of improving our musicianship. In my opinion, this is always the more exciting part of the adventure to become a better trumpeter.
Common Trumpet Tune-up Modifications
-Changing the mouthpiece
-Replacing defective mouthpiece receivers
-Correcting trumpet length
-Correcting valve slide lengths
-Replacing leadpipe
-Replacing tuning crook
-New mouthpipes and/or mouthpipe receivers (small horns)
-Replacing leadpipe, crook, and all tubing between the receiver and 3rd slide entrance
-Changing/moving braces
-Taking the trumpet completely apart and reassembling (may correct stress issues with bracing/soldering)
-Annealing bell, sections of the bell
-Cleaning the trumpet and/or mouthpiece!!
Common Trumpet Modifications that Do Not Improve Intonation
-Improving valve compression
-Valve alignment
-(In my opinion) some of the above rarely seem to work alone. For example, it is rare that changing only the leadpipe will tune up the horn, adding weight (heavy valve caps/bracing) sometimes adds resistance which in return gives more control, etc. Again, I think sometimes we have to judge between feel, timbre, and the actual pitch.
Common Mouthpiece Modifications
-Make cup shallower or deeper
-Change cup shape/contour
-Change rim contour
-Make throat larger or smaller (larger usually makes high range sharper, smaller—high range more flat)
-Change size/shape of the backbore (area inside shank)