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ITG Conference 2004 - David Krauss



 
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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2004 2:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

David Krauss, principal trumpet with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City presented a clinic at the ITG conference in Denver entitled “A Vocal Approach to Orchestral Trumpet Playing”. This was truly one of the highlights of the conference for me, both for the concepts and stories presented and probably most importantly getting to hear his marvelous sound and musical approach in a fantastic venue.

He set the stage for his lecture / recital by mentioning the tremendous influence of the great artists that grace the stage of the Met, and the impact that this has had on his playing. The Met gives seven shows a week featuring the greatest singers in the world every week of the year, and since his tenure with the group began in 2001, a definite perk of the job is that this musical artistry is always present and tends to “rub-off” on him.

The example that he chose to tie in to his theme, “A Vocal Approach to Orchestra Trumpet Playing” was very fitting. The vocal approach of course is operatic singing. He said there is a huge difference between Chet Baker whispering into a microphone versus Placido Domingo filling a 3,000-seat hall. And consequently, there is a difference between Chet Baker playing the trumpet and Bud Herseth filling the hall.

With that example he then gave the presentation overview, and said he would talk about exactly what singers do both physically and musically to transcend what is merely printed on the page, and the specific parallels that relate to operatic orchestral trumpet playing.


PHYSICAL

What a Singer Looks Like on Stage

David began his illustration on the physical aspects of singing by describing in detail what is entailed in working as a singer at the Met. “You’re in costume, you’re in big hats, you’re in masks, you’re carrying swords, you’re dealing with challenging staging, you’re laying down, you’re doing a lot of stuff!” He mentioned a recent Met performance of the opera Rusalka by Dvorak with Renee Fleming and a specific aria that her character sings. He said, “she’s a water gnome, so she’s wearing this…water gnome costume. She’s 30 feet above the stage in a wooden tree, laying down, and singing to thousands of people in the hall. And for Renee Fleming, or any artist performing at the Met, one thing is always true…”

The Posture

David stressed that there are three things that are critical when you watch any fine singer in any role…sitting up, laying down, jumping through the air…Posture is always present. Posture in this case means:


  • The head is always back,
  • the shoulders are always down, and
  • the chest is always in a prominent position.


When you watch the greatest trumpet players, the same aspects of posture are always present. He said, “there’s no excuse for me to be sitting in the pit in my tuxedo in a comfortable chair and not have this set-up”.

Then he got to one of my favorite illustrations of his entire presentation. He told us that he is a Dad with twin 7-year-old boys that are both very into Superman and Batman. He said, “When you watch these cartoons…” and then he imitated what you would expect to see a Superhero do, “chest is out…Superman…ready to go!” I just loved that example! By taking a Superhero pose, a very vivid image is created in my mind, and posture naturally follows from this very simple mental queue.

To demonstrate this concept, he chose to play an Aria from the opera Rusalka. I believe it was Mesicku Na Nebi Hlubokem (O Silver Moon) although he didn’t mention it specifically by name. He said it doesn’t work exactly the same with trumpet and piano as it does for Renee Fleming and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, but he could have fooled us. This was some of the most wonderful, lyrical, resonant, effortless musical artistry I have ever heard! Before he played he said, “always keep that ideal opera singer, Superhero pose in mind.” You could almost picture the big red “S” on his chest while he was playing! And Rebecca Wilt (his “collaborator” at the piano) was equally marvelous.


What a Singer Looks Like When They Breathe

This portion of David’s presentation was very telling of the influence that the vocalists at the Met have had on him. He said, “most of the progress that I have made lately in my playing is directly related to watching singers breathe. You never see a singer take a big gulping breath.” He said that when singers breathe their breaths are varied in speed and are generally slower than those of instrumentalists. Then he made a reference to Enrique Caruso and said Caruso would advocate nose breathing because not only does it slow the inflow rate, it puts the air in a better place, setting up a Superhero pose. So, in essence, this posture allows you to take a good breath, and this type of breathing sets up good posture! I think that is a HUGE concept! Everyday that I have practiced since the conference, I have been very conscious of breathing through my nose and envisioning Superman. I am literally putting myself in a position to arrive at some of my very best sounds! This posture then dovetails into the next very important concept.

Letting Go or Releasing the Sound

Once the intake breath has occurred, and the singer is poised and ready to shout or sing, it’s at this point where the singer is ready to go, and release.

