Where do you come from? That is, we would like to know 1) where you grew up as a trumpeter, 2) who were your most important teachers, and 3) what your professional and pedagogical trajectory has been until today.
I grew up in a town just outside of Roanoke, Virginia where I began playing trumpet at the age of 12. I started playing trumpet a year later than most of my friends, as they joined our middle school band program in the 6th grade, while I did not begin until the beginning of my 7th grade year. I wasn’t very involved in sports at that time due to an operation I had when I was younger that resulted in a metal plate and several screws being implanted into my ankle. Music was an environment that I could be a part of practices and events in which I could excel, without having to physically putting strain on my ankle. I started to really progress in my performance and development as a player when I joined my high school band program. I participated in as many ensembles as possible and began to really pursue the idea of majoring in music in college. One of my first teachers that really made an impact on my development as a musician was my high school band director, Dawn Harbin. She saw something in me that didn’t exist in my peers and she began to push me to take lessons, and provided me with musical recordings that gave me more exposure to what the musical world had to offer.
After high school, I pursued my music education degree at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. There, I had the pleasure to study with Dr. John Adler (currently Assistant Professor of Trumpet at the University of Northern Colorado). He was a teacher who really opened my eyes to my future potential as a trumpet performer. His approach to teaching was to model and demonstrate aspects in performance, along with providing me with as many challenges, both technically and musically, to push my playing to its limits. It was at this time that I really made leaps and bounds in my performance. Dr. Adler pushed me to not accept mediocrity, but to always strive for something greater. He was the one who eventually encouraged me to apply to the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music to pursue a master in performance with Professor Craig Morris.
After training with Dr. Adler, I was offered a full tuition scholarship to the Frost School of Music where I served as Craig Morris’s Teaching Assistant, but was also awarded a Mancini Fellowship where I sat as the Principal Classical Trumpet of the Henry Mancini Orchestra. Professor Morris’s teaching style was similar to that of Dr. Adler in that he modeled much of the repertoire you were working on in lessons. Before coming to the Frost School of Music, Professor Morris served as the Principal Trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Principal Trumpet of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Having someone like Craig to model excerpts and lines from solo literature during lesson provided some of the best moments that any developing trumpeter could ask for! His sound and control was something that I envied, and his musical approach to any piece of literature was something that I truly strove to emulate. I often still find myself going back to listen to lessons I had with Craig on specific pieces of literature or excerpts just to hear his sound and musicianship. It was during this time that I truly realized that I wanted to pursue collegiate teaching as my career, so I began preparing to take auditions for various doctoral programs.
Professor Morris provided me with the musical and technical refinement I needed to be awarded a Teaching Assistantship to the Eastman School of Music. There, I served as the Head Teaching Assistant for both Professor James Thompson and Douglas Prosser. It was in this role that I learned how to be a collegiate trumpet teacher. My lessons focused on the weaknesses in my own playing, but also in learning how to address and diagnose performance issues. Professor Thompson and I often spent our time analyzing and discussing the various pedagogical approaches to specific methods and literature. At Eastman I also coordinated much of the administrative duties for the trumpet studio, and also was hired as the Instructor of Trumpet at the University of Rochester. Before completing my coursework in Rochester, I was also awarded the position of Lecturer of Trumpet at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Spending time teaching two private studios at two completely different types of schools gave me a diverse exposure into finding ways to teach various types of students. Many students often learn from a descriptive method where the teacher provides almost every detail in their performance. Others, learn best from a “call and response” method of modeling what the teacher requests of the student. Many times I find that each student needs some variation of both methods to truly be successful. We, as teachers, need to figure out that balance.
Every trumpeter has his methodological preferences. What type of exercises or methods do you emphasize when practicing and teaching, and why?
As a teacher, I feel it is best to expose students to many individual trumpet voices and performance techniques at the earliest stages of their development. By listening to different strong performers in various styles, students begin to internalize different aspects of performance, such as timbre and phrasing. They will develop an ideal sound concept against which they will constantly measure their own progress. This process of learning is similar to that of learning a foreign language in that the student is learning to engrain a sound through listening and the reproduction of that sound. The stronger the aural concept that the student has in their head, the more proactive they can be about the sound that is coming out of their bell, and the more control they have over musical ideas. This model of teaching is similar to that of Arnold Jacobs’s Song and Wind where the player is consistently striving to replicate the most lyrical and beautiful sound they have in their mind out through their horn!
Along with the internalization and refinement in one’s individual trumpet voice, certain technical and fundamental elements of performance must be addressed in each performer’s skill set. In my teaching, I focus on building a clear, centered tone to serve as the fundamental building block. Focusing on airflow and mouthpiece work as well will not only complement rich tone production but will allow ease of performance throughout the entire range of the instrument. I use several different methods tailored to each student’s individual needs to help them achieve this goal, including James Thompson’s Buzzing Basics, James Stamp’s Warm-Ups, and Max Schlossberg’s Daily Drills and Technical Skills.
