The fourth annual (2007) Atlanta Trumpet Festival took place this past weekend. This year, Scotty Barhnhart, Mark Clodfelter, and Kevin Eisensmith attended as clinicians for the festival. They were joined by approximately 175 festival participants, comprised of middle school students, high school students, and adult trumpet players.
Unlike previous years where I simply watched from the audience, this year I registered and performed with the adult trumpet ensemble. If you're a regular reader of this website, you probably know that I haven't played the trumpet in public for quite some time. To be exact, 1995 was the last time that I played publicly. That 1995 performance was actually with a jazz combo, though. You'd have to go back all the way to 1993 for the last time that I played classical music in any type of group setting. As you can see, it's been almost 15 years since I had a trumpet playing experience that even remotely resembled what I'd encounter at the Atlanta trumpet festival. Needless to say, I was a bit worried about how everything would turn out.
Following is a review of the 2007 Atlanta Trumpet Festival and my experience playing in the adult trumpet ensemble:
The Atlanta Trumpet Festival began on Saturday, with a warm-up clinic hosted by the professor of trumpet at University of Kentucky, Mark Clodfelter. Having heard Mark's excellent solo performance during the 2006 festival, I was definitely interested to hear what he had to say about warming-up. The warm-up clinic began with a deep breathing exercise followed by a demonstration of some Cichowicz flow studies. Mark played each flow study on his horn at a low volume and then the entire group of 175 festival participants played the exercises together. I was already familiar with these flow studies, but I hadn't ever tried playing them at a low volume in such a relaxed manner. I'll definitely have to give that a try during my regular trumpet practice routine since it seems like a low impact way to both warm-up and improve my range.
Something else that was new to me was Mark's approach to playing high notes on the trumpet. I've known for quite some time that high notes require faster air, rather than simply more air, but Mark's suggestion to think of the syllable "HO" down at our diaphragm and "HEE" at our mouth was new to me. The idea is that the "HO" sound will produce the volume of air needed for high notes, and the "HEE" sound will force that air into a smaller opening at our embouchure, thus accelerating the air. Obviously you can't really say "HO" with your diaphragm, but having that sound concept in your mind should produce the desired result.
After the warm-up clinic, the festival participants were divided into their individual ensembles for rehearsals. This year's Atlanta Trumpet Festival had one middle school ensemble, two high school ensembles, and one adult ensemble. Mark Clodfelter conducted the adult ensemble.
One of the nicest things about the Atlanta Trumpet Festival is the fact that there are no auditions. You simply show up and you get to pick the parts that you play, with the understanding that the best players don't get to hog first part on every tune. Since my upper range is still rather weak, I opted for the lower parts on every tune. Here are some of the things I learned while playing in the adult trumpet ensemble:
- My range is even worse than I thought - Since I started playing the trumpet again, I've struggled to expand my upper range. In my recent jazz improvisation solos, you'll hear more notes above the staff, but those are always played at full volume and they're all optional. In other words, I only play high notes when my chops can take it. Playing from written music, however, I don't have this luxury. Instead, I have to adhere to the dynamic markings of the tune and I have no option but to play each note as written. This really caused problems for me on the first tune that we played in rehearsal. The part I initially selected had 4 measures of G's at the top of the staff, all played at a very low volume. I flat out couldn't do it. And I knew that even if I could pull it off during rehearsal, there was no way I could play those notes if my embouchure was fatigued. Fortunately, I was able to switch parts and never had to play anything higher than an E in the staff during the rest of the tunes, but I was a little disappointed that my range had failed me so early on in the event.
- I don't play well with others - When I started playing trumpet back in middle school, I always played in band class with many other people. It became second nature for me to blend in with the rest of the trumpet section, and it was easy for me to hear myself in a group setting. During the first couple of rehearsals with the adult trumpet ensemble, however, I could barely hear myself as I attempted to blend in with the rest of the players. There were times that I knew somebody was out of tune in my section, but I couldn't tell if it was me or not. Similarly, since I couldn't hear myself all the time, I didn't know if my tone was good or bad. These are all things that I used be pretty good at identifying back when I was in high school, but now that I've become so used to hearing myself as a solo voice I felt lost in the group. I guess like any other element of trumpet playing, playing well in a group takes practice.
- My endurance is better than I thought - When I practice jazz improvisation at home, I tend to play continuously for 15-20 minutes at a time (sometimes even longer). By the end of these improvisation sessions, my chops are so tired that I can't play anything above the staff without excessive mouthpiece pressure. Since 15-20 minutes goes by quickly when I'm improvising, it's tempting for me to think my endurance is terrible. The trumpet festival, however, proved that my endurance is actually pretty good, at least for the type of music I was playing. During all the ensemble rehearsals and performances, I never once felt like my chops were tired. Not even a little. If anything, I was playing better by the end of rehearsals than at the beginning. While I might not have the endurance to play a solid night of jazz improvisation, it's definitely encouraging to know that I can get through an experience like the Atlanta Trumpet Festival without any endurance problems.