This is the concept of literally letting go or releasing the sound as opposed to pushing it out. Provided the intake breath is sufficient, and the air is in the right place, there is a sense of resistance in the chest, very much like the resistance produced when filling up a balloon. By letting go, there is no fighting the resistance of the horn, the sound simply travels out. He said in the Rusalka example that he is “releasing towards the high note”.

I have done a lot of thinking on this concept in the past (especially the reading that I have done referring to P. 117 of Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind and the zero pressure line). But, David managed to move me several steps further down the path with his illustration of this idea and the accompanying story for his next musical example. His selection of the opening to the opera Parsifal to demonstrate this concept of releasing the sound will always be with me in the future.

He said the way they do this opera at the Met, the house lights are down, the conductor sneaks into the pit, and there’s about a minute of just silence when nothing is happening. Then they bring the lights up very slowly and it starts. He chose words like tranquil, transparent, and beautiful to describe this opening, with the strings and the horns in the beginning, and an arcing melody with the solo trumpet merely as a part of the overall texture of the musical line. But then he said, “it’s terrifying and notoriously hard!” Those words really got my attention. The one thing that got him though this opening the first time he played it at the Met was the concept of releasing the sound instead of pushing the sound.

Before he played this excerpt he reviewed everything that he had already talked about. He said, “Observe your Superhero posture and the slow intake breath, the developing of resistance in your chest, and then let go of the sound.” Then with his charming sense of humor while talking to a room full of trumpet players he said, “Incidentally, this is a little more frightening than actually playing the opera.” We all laughed and then he went on to play the two phrases from Parsifal with such tremendous ring in his sound, from the softest opening dynamic to the sparkling resonant forte on the high C, that we all broke into applause after his fantastic interpretation.


Resonance, Floating the Tone, and Obliterating the Orchestra!

Keeping with the “Vocal Approach” theme to his talk, David shared some ideas from an article about opera singers that he read, although he didn’t mention the author or the title. He said, “if you think about the mathematics of a singer singing with a full scale opera orchestra, it’s one person against 110 musicians. One singer against cymbals, trumpet, trombones…and the singer can obliterate the orchestra!” With one person against 110, it can’t be sheer volume that produces this effect, the mathematics just don’t compute. So the question is, “How is this person heard? How is this person heard through muddy contexts, thick orchestrations, and bad halls? How is this possible, because it happens all the time!” The answer is Resonance!

I have spent more than my fair share of time thinking and writing about this concept of a resonant sound, so I’m very attuned to a person’s choice of words when they are slightly different from what other authors have written or what I have put together myself. He said, “when I’m getting a centered, resonant sound, my music director will not give me the hand. Whereas, if I’m going for volume, it will get shutdown immediately. Volume is not the answer.” Then he said (and this is slightly different than any words I have heard or read), “Obviously we have to play loud and soft, but consider playing less loud and more resonant because what you are hearing from the sound that I’m producing is the sympathetic vibration, what I’m resonating. That’s what you’re hearing. It’s not a tangible thing, volume.”

To illustrate this concept of resonance, or floating the tone, he chose a very fitting story and musical example from an opera that I had never even heard of before his presentation. He chose to play a short and very beautiful excerpt from Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow) by Richard Strauss. To set-up the musical context of this piece he talked about two of Strauss’ tone poems (Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben). In the several auditions that I have taken myself, I find myself very drawn to the melodies in these pieces and how the trumpet line is simply part of the context of the larger musical idea, a color adding to the bigger picture. He said he’s never come across more of this “buried in the texture” type of writing than in Die Frau. The challenge to fit into this context involves being heard, but not being overpowering. He commented that he approaches the Die Frau phrasing in the same way that he played Parsifal, taking the same type of breath that allows him to simply release so that there is never any pushing. Then he said he’s observed “when singers are singing softly, the sound has that same ring or timbre when they’re singing loudly. And when I listen to my favorite trumpet players there’s the same sense of spinning, that same ring.” This is pure sound, resonance.

The piece from Die Frau began very softly and probably only reached a mf. His sound was resonant and pure. His phrasing was subtle and very moving. I hope he will share with us exactly what it was that he played. I would like to use it in the future in a Church service for special music.

After he finished playing this piece he shared some additional ideas with us on the concepts that help him to achieve resonance. He mentioned that he is much more in control of the sound when he has “tanked up” with air and has the sensation in his chest of releasing rather than pushing. He said he has a better percentage of making an accurate show, and sounding the way he wants to if he’s set up just like the singers are set up (posture and breathing).

