The first comeback…almost

January 17, 2009

About 10 years after I stopped playing in college, I was recruited by a co-worker (who played saxophone, but was a fat and oils chemist by profession) to play in the Pleasantville Fire Department Band. This was a small concert band (which also marched in parades) and a stage band (which played concerts for nursing homes). I was there for one summer season when we marched in a few parades; anytime the fire department was involved in a parade, they brought their band in addition to their trucks. There would be fire departments from many neighboring towns, but Pleasantville was the only one who had a band (other bands who participated were local school marching bands). I learned to appreciate some good marches, even more than we played in high school for our football games. Now that I play in the Ithaca Concert Band, we play a lot of marches as well, especially in outdoor summer concerts. But at least now, we don’t have to march – it’s tough on the embouchure to play while walking.

I was in the Fire Department Band for a little over a year; I just happened to be there when the band celebrated its 50th anniversary, so I got a little paperweight commemorating this event. I was just getting into playing for weekly rehearsals, but hadn’t practiced much outside of rehearsal because we lived in an apartment and the practicing would be heard by the neighbors. I was still at a point where my endurance was lacking (I barely had enough lip to make it through a rehearsal or a parade). For a long time I felt my peak as a trumpeter was at the end of high school going into college. My playing would probably have improved if I had continued in the band. However, at this time (1985) my wife finished her graduate studies and we moved to Ithaca, NY where she started a faculty position at Cornell University. I started my own doctoral program at Cornell at that point and didn’t start playing again once we moved to Ithaca. Had I researched it, I probably would have found the Ithaca Concert Band then, but my studies took a priority.

One significant event at this time was that I thought that I was going to be playing more, so when I came across an opportunity to obtain a used Bach Stradivarius 43 ML trumpet (through a classified ad in Princeton, NJ – my wife’s hometown), I bought it. However, I didn’t play it much until my comeback about 20 years later. It was not until recently that I realized the importance of having a quality instrument to played. I used a Getzen Capri which my father bought through a friend who owned a piano store in Honolulu- not bad, but not as good as the Bach. I still have the instrument – this is the one I played in Hawaii, Japan, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Cambridge, MA and Pleasantville, NY so it has some sentimental value. For the Bach aficionados, according to the serial number my Stradivarius was manufactured in 1979 in Elkhart, IN. Not one of the New York manufactured Bachs, but still before the quality of Bach instruments was said to have gone down,


When did I stop playing

July 28, 2008

I first started playing trumpet in the sixth grade. That was back in 1965. I continued playing in school all the way through high school. By the end of my senior year in high school I was pretty good, but I wasn’t a super player and it was clear I would not major in music nor would I become a music professional. But I did have an interest in continuing to play in college. My high school band, Iolani School, was very distinguished and probably the best in the State of Hawaii at the time. We ended the school year with a tour encompassing performances in Fiji, Australia (Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne) and New Zealand (Wellington, Christchurch, Rotorua, Aukland). We also had a trip two years previously in Japan where we played a concert at Expo ’70 in Osaka and a concert in Tokyo at the roof garden of the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

I resolved to keep my playing ability up and took private lessons during the summer prior to going away to college at MIT. I got my introduction to warmup routines, exercises, solos, duets and etudes in Arban’s book (I still use the Arban’s book which I acquired at that time). I was in my best trumpet playing condition ever going into college in Fall 1972.

When I got to Cambridge, MA and the MIT campus, I found out the details of the auditions for the MIT Jazz Ensemble. From what I read, you didn’t need to be able to improvise but you would learn. There were two groups – the first band had the better players. I auditioned for one of the two openings for trumpet in the second band. I don’t remember exactly how many of us there were trying out, maybe about five. Two of the trumpeters were very good and clearly better than me. I got a call from the director that I was the alternate (3rd in the audition) so if either of the other two players decided not to join, I would be in. Needless to say, both of them joined the group. Had I gotten into the group I might have played from that point continuously to now. Or maybe I would have stopped at another time.

As an alternative, I joined the MIT Concert Band which didn’t require an audition. It only rehearsed weekly on Wednesday evenings. Rather than the traditional concert band repertoire, the director leaned more toward more modern works that were written by local composers for the band. I slowly lost interest in the music we were performing and slowly practiced less outside of rehearsal. My abilities declined as well and I never did go back to audition for the jazz band after my first try. As I got busier with other things, band and trumpet playing kept being pushed back on my priorities. After my sophomore year, I stopped playing with the band. They did call me back because they needed more trumpeters for a concert when I was a junior, but after that I was done.

I had a brief comeback about 10 years later – more about this stint with the Pleasantville Volunteer Fire Department Band in a later post.

The comeback begins

July 12, 2008

My most recent comeback to playing the trumpet began on December 18, 2005. How am I able to pinpoint this date? On that day I saw the Ithaca Community Orchestra play their holiday concert – I enjoyed the concert and could imagine myself playing within the group. At the end of the concert I spoke to the musical director of the group and made a commitment to come out to the next rehearsal. There was a break for about 5 weeks so I had only a little time to prepare for my first group rehearsal after an interval of about 20 years. It is now July 2008, so my comeback has pretty much overcome inertia and has taken hold. I think now it is easier for me to keep playing rather than to stop.

Up to this point, there were some false starts and incomplete comeback attempts along the way. I will probably go into detail about some of these in later posts. These other attempts included joining a band for a volunteer fire department, trying to learn other instruments (clarinet, french horn) that I had thought about learning when I was younger, and being ready to join a group, but not wanting to join them after hearing them play.

Another important aspect of the comeback was taking private lessons and getting pointers on how to practice better on my own. Since I’ve started playing again, I’ve been actively looking at lots of different learning materials. Posts will cover this aspect as well.

A very important thing to do is to listen to lots of good music being played – my CD collection has grown by leaps and bounds and I’ve been attending many live performances. I’m fortunate to live in town (Ithaca NY) which has a music school (Ithaca College) as well as a university (Cornell) with a very strong music program. I’ve also attended the West Chester Trumpet Fest for the last two years – here you can hear distinguished trumpeters play and get some clinical knowledge. Allen Vizzutti was one of the featured guests in the last one.

Since I have been playing in an orchestra, my appreciation for classical music has increased and I listen to lots more of it. I obtained a C trumpet. I’m wanting to learn more about music history and theory. I’ve listen to several of the music courses from the Teaching Company. I’ve also listened to a lot more jazz and would like to acquire the skills to be able to play jazz (intimate knowledge of scales and chords and being able to improvise). I’ve acquired a flugelhorn and am learning the subtle difference between playing this and a trumpet. As a means to learn more about scales and chords, in addition to book learning, I plan to learn to play the bass guitar. I also haven’t had much experience with the bass clef since I’ve played trumpet and other treble clef instruments. It doesn’t seem so far fetched – with the bass, you can still play after you’ve done your trumpet practice. Also, I’ve played a little bit of guitar. More details about all of these topics will follow later.

Coming soon…

May 31, 2008

This blog has just been started. I plan to discuss my experiences in playing trumpet again after a layover of about 20 years.