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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Bruce Chidester
Branson Trumpet Ensemble

American Pride

At this time in our history as a country, we have finally come to realize that “the United States is not what it used to be”. I am not saying that it could not, once again, rise to its previous stature in the world, but when one considers our debt, joblessness, loss of homes and businesses, drug problem and lack of respect of our current leaders, one ponders the reasons for this change.
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A friend of mine sent me this video and I thought it was a very telling example of what is happening in countries outside our boarders. Along with the video, he made these comments…..

“Talk about having fun making music!

It’s cute beyond words, but it’s also very good.

I don’t know how the kids, parents and director do this – but I like it a lot!

They even did a grade 3 (or so) tune of mine @ around the 6:30 mark. Watch it all.

This is fun stuff”!

I have been interested in the Eastern culture for most of my life and have studied both the mental (Meditation & Yoga) and physical (Yoga & Karate) approaches to this life style and believe we have a great deal to learn from our neighbors.

Bloggers many times post articles to generate conflict and this in turn draws attention to their pages. It is not my intent to do this because conflict is counterproductive. Understanding why we have fallen in the World market is important and we all need to do our part to become the country we were in past years. If you can better our country, it is your responsibility to do so. If you are a voting citizen and able to cast your vote in the next election, it is your responsibility to do so.

If you would like to see our United States of America once again lead the world, become involved, no matter which political direction you may favor.

I would like to post a video next year or the following of a group of young American children performing at this level and say proudly……

“Those talented kids are from the United States of America”.

Small Mouthpiece vs. Large Mouthpiece

This debate has been present since the beginning of time. Which is the better mouthpiece? Small mouthpieces have definite advantages such as easier upper range and more endurance. Large mouthpieces have the advantages of easier flexibility and a darker and a more pleasant tone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to get every advantage and not fight the disadvantages?

Advantages of a small mouthpiece-

As I stated before, the small mouthpiece can make the upper range a little easier but to do so you will have to give up other advantages the large mouth piece has to offer. If you are playing only high range work, the smaller mouthpiece would be my choice but most of us are not able to play only in this limited field. When we speak of a small mouthpiece, we are referring to two areas; the width of the cup and the depth of the cup. The distance between the inside edge (or bite) of the cup will determine how much meat will vibrate when you start a note. If the distance is great, you will be expected to utilize this area through the strength of your embouchure. The smaller the area between the bite (inner edge) of the cup, the less work your embouchure will have to deliver. If you pluck a guitar string and play its full length, you will get a lower pitch than if you depress the string to a fret along its finger board. A longer string and in our case, lip will vibrate at a slower speed and thus produce a lower note than if the string (lip) were shortened. Less lip in the mouthpiece cup will produce faster vibrations and consequently a higher pitch than a wider cupped mouthpiece.

The depth of each mouthpiece cup will also affect the sound and range of your playing. If the cup is shallow, you will experience more resistance to the air stream. A deeper cup will generally give you a darker sound than a shallow cup. High range specialists most often prefer a shallower cup for playing in the upper register for continued periods of time. You may wonder why we all don’t play on small mouthpieces all the time. Remember that for every advantage there will be disadvantages.

Advantages of a large mouthpiece-

When performing on larger mouthpieces, you should experience more ease in starting notes at soft dynamic levels than when playing on small mouthpieces. You should experience more flexibility and a darker tone color on the larger mouthpieces. An additional advantage the large mouthpiece has over the smaller is that with more meat in the mouthpiece, you will be able to develop more strength in your embouchure. The reason for this is that with more meat involved, you will be working with more material to strengthen. I have noticed many times when I am using a smaller mouthpiece for work, I will come to a plateau where no matter how much I practice, I do not seem to gain additional strength or endurance. After switching to a larger mouthpiece, I continue to build strength and endurance.

If you are not able to practice regularly, the smaller mouthpiece will help with you endurance. This may sound contradictory but with regular practice, the larger cup will allow you to continue to build, the smaller mouthpiece will not.

Please note that all of my comparisons have been directed only towards the cup diameter and depth. Other mouthpiece shapes and dimensions will also affect your range, endurance, flexibility and tone . At a later date I will address these differences but for now we will discuss only the width and depth of the cup.

Which mouthpiece would be best in my case?

People have shared with me their ideas as to what mouthpiece should be used and some beliefs have made since and some are downright stupid. Here is one of the dumbest ideas-

  • I start all of my beginning cornet students on Bach 1½ C mouthpieces 9VERY LARGE) so that they will have a big sound.