I especially liked this next topic related to resonance. He made reference to an article by David Jones called The Dangers of the Flat or Retracted Tongue. “With time the flattened tongue usually creates a wobble in the tone, a tonal characteristic often connected with an aging voice. Many singers begin to suffer loss of the ability to sing in the upper register.” He said that there were many negative connotations associated with this very open set-up. One thing that aids in letting go of this resistance is putting the tongue in the middle of the mouth (not forcing it to the bottom). He said with the tongue in this more relaxed middle position it actually speeds up the air (i.e. there is less volume to fill up in the oral cavity). That’s what we’re after…a faster air stream…letting this resistance go.

He said, “for a long time I was playing with a very slow air stream, trying to get a lot of air in and out and this really wasn’t the answer for me. The answer for me was using the air more efficiently, and that meant speeding up the air, letting the air do the work, and sending the sound out.” I came to this realization myself not too long ago (my instructor called it “energized air”). It was nice to hear that this idea of slow air is really not something that trumpet players should be concerned with!

One last story related to resonance that he told about working with students really hit home with me, especially his choice of words. He said 99 percent of the time when he is working with other players he’s not aiming to make things bigger. He’s aiming to make them smaller (this is the same thing that Russ Devuyst told me when I was in Montreal several years ago). The jaw can be a little more closed…excessive movement should be reduced. He said it’s common to work too hard and make the aperture accept more air than it needs to respond based on excessive movement. With all that I’ve read on the Freddie Hubbard topic recently, there’s a lot to be said for conservation of movement!

All of these little gems have truly given me a fresh perspective in my own playing!

This is the first part of his presentation. I’m working the second part related to what singers do musically at the Met that has changed his overall approach to interpreting this literature. It’s taken me so long to get this much done, I thought I’d post this first part so that I’m not delaying getting this out. I’m reading about operas that are new to me, and it’s taking a long time given the normal everyday “life” issues that I have to address. This is just for fun!




EDIT: Correct the tranlation mistake by changing "The Woman Without a Shout" to "The Woman Without a Shadow". Thanks to everyone who caught this error!


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Derek Reaban
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[ This Message was edited by: Derek Reaban on 2004-08-27 16:07 ]
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_dcstep
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2004 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Derek for sharing and all the effort that you put into that great post. These in depth discussions of resonance and related matters have really been helping my playing.

Dave

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[ This Message was edited by: dcstep on 2004-07-30 18:13 ]
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romey1
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2004 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek,

Thanks for the report since I was unable to make it to the ITG this year. Krauss' approach is very similar to what I learned from Jim Pandolfi (former 3rd Trumpet MET) when I took a lesson from him a few years back.

romey

P.S. Thanks for all the "reports." The work you do around here is really equivalent to a "part-time" job.
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trombapaul2
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2004 6:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek (and David),

Bravo!

Paul
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RGale
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2004 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you very much for a very informative post.

Just one picky point." Die Frau ohne Schatten " is usually translated as" The Woman without a Shadow."
But great post. Thank you and we're all looking forward to more.
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mconley1986
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2004 7:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I, too, really enjoyed and learned a lot from Mr. Krauss' lecture. The corrolation between his "vocal approach" and the way he sounds when he plays is quite apparent. I would like to thank Mr. Krauss for giving this wonderful lecture and also thank Derek for giving such in-depth coverage for those who were not in attendance.
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308WIN
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2004 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Romey,
They should be similar. Dave studied with Jim for a while. Dave's a great player and Jim's a great teacher.

R
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NYCTPT
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2004 7:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dave and Jim are great guys!!! Since coming to NY both have influenced me more that either could probably imagine!
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JackD
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2004 2:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing Derek!
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trumpetmike
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2004 3:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek
Are you going to next year's ITG?
If so - could you let me know, in advance, which lectures you are going to attend?
It could save me some money!
You attend, you write up every word and I can just read your review.

If I had known which ones you were going to this year, I would have gone to some of the other ones.

Seriously - many thanks for writing up your experiences from this year's conferences - brings back many happy memories as well as a huge wealth of information.
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308WIN
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 01, 2004 10:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NYCTPT,
Do you ever get to see Dave? If so, let me know.


