Stevens embouchure story

I am going to write about my experiences with Roy Stevens.

I was a student in undergraduate school in the mountains of North Carolina (Appalachian State University.) I had "chop" problems since my band director's solution to high notes was: "go in the corner and practice until you get it." I started studying with Dr. Elmer White who was a student of Roy's. He was the one who wrote the first paper on which muscles do fire when you play the trumpet. It was for his doctorate at Colombia. He used the electrodes in the muscles of trumpet players to find out what was really going on. Dr. White always took students up to NYC after school was out but before Christmas.

This was Christmas 1974. I had been working on the "Stevens" embouchure for about a year and a half. I had been student teaching in the fall and had little to do after school was over in the afternoons, so I practiced. I had my senior recital to do in April. We drove up and stayed in a loft that ASU owes for little cost. We all took lessons and most watched while others took their lesson.

The year before I went, Don Ellis came by to check in with Roy. Others called, example: Herb Albert, for lessons or check ups. Roy Roman is also a Stevens student. It seems that all the "problem" trumpet players came to Roy, and to Elmer too.

Finally, I got to take my first lesson. It went fine, but no light came on in my head. Two days later, I got to take my second lesson. During this time, we went to concerts, plays, the orchestra, and also got to hear Roy play with a big band. "I Can't Get Started" ended on an A above High C played by a 76 year old man! That was the High Point of the trip!!!

But back to my lesson, I was last that night, almost everyone left me except Dr. White and my roommate Wayne Burley. We were going to see Warren Vache later on (that is a whole story in itself.) The rest went to the Village Vanguard (it was Monday night) to here the pick up big band. I started on my lesson and Roy would say, do this exercise. I would do it while he and Dr. White talked. When he heard a change in the sound or range, he would say now do this exercise. This went on for over two hours! Roy was a gifted teacher who after so many students could listen and tell you what to do to "fix" your problem. Yes, he had a "system," but he taught each student and would give them what each one needed.

I been blessed to have been able to take for a short while with other gifted teachers, Mark Gould (NY Met orch) at a summer workshop. I also took lessons with Dave Bilger (Philadelphia Orchestra.) Wow, what a guy, NO MISTAKES! From the first note at 8 am to well after 11 PM most nights. These guys have taught enough people to be able to tell them what works and how to fix things both musically and physically. We should all be blessed with that gifted teacher! After that night, I felt that I could become a decant trumpet player if I worked at it. I played the Haydn in Eb on the recital and the high Eb was not a problem. I still follow the basic set up that the mouthpiece should rest equally on both the top and lower lips. I have to push my jaw out, like most people to get this. I find that when I'm not playing well, I've let the jaw ease back. Yes, Roy could play Double C and above. Yes, he could do it with little pressure, the trumpet on the string thing. He had bought the "system" from Costello's widow after he died.

Please, do not talk badly about things you do not know about! I do not know the 26 weeks to Double High C method, so all I could say would be hearsay. This system, as well as many gives you a framework from which to build yourself into a better player. I now work with the Jimmy Stamp exercises, Colin lip slurs, Vizutti, and others (of course Arban, and Clarke too.) You have to practice, you have to think, you have to find out what will work for you. Thank goodness that everyone is different! We are blessed with many different styles and ways to make music. Good luck in your quest. I hope that you will have as many great teachers as I have had, if only for a little while to inspire and motivate you. That is, in my opinion, the most important part of learning the trumpet. You have to be inspired to practice and the learn all the tools that you will need to perform at whatever level you're it.

I know that others have had good and bad stories about their teachers. Please be open minded and see if some of these different methods seem logical to you. Call the Colin Studio in NYC as there is someone there who still teaches the Stevens Method. Or call John Entzi at Northeastern Missouri Univ. Or Greg Black, yes the mouthpiece guy. We all got to study some, Greg studied with him for a long time with Roy or Dr. White. Dr White still teaches in Boone, NC. If you're interested.

Thanks for listening.

John Enloe

Date: Sun, 17 Jan 1999 22:43:40 EST