- It's (probably) time to change my daily practice routine - I've been doing the same daily routine of warm-up and fundamental exercises for over a year now. In most areas, I'm pleased with my progress, but I really want to focus on exercises that will help strengthen my upper range. I'm not looking to play all that high. I just want a solid and controlled range that extends up to a C above the staff. I'll probably check out Trumpet Herald for suggested exercises, but if you've got any ideas, please pass them along.
OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
Between rehearsals on Saturday, the festival participants attended a clinic with Kevin Eisensmith about conquering performance anxiety. Kevin Eisensmith is professor of trumpet at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Among other things, Kevin discussed the "two selves" concept that appears in the book "The Inner Game Of Tennis" by Timothy Gallwey. One of the two selves is that part of us who is capable of performing at our peak level. The other side is the critical voice in our heads that insists on telling us things like "I better play well tonight," "I hope I don't miss that high C," and "rats, I missed that high C, this is a disaster." It's that critical side that causes performance anxiety and it's the critical side that keeps us from reaching our full potential (I wrote briefly about that nasty critical side near the end of my four-year anniversary article).
To prevent ourselves from getting bogged down by negative and otherwise distracting thoughts, Kevin suggested that we develop a "Teflon Mind" where we let our worries and concerns fade away. Kevin also spent several minutes taking us through a meditation exercise that he does before every concert. He imagines himself in a serene setting, where he's perfectly comfortable and he then consciously relaxes each part of his body working from his head down to his toes. By the time he's finished, his mind is clear and the performance anxiety is gone.
HISTORY OF JAZZ TRUMPET
The final clinic on Saturday was a fantastic presentation of the history of jazz trumpet by Scotty Barnhart. Scotty Barnhart is the featured trumpet soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra and professor of jazz trumpet at Florida State University. He's also the author of the book, "The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy" which I reviewed in 2006. What would have been an interesting history lecture on its own was transformed into pure magic as Scotty, backed by a rhythm section of some of Atlanta's finest jazz musicians (Kevin Bales on piano, Justin Varnes on drums, and Robert Dickson on bass), performed each major style of jazz trumpet playing in the style of its original performers! Scotty's playing was incredible as he stepped into the shoes of Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldrige, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis. That presentation alone was worth the price of the Atlanta Trumpet Festival!
Saturday's festivities concluded with a free concert featuring the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, the various festival clinicians, the Air National Guard Band of the South, and the Eagle's Flight Jazz Ensemble. Everyone played well, but I especially enjoyed the opportunity to hear Scotty Barnhart play a few more tunes with the Atlanta-based rhythm section. It was also great to hear Scotty and the other clinicians join the Eagle's Flight Jazz band during the final tune of the night, "April In Paris." Since he's the featured soloist in the current rendition of the Count Basie Big Band, Scotty maintained the time-honored Basie tradition of playing Thad Jones' "Pop Goes The Weasel" solo. He and the other clinicians ended the tune with a bang, outdoing each other with high note after high note at the end. It was a great performance and the audience loved it. I really hope jazz continues to play a role in future Atlanta Trumpet Festivals.
The second and final day of the Atlanta Trumpet festival began with ensemble rehearsals, both separately and as one large group. The group rehearsal was for the final tune of the festival recital: Verdi's "Requiem" performed by 175 trumpet players! On stage it was extremely loud, yet there were still 2 rows of trumpet players standing in front of me. I can't imagine how awesome it must have sounded from in front of the stage.
Overall, I think the final concert went really well. I made a couple of mistakes, but nothing that really stood out. But even if the mistakes were obvious, I doubt anybody would have minded. And that's one of the things that make the Atlanta Trumpet Festival so special. There's no expectation of perfection. Heck, there isn't even an expectation of good. The Atlanta Trumpet Festival is a low stress environment where trumpet players of any age and ability can come together to share the joy of playing the trumpet.
LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT YEAR
I'd like to thank Kay Fairchild, her son David Fairchild, the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, and all the other contributors for the hard work they put into the festival this year. This was definitely the best Atlanta Trumpet Festival yet! I'd also like to extend a special thank you to Kay. I wrote to her a couple of weeks ago stating my desire to simply watch the proceedings from the sidelines, but she encouraged me to perform with adult ensemble. Thanks to her suggestion, I had a great time performing with the adult ensemble and I'm already looking forward to participating again next year!
To learn more about the Atlanta Trumpet Festival, check out the introduction to my review of the 2006 Atlanta Trumpet Festival.