Rich
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JackD
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 02, 2004 5:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Derek, just to add - I've been thinking about this stuff over the last few days : the posture thing really links with what little experience I have had with the 'Alexander technique', and of course the whole breathing issue is universal for us brass players.

Particularly, this paragraph:

Quote:
He said, “for a long time I was playing with a very slow air stream, trying to get a lot of air in and out and this really wasn’t the answer for me. The answer for me was using the air more efficiently, and that meant speeding up the air, letting the air do the work, and sending the sound out.” I came to this realization myself not too long ago (my instructor called it “energized air”). It was nice to hear that this idea of slow air is really not something that trumpet players should be concerned with!


and the stuff about resonance.

I think this is all very good and helpful information, so thanks a lot!
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dacman
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2004 6:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Does this mean that Mr. Krauss advocates breathing through the nose, or was that just an explanation of how singers breathe?
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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2004 8:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dacman,

I hope David will respond, but clearly when there was time to take a slower intake breath during his clinic, he was breathing through his nose. It really does help to set up the Super Hero pose by putting the air in a “better place”. I hope to find the book that he mentions about Enrique Caruso that describes this breathing technique. The important thing is not why it works, but simply that it works! At least I find that it works well for me since I have been using it during my daily practice.

Hope this helps!


David,

Could you tell me which book it was that you read talking about Caruso’s breathing technique?


Thanks!
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Trumpet4Hire
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2004 9:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Jim Pandolfi and Mark Gould.

T4H
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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2004 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trumpet4Hire,

After David’s clinic it certainly crossed my mind to seek out both Mark Gould and Jim Pandolfi for future master classes and maybe a lesson if I ever make it to New York. I can see why students just out of High School could be inundated with some of these concepts when beginning their studies with players at this level.

I like to get information like this in small pieces so that I have time to digest them. It speaks very well of the instructors that I have had over the years (and the reading that I have done) that has allowed me to think about these concepts in sufficient detail to be able to summarize my thoughts about David’s clinic.

I wrote about 75% of Part 2 of his clinic and then got really bogged down with some of the details that I just haven’t had time to research yet. I clearly reached my saturation point with all of the information that he shared. Clearly more content from Mark Gould and Jim Pandolfi! David certainly spins a great take on this information. I’m glad I was there to experience it!
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Derek Reaban
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 2:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

After David went into great detail talking about what singers at the Met do physically to produce a resonant sound, he went on to describe how they take the music off the page. He mentioned that in a Met concert at Carnegie Hall, Dmitri Horostowski, the great Russian baritone, sang Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer, with the many beautiful melodies that are also found Mahler Symphony No. 1. This was the musical example the he used in order to talk about “the rules” and how this vocal song might apply to something as far removed as playing the first trumpet part in a Mahler symphony.

David said that when he was studying with William Vacchiano at Juilliard, Vacchiano would always talk to him about Italian sixteenth notes and German sixteenth notes. David said, he listened to him very closely in every lesson and today Vacchiano’s voice is in the back of his head saying, “Krauss, you gotta do it this way”.

Rule One (Language – Phrasing / Diction)

Vacchiano would say, “With Italian music you play the sixteenth notes faster, a little quicker. In German music you play them broader, more defined.” David said that while that’s true, what he didn’t realize, and what Vacchiano couldn’t possibly have told him in a classroom situation is that there are countless nuances to this, and only by listening to a lot of Italian language / German language, or Italian song and German song can you really get this nuance in your head. He said “It’s a little simply put to say Italian sixteenth notes are quick and German sixteenth notes are slow. It obviously has to relate to the diction. If you think of Italian diction, the consonants are shorter (dotted eighth sixteenth grouping), with the sixteenth notes being quick.” I jotted this down phonetically - Example “que me, que a mod le deek”.

He followed this by saying that German consonants are a little more throaty, a little more drawn out. He hears a lot of students playing Mahler (and Wagner) very block-like. Then he mentioned that Wagner said in one of his writings that he wished his music was approached more like the Italian style. David continued with this idea and said that the way they play at the MET they’re not thinking, “Oh, it’s German we have to play it this way or it’s Italian, we have to play it this way. It just kind of happens.”