The final aspect of practical trumpet performance that is absent in many young trumpeters’ studies is a strong focus on teaching and analysis. The role of a teacher is not only to present ideas and methods that develop a student’s abilities, but also to develop their abilities to self-diagnose and problem solve. The student will not have access to the teacher forever, so the teacher should ultimately teach his students to teach themselves. I do this by asking questions as to the student’s creative intentions, checking whether or not they had a clear musical idea in their head, and whether or not they were successful in conveying those ideas. This is done through listening to daily recordings of their practice and evaluating to see if they are matching the musical idea they have internalized. This is also further developed by group practice, performance classes, and warm up sessions. This enables students to actively evaluate their musical products amongst their colleagues to promote a unified sound throughout the studio. This strategy allows students to learn more efficiently and develop critical thinking skills. Practicing self-diagnosis helps turn students not only into better, more informed performers, but also stronger teachers for when they enter into the musical world as colleagues.
It is with the three aforementioned elements of internal voice, fundamental lyrical and technical abilities, and self-diagnosis that I plan to develop the musical interpretation and individual voices of trumpet players at all levels. Each element should be focused and guided throughout a player’s development so that a strong foundation can be fostered. These elements help to create a player that exhibits a natural and expressive tone with a strong sense of lyricism in their own unique voice, but can also provide quality instruction and diagnosis to the trumpet community of which they are a part.
Could you tell us what your daily trumpet routine consists of?
My practice schedule from day-to-day can vary due to the various requirements either attributed to my position at the University of Utah, various performance opportunities, and family events and responsibilities. I often strive to spend at least two hours on the horn whether it be in fundamentals practice, or working on the multitude of solo and ensemble pieces that I perform throughout a year. I typically begin my day with low, and slow mouthpiece buzzing just to allow my body to reacquaint itself with the horn from the previous day. I then shift into long tones so that I can assess my tone and breath support for notes in various registers. This allows me time in a comfortable setting to do lip bends, small interval lips slurs, and attack practice. Once I begin to feel comfortable, I will switch into doing various lip slur exercises either form the Colin or the Bai Lin methods. Articulation exercises are derived from Chris Gekker’s Endurance Drills and the Goldman’s Technical Skills. The specific exercises and etudes can vary based on my performance schedule for that day, or how I feel. I will often add my own variations to those exercises to introduce multiple tonguing into my warm-up routine.
Once I am feeling fairly warmed up, I like to take some significant time off the horn before I tackle any practice on my solo or ensemble repertoire. This allows me the time I need to rest so that I can both physically and mentally approach that repertoire with a fresh mindset. It is not advisable to jump into each step of your performance routine back to back. This discourages a strong level of focus and analysis for that session.
What brands of trumpets and mouthpieces do you use? Do you use them for any particular reason?
I typically do most of my performances on my C trumpet, which is a Yamaha Chicago I. I love the way that horn feels, and responds to my style of playing. I also perform on a Yamaha YTR-9835 Bb/A Piccolo Trumpet. My Bb trumpet is a Bach Stradivarius Anniversary Edition that my family purchased when I was in high school. That horn is very special to me, as it has been the one that got me on the performance track that I pursue to this day. It also was a gift in memory of my grandmother who was always at every performance I gave before she passed away. She was one of most supportive people in my early childhood and encouraged me to go as far as I could in the musical world.
In terms of mouthpieces, I currently play a Stomvi Flex mouthpiece. I have found that with the unique cup shape and the ability to adjust the annulus (gap), Stomvi Flex mouthpieces provide me with the most resonant sound possible for any performance setting.
Do you use any equipment that is beyond what we would consider normal? (E.G. a Delrin top, bent mouthpiece, bent trumpet receiver, different bell configuration, etc.)
Besides performing exclusively on Stomvi Flex mouthpieces, nothing I use would be considered beyond normal.
Where can a student, that would like to study with you, find you? Where do you teach?
I currently serve as the Assistant Professor of Trumpet at the University of Utah’s School of Music in Salt Lake City, Utah. All of my contact information can be found on their website.
What can a student expect from you? And what do you expect from the student?
My students can expect a dedicated and focus learning experience where I truly invest in their progress, abilities, and their future. I know that each student learns differently, so I provide each with a somewhat individualized learning experience where we focus on the special needs that they need to be a monster performer!
As a student, I also expect you to invest in what I am providing you. Do not simply give up on our method as becoming great does not happen overnight. Things take time to develop and you must be willing to stay committed in our journey to fully reap the benefits of your progress. In addition, I expect students to be as positive as possible as not only am I teaching you to be a trumpet performer, but I am also striving to teach you to become a valued member of the trumpet community. Other performers do not want to work with around negative individuals, or those who are not professional in their actions and communications.
In your experience, what is the one common problem young players have today?
The biggest issue I have seen in young performers today is their lack of musical exploration and guidance. Performers often just play the music on the page without trying to convey a message to the listener. This is a byproduct of band performance where the ensemble members are often discouraged from being overly emotive in their performance. Performing music is an emotional experience and pulling that ability to emote through a musical line out of students is often difficult at first, but more spiritually rewarding in the end.
Do you have any exercise you would like to share with the subscribers of Trumpet Magazine?
Below is a link to a PDF that I commonly use in warm-up session with students. It is a compilation of current warm-up methods (Sachs, Bai Lin, Goldman, etc.), and variations on methods that I currently use in my own practice. These exercises should not be forced, but rather taken in doses so as to truly focus on each one as its own practice session. Always strive for the best possible sound, but to always listen to your body to know when you should take a break! Some of these exercises are advanced and can be difficult for younger players. Do not rush through this packet. Find your weaknesses and tackle them one at a time!