Saturday, February 21, 2009

Looking for an Adventure

The difference between great music and not quite so great music, is that great music is full of great music. It's not hard to find. Not so great music requires great music makers to ensure that it happens. George Szell said that if you are playing the music of composers other than Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven, you must work harder. We can certainly object to so short a list, but the point is understood. We are on a mission to discover the music in the music. This then becomes our life-long adventure.

We are usually pretty good at recognizing musical intentions when the trumpet is not present. Now put a horn to our face, and creativity stops. The focus shifts to the difficulty of mechanics. The very instrument we love quickly becomes our enemy. Instead of being the conduit of our best musical intentions, the trumpet turns around to bite us, and stifles the whole process. Why is that? And what can we do about it?

Suggestion: Look at the advice given by the composer at the top of the page. Start there. How about assigning your etude, concerto, sonata, or symphony passage a theme, a storyline, a mood, or even words? A horn player colleague used to sing his own unforgettable lyrics to Brahms and Bruchner symphony fragments. Those passages suddenly came alive!

There is music on them thar pages, but you are required to discover and draw it out. A good imagination is all it takes to free us from musical paralysis. Instead of thinking another concerto, we think "Bull fight arena, scene 1", or "German tanks unstoppably meandering through the dense brush", or "A hazy sunset viewed from your high-rise veranda in Spain", or "A high speed sports car racing though European mountain terrain accompanied by your best friend!" Nothing is just notes. Everything is programmatic.

Charlier etudes and Arban Characteristics offer much more than boring studies. How about some of these pictures? A bicycle with an obnoxious dent in the frame of the front wheel, acting like a relentless metronome; a Frenchman cycling through the streets of Paris cheerfully waving to pedestrians; the morning of a fawn suddenly interrupted with fanfare by the hunter; a pastoral movie scene; a great unaccompanied flugel solo ideal for a recital; fireworks shooting up and then cascading downwards in slow motion; a merry-go-round horse rolling way up and down; swirling bees in a frenzy; loud and angry accents on off-beats; participating in vocal auditions at the Met. The list is endless! There is enough music just in trumpet etudes to equip any trumpet student to compete anywhere. Adventures are awaiting.

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