He played a demonstration (from the fourth song in a set by Mahler “Songs of a Wayfarer”) that the dotted eighth sixteenth notes in this song directly relate to the second movement of Mahler Symphony No. 1. He really paid attention to the words, not only the translation but the way the German words sound, in terms of shaping the dotted eighth sixteenths. David mentioned that this concept is related to composers prominently from the vocal tradition. Obviously all Italian operatic composers, but also Wagner, Mahler, Strauss…You can get great inspiration listening to their vocal music and extracting what you can learn from that and bring it to your orchestral trumpet playing.

After playing the beautiful fourth song from Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer with Rebecca Wilt at the piano he said, “I’ll give you a direct result…In the third movement, the trumpet duet in Mahler One. You can see after hearing something like the phrasing in the Songs of a Wayfarer that playing this duet “straight” is absurd. And keep in mind this is the way I would play it when I was in school, and this is the way a lot of people when they are focused on the ink, and not necessarily as focused as they should be about lifting the music off the page and playing what they hear, and playing operatically, playing like a singer would sing it. If anybody doesn’t know this, they are dotted eighth sixteenth notes just like in that Mahler song.”

It would be very helpful to everyone that’s reading this on TH to go find a CD of both Songs of a Wayfarer and Mahler Symphony No. 1 and play these musical examples while reading this text. Find the parts too (it will make the example that much clearer since you don’t have the benefit of David playing each example as I did at the clinic in Denver)

After David played the dotted eighth sixteenth notes the wrong way from the Mahler One duet he said, “So that’s the correct way, when you have your brass ensemble coach tapping a pencil on the back of your chair. You know, one sixteenth out of four subdivision. This is one way of playing it, but not necessarily appropriate in this context.”

He then played two more examples and on the first said, “So it’s not so much that I cheated the sixteenth note or played it in the Italian style. If this were Italian, forget about it.” On the second example he said
“And then the whole thing changes, it’s completely different. What I’m doing is keeping the sixteenth note attack, but as if it was a word that started on the sixteenth note. The he paused and spoke the word “Gazelle”.

“Not Ga-zelle (with a brief pause between the two syllables)…they just don’t talk like that. So if we approach that diction, always keeping in mind this feeling we have in song. It just really sets this lick that you’ve heard a million times in a different context and that’s really what improving one’s self on the job is about…Listening to things in a different way.”

He said that he’s not thinking subdivision, or German phrasing, he’s simply “thinking Mahler. To me this is a better way to approach it.”


Now, these next two examples had everyone laughing out loud. David certainly is a good sport and sharing these stories in the way that he did puts these ideas into a context that moves the music from good to great.

David said, “So we’ve talked a little bit about German phrasing. Probably about 70 percent of what we do at the MET on a rotating basis is Italian opera music. About a year and a half into the gig, I finally got it. The concertmaster was constantly coming after me saying, “David, it sounds great, don’t get me wrong (because I wasn’t tenured at the time)…don’t freak out but, you’re playing alone.” He said, “When you’re playing an opera like Barber of Seville, 98 percent of the trumpet part is going ba Dum at the end or the beginning and that’s pretty much it. And I was doing that one thing wrong!” (we all broke out laughing at this point). He continued saying, “So I was…I’d be damned if…there’s a trumpet player in the back of the hall [there seldom is]. I want them to hear every sixteenth note. I want it to be clean; I want it to be crystal clear. I want it to be precise, and it’s wrong.”


Again, a note to TH readers, go out and find a recording of the Prelude (Preludio) to Rigoletto so that you can have this musical example in your mind while you are reading this. I was very fortunate to get to hear David play this live at the Met several years after the ITG conference and it’s truly a haunting melody and sets the stage for what is to happen in the opera.

These next two parts are simply transcribed (with a few things inserted by me for you to follow the context more easily), because I can’t paraphrase these stories nearly as well as David simply tells them…

Rule Two (Larger Musical Context)

“I’ll give you an example…the opening to Rigoletto…Rigoletto is an opera that starts with a trumpet solo. Has anybody heard of Rigoletto? It’s in the back of the Arban book [laughter]. It was one of the first things that I had to play. And I was practicing it, and I was practicing it with a tuner, and I was practicing it with a metronome, and I was practicing it in different acoustics and with different mouthpieces. Just to give you an idea…The opening phrase…Also, somewhat less terrifying but you start the thing and the conductor goes like that and it’s all up to you. It’s a sixteenth connected to a dotted quarter note.

