It Could Only Happen To A Musician- The Legend of DC

man scratching head with question clipart
man scratching head with question clipart

DC (name omitted for obvious reasons) was a real person and I will not divulge his real name. Any musician from the early days (1960’s to the present) performing in Dallas will know who I am describing and it is with great respect to him that I share these stories. Some I have heard and some I had experienced. I hope you find these life experiences as entertaining as we in the area found them.

DC- is the only person in history to be held up over the phone.

This story was told to me by a great trumpet player (GG- name omitted for obvious reasons, again) at the time, playing in Dallas, Texas and I have no reason to question his truthfulness concerning this story. Mr. DC ran a music store in the Dallas area and one day GG decided to play a joke on him. GG entered a phone booth across the street from DC’s music store and was positioned so that he could see him at the counter. GG called the store and when DC answered the phone, GG very loudly shouted into his receiver, “THIS IS A STICK UP, PUT UP YOUR HANDS”!  DC put down the phone and shot both hands to the ceiling.

DC was given a ticket while towing a truck.

DC received a call from his son who reported that the company truck had just broken down and asked if he would come out and help tow it to a service station. DC got into his car and drove to where his son had left it on the shoulder of the road. When DC got there, his son was not in site so he got out, tied the tow rope to the back of his car and the other end to the front bumper of the truck, then he took off to find a service station. Back and forth the truck weaved down the road with no one in the front seat of the truck. Eventually the two vehicles came to a hill with a stop sign at the bottom. As DC eased to a stop at the sign, the truck crashed into the rear of his car. When the patrolman wrote out a ticket for the accident, DC argued, “Why am I getting the ticket, the truck ran into me”.

DC arrived at the job in time to play the last fifteen minutes.

I am telling this story first hand for I w there. Some of the players from Dallas were asked to play a one night stand with the Billy Williams Band in Little Rock Arkansas. DC was to join us at the gig but when the band began to play, he was not in sight. The second hour rolled around and still no DC. Suddenly the door flew open to the back of the stage and in walked DC. He sat down and began to tell us that he had been stuck in a ditch on 12th St. in town and had just been pulled out. After playing the last fifteen minutes of the job, he turned to me and said, “Boy I’m sure glad I sold my property on 12th St. in Dallas last year”, and we all shook our heads.

DC read about himself one day.

A musician with the initials MH was collecting these stories and one night while on the road with DC, the notebook which contained all of these stories was sitting on the night stand in their room. DC saw the collection and began reading them, chuckling to himself. MH saw him reading the stories and didn’t know what to do. Eventually DC laid the collection back down on the night stand and said “Boy, is that guy stupid or what”?

I have searched the internet to see if the DC stories have ever been published but have not been successful in locating them. If anyone has more information on this collection, please let me know. It might have the title of D’isims.

Match your Tools to the Job

tools-home-vector-drawing-represents-design-36343850Some younger players may have questions about the use of instruments other than their normal Bb trumpet or cornet and for that reason I will try to sort out the many trumpets and their primary use in our trumpet world.

Bb trumpet

By far the most often purchased and used trumpet in this country is the Bb trumpet. Almost all of the trumpet sheet music written today is for the Bb trumpet (cornet). Seldom do music stores handle any trumpet other than the Bb.

The Bb trumpet has an easily recognized sound which tends to be mellow in the low range and bright and powerful in the higher range. This combination works well for performing in marching bands, dance bands as well as solo performances.

Bb Cornet

By far the instrument I currently play the most is my Bb cornet. 90% of the recordings I make for my site trumpetensemblemusic.com are done on my Bach cornet. The reason for this choice is that the cornet recordings sound the way I want my Bb trumpet to sound. The cornet is a very forgiving instrument and I have noticed that my high range is easier, my slurring is easier and my endurance is much easier because of the added resistance of my cornet.

Period solos such as “King Neptune
, “Napoli
and others require the use of the cornet even though the trumpet could be used. I am a strong believer that the cornet should be elevated to the same level as the trumpet but only a few staunch cornet people agree with me.

A Cornet

Few will even recognize this instrument for its popularity was lost many years ago in favor of the Bb cornet. During this transitional period, half of the cornet solos were published for A cornets and Bb cornets. This transition is much like the popularity of Beta video recordings giving way to VHS video recordings. I have continued to arrange some of these transitional cornet solos as in the case of “The Student’s Sweetheart
Which was originally written for an A cornet.

C trumpet

The typical tone characteristics of the C trumpet is more consistent throughout the instruments wide range and for that reason it is very popular in symphonic areas. This consistency makes it also popular in chamber ensembles such as brass quintets. Due to the fact that the C is slightly shorter than the Bb, its tone quality is also slightly brighter in most cases.