A Bach 1 ½ C mouthpiece is much too big for a beginner and Could be too big for most professional players. It is true that they would produce a big, dark sound but few would be able to fill that large a mouthpiece. because of their undeveloped air supply, they would soon tire their immature embouchure. Mr. John Haynie had what I considered a more practical approach to mouthpiece selection for younger students. His belief was that young people require small shoes at early ages and eventually grow into larger ones. So will they eventually grow into larger mouthpieces as they mature. If I remember correctly Mr. Haynie started young players on Bach 10½ C mouthpieces and as they grew, he suggested that they progress to larger mouthpieces. That sounds good to me also.

I am convinced that each person will be able to decide on a comfortable mouthpiece which would suite his/her individual needs. Too many times (and this is particularly true of trumpet players) players continue to search for the perfect mouthpiece which will do everything. As far as I know, the perfect mouthpiece has not yet been invented.

Playing requirements and tastes change and so do our requirements for our mouthpieces. If I were playing the same music day after day, I could easily settle on one mouthpiece but fortunately, we are expected to do everything and thus the mouthpiece switch continues. As an example of this I will share a situation which happened last month. I had been practicing for several months and because of the great condition my chops were in, I decided to up the size of my mouthpiece a little. For two weeks I practiced regularly on the bigger mouthpiece and all was doing well until I got a call to start with a new show which required more endurance and range than I was used to. Out came the old (smaller) mouthpiece and I played three weeks on that one. The season closed in Brason and I was back to the larger mouthpiece for the first of the year I begin playing with a fine brass quintet which requires better tone and more ease in all dynamic ranges. Life is full of changes and you have to be ready for them.

In closing, I would like to pass on some very fine advice given to us by the trumpet manufacture Vincent Bach from his pamphlet, Mouthpiece Manual. “Use the biggest mouthpiece you can handle”

Times, They Are A Changing

njobsThe year was 1969, in Lewisville, Texas and I was in the middle of a lesson with one of my many brass students. I was notified that I needed to answer a phone call which was very unusual due to the fact that my wife was at work and few knew I was at the high school that day.

The voice on the other end of the phone identified himself as Dr. Myron Russell, Department Head of Music at the University of Northern Iowa. Quickly I realized that I was being offered a position as trumpet instructor at his university; and that was how I got my position which lasted for thirty years until I retired in the year 2000.

Filling a position at a college or university has changed drastically since that time and the chances of being hired over the phone are non-existent today. The normal sequence of hiring a new faculty member begins with the formation of a search committee followed by a nationwide notice of the opening. Next, resumes are sent to the search committee and the number of applicants may be as high as 200 to 500, depending on the responsibilities of the job.

After many weeks or months, the search committee will narrow down the number of applicants to a workable size with the next step being calls and conversations with people close to the applicant, with hopes of eliminating as many as possible.

Once the number of persons being considered for the job has been lowered to the top three or four candidates, affirmative action is contacted in order to clear the persons as far as affirmative action is concerned. Invitations are sent to each of the candidates to visit the campus for a closer and more thorough inspection.

Once on campus each candidate is expected to teach a lesson, work with an ensemble, visit with the search committee as well as “hang” with the students. An audition recital is also expected in order to evaluate the candidate’s performing skills. Usually this process will take the whole day and will be the same for each of the final candidates.

Once all of the finalists have performed, taught, visited and otherwise been picked apart by the subcommittee, the final selection for the position will usually take a week or two to sift through all of the candidate’s strong points, weaknesses and the committees general feelings toward each person.

The selection of a new faculty member has indeed changed drastically from when I began teaching and what is considered typical these days. To be honest, I’m certain that with the tremendous competition for each new opening today, I would not have a chance in today’s market.

Some of the most gifted, talented and wonderful people are constantly applying for trumpet jobs all over the country at this time. Each candidate sends in his/her resumes with hopes of securing a job, only to be turned down time after time. The number of positions has diminished and at the same time the competition among these highly skilled individuals is staggering. As an example, 44 applicants submitted their resume for the recent trumpet position at the University of North Texas.

We have finally come to the point of over saturation in applicants for trumpet positions. It is time now to reconsider the chances of getting a trumpet teaching job in our country. As sad as this may seem, the truth sometimes hurts and hopefully many will take my advice as to the possibilities of trumpet teaching as a career.