And that’s how it starts. The opera starts like that. I played it kind of like that in the first show. And it went fine and I was very pleased with myself. I didn’t crack any notes and I had all of my articulations speak, and I was feeling very good about myself. And then our 3rd trumpet player, who happened to be playing 2nd trumpet with me in the show said, “You know, that was really nice playing, especially for your first time out of the Shute. But, it couldn’t have been more wrong.” [laughter]

We tend to be blunt in New York. So after I stopped crying [laughter] I asked him, “Well, how can I fix this?”

Other trumpet player: “Do you even know what this opera is about?”

David: Yeah. I’ve heard all the songs (Mi mi mi, Sol fa re). It seems like a happy go lucky opera.

And he looked at me like I was insane. The story, very briefly outlined is about Rigoletto who is a court jester. He has his daughter, Gilda; he keeps her away from the public eye. Someone comes and puts a curse on him for having an affair with someone not knowing that it’s really his daughter and also puts a curse on him and the Duke he works for. To make a long story short, Rigoletto the court jester wants to get even with the Duke, kill the Duke, but 3 hours later, he’s presented with this sack, and inside this sack he thinks is the Duke. But really it’s his Daughter. And he opens up the bag and he sees his daughter, slain, and he hears (Mi mi mi, Sol fa re) off in the distance. That’s the song of the Duke, and he screams, opera over, we go home. So it’s tragic. Really tragic.

So he told me this story and I said, “That was interesting and how does that help me to play my opening lick?” And he said, “Well, Idiot [laughter]. Your opening lick, the words to it, are “Que Vecchio male diva mi”, that’s literally, later in the opera they actually sing it, and he’s brooding over this curse that was put on him. Later on he puts those words to Rigoletto himself, worrying about the impending doom. So there are these ball scenes and all these great songs. In the middle of it he knows what’s coming, he knows there is a curse. So the opera opens up with the curse motif. And then I got it. And I felt incredibly stupid for not knowing that, because not only does it change the drama of what you’re playing but more specifically it changes the way you tongue sixteenth notes. The actual drama on stage impacts the way you subdivide sixteenth notes. So instead of playing a pretty, pleasing, nice, lyrical line you might be more inclined to play something a little more menacing or haunting.

So all of a sudden that sets the stage.

So it’s these little discoveries, that I’m sure I’m not done with, I’m sure I’ll be called an idiot and corrected a lot in the future, but I look forward to that [laughter] because that’s really a sense of growth.


Rule Three (Grand Vocal Tradition)

In the opera Tosca (by Puccini) there is a very dramatic moment where the lead role is about to get executed and this is a song where he is longing for love. My point playing this…Before I play the aria, I’d like to show you…or describe to you what the last line of the trumpet part looks like, and share an experience that I had. The first time I played this, also a terrifying moment. The last lick…I’ll play it as if I’ve never heard it, and I’m looking at it in an excerpt book. It’s a sixteenth note rest followed by sixteenth notes (mi ti do re mi re do ti). This is the last lick from the opera.

[Note for TH readers. Do yourself a favor and find a recorded example as well as the printed part if you don’t know this opera. It will clearly show you what is impossible to relate in words]

So, we get to the first performance of it…We don’t typically rehearse repertoire shows that much during the year, so that’s why I’m constantly surprised at the first time we do them in performance.

It’s a heated moment. Everyone is dead on stage. The conductors sweating and you get this, the downbeat. And I’m ready to go (mi ti do re mi re do ti), but instead…The first time I chickened out, literally, I didn’t play because you get this (gesture from conductor with no tempo). (Sings line that is very stylized) Right. So you get two downbeats and in the middle of it the entire 110 piece orchestra plays the exact same thing looking NOTHING like what’s on the page, I mean not even close. And you wonder how this happens.

Well it happens from a grand tradition of singing. Had I been listening to what was going on on stage I would have heard that’s the way it’s sung. And it’s really that simple. So it’s a question of transcending what’s on the page and perhaps this happens more in operatic music because, not just the vocal tradition…But it also happens in 1st trumpet repertoire. Nobody plays Mahler 5 (sings even triplet). You know Mahler indicates it’s supposed to be rushed, but there’s a tradition of how you play that. It’s along those lines.

So what I’m going to do now is play the aria and then play that lick at the end…

[He plays the Tosca line with Rebecca Wilt at the piano]

So to contrast that lick at the end without piano accompaniment

[He plays alone]

That’s how I would do it.

There’s something to be said about leaving on a high note!
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Derek Reaban
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe Winds / Symphony of the Southwest
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