The popularity of the C trumpet in orchestral playing is also important when one considers the vast amount of literature the player is faced which requires transposition to be done. Most transpositions in the orchestra are for parts higher than written and because of this position; the notes are closer for the C trumpet player to transpose. As an example; a Bb trumpet reading D trumpet music must transpose up a third whereas the C trumpet’s transposition is only a second.

Orchestral trumpet sections usually require a more uniform tone quality than that of a big band trumpet section and the more consistent tone quality of the C trumpet works best for this situation.

D Trumpet

The trumpet pitched in D is widely used when playing period pieces such as the music from the Baroque period. Just as the C trumpet is brighter than the Bb trumpet, the D trumpet is that much brighter than the C trumpet and exhibits a much more penetrating sound than the two previously mention instruments. As the length of each instrument shortens, the intonation problems usually increase. The D trumpet is most often used for high parts such as “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah.

Eb/F Trumpet

Few compositions are more often performed on an Eb trumpet than Joseph Haydn’s “Trumpet Concerto in Eb” and Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s “Trumpet Concerto in Eb. Other than these two well-known solo pieces, only a few other solo compositions are generally performed on the Eb trumpet. The orchestral literature is filled with symphony numbers where the Eb is the preferred instrument and one reason for this choice is the simplification of fingering problems on some of these pieces.

G trumpet

The preferred use of the G trumpet is relatively limited to orchestral playing but I have used one for some Baroque solos in the past.

A/Bb piccolo trumpet

The most common trumpet recognized as a “piccolo” trumpet is pitched in Bb although the term piccolo is applied to all smaller trumpets just as the smaller flute is called a piccolo flute. The piccolo Bb plays one octave higher than the conventional Bb trumpet and to most, this might be very appealing when playing early works which require a higher range of playing. For that reason most players rely on the “pic” as an easier solution to this challenge. Just as the popularity of “Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione brought attention to the flugle horn, so did Marvin Stamm’s performance on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” bring attention to the use of a Bb “pic”.

Before you run out and purchase one of these diminutive tools, you must first realize that your range problems have not yet been completely resolved for working with this smaller instrument has it’s own challenges as well as rewards.

Bass Trumpet

Due to the fact that the bass trumpet performs an octave lower than our conventional Bb trumpet, most players using this instrument are trombone, baritone and euphonium players. You may run into players in combo situations who prefer the valves over the slide of a trombone or you may find trumpet players who prefer the lower range of the bass trumpet to that of the regular Bb trumpet.
An additional use of the bass trumpet would be in British Brass Bands as well as trumpet choirs.

Flugle Horn

European bands have been using flugle horns for more years than we in the United States and only through the recordings made by jazz musicians were we able to catch up to our friends across the bay.

The popularity of the flugle has increased because of its mellow and less penetrating sound. During the Cool jazz craze, many Bb trumpet players began using this instrument.

Slide Trumpet

When I mention to a fellow musician that I once owned a slide trumpet, he very adamantly corrected me by saying, “There is no such thing as a slide trumpet. That was a soprano trombone”! Now that I think about it, he may be correct.

A trumpet player trying to place the slide in the correct position is like trying to push a car up a hill with a rope. If you are thinking about purchasing one, you would be better off sending me the money and forgetting about that purchase.

Pocket Trumpet

To be completely honest with my readers, I have never owned nor have I even played on a pocket trumpet and for that reason I will share other players ideas on the purchase and playing of this instrument. Most that own and play one like it. That’s about it from me on the subject. I will say that it is smaller and easier to carry.

In summary, I would compare trumpet players use of the many shapes and forms of trumpets to the many requirements of the tools of carpenters. If you need the tool for the job, get it for it will make the labor much easier for you.

The Pros and Cons of Perfect Pitch

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Before we get into the advantages and disadvantages of having perfect pitch, we first need to establish what perfect pitch is.
Reprinted from Wikipedia:

Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

AP can be demonstrated via linguistic labeling (“naming” a note), auditory imagery, or sensorimotor responses. For example, an AP possessor can accurately reproduce a heard tone on their musical instrument without “hunting” for the correct pitch. Researchers estimate the occurrence of AP to be 1 in 10,000 people.

Generally, absolute pitch implies some or all of the following abilities, achieved without a reference tone:

• Identify by name individual pitches (e.g. A, B, C♯) played on various instruments.
• Name the key of a given piece of tonal music.
• Reproduce a piece of tonal music in the correct key days after hearing it.
• Identify and name all the tones of a given chord or other tonal mass.
• Accurately sing a named pitch.
• Name the pitches of common everyday sounds such as car horns and alarms.

