Feb 8, 2005

Trumpeting Jay Friedman, by John Hagstrom

I was talking to Jay Friedman in the locker room one day last month before rehearsal, and he was telling me about his web site and how each month he writes an article of some sort that shares some of his experience and advice to students and professionals. I told him that I thought it was great that he took the time to do this, and that I had learned a tremendous amount from him that has really helped my trumpet playing and musicianship overall. He then suggested that I might be a good person to write an article for his web site from the standpoint of having taken some lessons from him, and also from the standpoint of how those ideas are best applied to the challenges of trumpet playing. I immediately agreed, and the following text is the result of that effort. It is important to note that I have constructed these thoughts as a listing of how his influence has been the most beneficial to me, and not as statements attempting to define his teaching and influence generally.

I have been a member of the CSO since 1996, and through my direct exposure to the members of the orchestra I have gotten in a relatively short amount of time a huge amount of information and experience that has given me an “extreme makeover” in terms of how I play and teach the trumpet. There have been many influences on me in this way from various members of the CSO, but, with the exception of the influence of Adolph Herseth, no one has been more influential on my playing and musical understanding than Jay Friedman.

His playing is well known for all of its strengths, and there are many areas of instrumental control in which he stands alone as a legendary master. Of course, that has been and continues to be a powerful influence on me and the rest of the CSO, but most influentially on me personally has been Jay pointing out some very specific areas of his sensitivity to musical nuance and expression. He has the most targeted perception of musical line as it relates to brass instrument tone production of anyone that I have ever been exposed to, and, as an example of this, after the first lesson I ever took from him, someone asked me what we worked on for that hour. They expected me to give them a list of repertoire covered, but instead my answer was, “F-G-A-Bb”. Jay had spent an hour with me going over and over the way I was changing notes in this four note fragment, pointing out the details I had been missing by not listening for absolute uniformity and seamless connection. After I finally started to do this with the qualities he expected, we then added articulation at the beginning of each of these note changes, and that’s what took up the rest of the hour...

My study with Jay has solidified in my mind the necessity for all musicians to have a very idealized image of what they would like to sound like in great detail. Of course, most players would agree with this, but when pressed they may be exposed for having their “great detail” of image being actually somewhat vague. Most musicians know mature and compelling expression when they hear it, but they really do not have a tremendous intensity of detail mapped out in their minds beforehand. Jay is truly unrelenting in this way with himself and those he coaches and teaches. This is not to say that any of the members of the CSO are able to play at the level they imagine, but they do play at a very high level because the sounds they imagine before playing are so idealized that the actual product produced may in fact be greater than what many listeners can imagine as ideal. This was certainly true for Arnold Jacobs and Adolph Herseth, and it is true for Jay as well. Hopefully, through a healthy commitment to this purpose, it will be true for us all as we strive to be the best musicians we can be.

I have chosen the following points Jay has spoken about that are especially important for trumpet players to consider. Working on these areas has transformed my playing into something that is much more vocally imitative, much more compatible with the trombone section, and much more satisfying as an artistic opportunity for self expression:

--As trumpet players, we often improperly use the resistance of the valve changes as a crutch that unfortunately breaks up the continuity of musical line. Trombones do not have this option because changing slide positions has no effect on the resistance of the instrument.

--In effect, the resistance of the valve change conditions us to be able to (for a brief instant during note changes) rest the intensity of our support and embouchure focus; the bore is temporarily blocked by the moving piston and we find that we can get away with less effort since our chops still vibrate because of this instantaneous dip in what is minimally required to produce some kind of sound. Accordingly, however, the resulting musical continuity is not on the level aesthetically with other instruments that are forced to produce the sound with a more continuous effort (strings, woodwinds, singers.....trombones...). The sound of the trumpet is still compelling to the listener, but we have passively traded away the opportunity to connect with the audience in the same way and with the same musical tools as those other instruments.

--Since most trumpet players do not demand something more expressively connected, there are not many instances that demonstrate an alternative. Often it is only through our own musically targeted listening and demand of detail can we form the sensitivity of perception to lead us to some higher standards. Listening to vocalists, woodwind, and string players can be a fantastic source for inspiration in this way.

--Adolph Herseth (who is a very positive example of seamless musical connection) has always encouraged players to practice an equal proportion of time on both the piston and rotary valved trumpets. There are several very beneficial reasons for this, but chief among them is that the rotary valve change does not introduce any resistance to the instrument, especially as compared to the piston valve change. He has often told me that playing successfully on the rotary valved trumpet makes the piston trumpet feel that much more comfortable. This is because the rotary valved instrument offers one the opportunity and/or challenge to produce musical phrases without the interruptions of the piston style valve changes. Since they are not an option, the player must make musical statements without using them as a potential crutch for continued response or having them as a potential obstacle to linear continuity.

--Even on the rotary trumpet, however, one still needs the intensity of mental preconception that demands seamless connection between notes. Once again, targeted listening to other instruments for this nuance is key along with very slow and detailed practice.

--Trumpeters often lose a connected sense of legato as soon as they start using any sort of articulation, especially very clear crisp attacks. Jay has shown me how it is eventually easily possible to play with a seamlessly legato sound but to simultaneously articulate with clarity. This took me some time to be able to imagine with intense clarity, but it really opens the door for dramatic projection of line through a soft orchestral texture. It also makes it possible to play in absolute uniformity with the trombones in both loud and soft tutti passages.

Finally, there is a limitless possibility for how the power of one’s musical expression can be heightened by the development of a targeted focus on the expressive tools of nuance in other instruments. As we become more strictly demanding of ourselves and how we enforce the application of the details we discover into all that we play, many more options for making meaningful connections with listeners are possible. In an age when attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, we as musicians need to have every advantage to make live instrumental music a prioritized choice for the next generation of would-be listeners. It is most certainly a lifelong project that never ends, but most definitely worth the effort. We need inspiring musical models to imitate and we also need those individuals who will take the time and make the effort to strictly apply these standards to themselves and others. Thanks to you, Jay, for your commitment to music in this way, and for challenging your colleagues and students to aspire to something better.

John Hagstrom
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
February 8, 2005

Download John Hagstrom playing the last few minutes of the Artunian Rhapsody (recorded with the DePaul Wind Ensemble). This comes from his solo CD, to be released in late 2005.

Download hagstrom.mp3

This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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