Now that we understand what perfect pitch is, I will share with you a few advantages as well as disadvantages of having this ability.

Pros-

1. You don’t have to ask what key the music is in.
2. You are able to hear the note before you play it.
3. Improvising is made much easier.
4. Playing in tune is easier.
5. Analyzing chords is made easier.
6. You can “see” the notes you hear in your mind.
7. Playing in different keys is much easier.
8. Melodic dictation is very easy to accomplish.
9. Composing is made easier.

Cons-

1. You are “forced” to name the pitch of any sound within your hearing range.
2. You become more of a follower than a leader when playing in any ensemble.
3. You have little patients when dealing with non-perfect pitch musicians.
4. Performing or listening to out of tune musicians is extremely painful.
5. Trying to explain perfect pitch to non-perfect pitch musicians is frustrating.
6. Repeating sequences of melodic notes is only limited by your ability to remember the notes.
7. Shifting from perfect pitch in your instruments key to concert pitch can become confusing.
8. When hearing a mechanical sound, you try to name the different pitches in the sound.
9. Once people realize you have perfect pitch, you must then explain the problems that come with this ability.

Most people I have visited with about the ability for perfect pitch do not realize what goes along with this gift. Few can understand the pain one goes through when listening to a program such as “America’s Got Talent” or performing with an average church choir. Being forced to listen to out of tune pitches rate in the same category as water boarding and root canals.

I was invited recently to perform with a world renowned entertainer in town who is famous for playing out of tune. Before I accepted the job, I made an appointment with my family physician to explain my situation. This entertainer’s pitch bothered me so much that I was never able to listen to his show for more than five minutes. After five minutes my throat would tightened to the point that I would completely lose my voice! It was suggested that I take a mild sedative to take the edge off my problem. I also found a pair of ear plugs which would limit the sound coming from the stage monitor and at the first rehearsal I visited with the person in charge of sound for the show to make sure the entertainer’s sound was not coming through my monitor.

Now….. Do you still think it would be cool to have perfect pitch?
Every time I hear a boat cruising outside my studio on Table Rock Lake, I recognize the multiple pitches generated by its engine. Every bird sound has a pitch as well as the air conditioner in my house, my car engine, elevator, florescent light, wind, bark of a dog, sound of fireworks exploding and a computer hum.

Is the gift of perfect pitch a blessing or a curse?

Be careful what you wish for…………

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Man’s Obsession for High Notes

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Why are high notes revered by most humans? Dogs run from them and hide.

No matter how these tension building noises are generated, most people stand in amazement at their execution. Even when a vocalist sings the Star Spangled Banner, no one listens until they hear the last note screamed an octave higher. What ever happened to good musical taste?

This enamorment for the shrill has a long history. Even during the Baroque era, the trumpet players who were able to traverse the upper range of their instrument were admired and well compensated for this ability.

Some would say that man’s infatuation with high note playing stems from the misconception that high notes require super human strength. Some may reward such athletes for their enormous amount of time and dedication in developing this gift. And some may even elevate such performers to the level of “High Note Gods” to be worshiped from afar. For whatever reason, few can deny the excitement produced from hearing these blood curdling assaults to the inner ear.

Those who possess this gifted ability are in fact respected by those who are less gifted, and that would be me. My high range would be considered adequate but far from admired by many players. My daily routine includes a warm-up to at least an F above high C. Seldom am I required to play in this range but knowing that I am familiar with the feel and the fingering makes me more confident.

To those who visit YouTube to view the endless list of double, triple and higher trumpet players do not be discouraged for attaining these super atmospheric ranges might be more than just practice and air. I remember teaching in Texas many years ago when a young person (8-10 years old) entered the band room. I noticed his interest in my trumpet and began to visit with him about the instrument. “Would you like to try playing it”, I asked and handed him my instrument. This young man had never had a trumpet in his hands so I showed him how to hold it. Upon placing the mouthpiece to his lips and blowing, I was shocked to hear the biggest, most powerful “double G” I had ever heard. So much for practicing high notes for me.

If you have struggled to increase your upper register as I have, do not be discouraged. As one of my former department heads once told me- “Not every horse is a race horse”.

Being a realist will sometimes improve your outlook on life. If you are required to play only up to a high C, be sure you are able to play to a solid D above that. Too many trumpet players will demonstrate their incredible high note skills while warming up but when required to produce those same notes on the job, they respond with lame excuses for their poor performance.

I am content knowing that I do not possess super human, high note skills for I am not superman.

I am perfectly happy being Clark Kent.

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