Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005 15:07:05 -0500
From: Roger Cappallo <>
Subject: [TPIN] National Trumpet Competition

Spending 3 days last weekend at the NTC in Fairfax, VA, was absolutely incredible! Though Doc was the proximate cause for me to make the trip down from Massachusetts, it turned out that the entire event was fantastic. I heard more great trumpet playing in a few days than I had heard in my previous 45 years as a trumpeter (I know - I should get out more).

Broadly speaking, the events were of 3 types: the (primarily) student competition, various lectures and clinics, and performances by the pros.

The top students were amazingly good. For example, the winner in the Middle School division was an 8th grader named Bryce Schmidt. He played the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Hummel (they are only allotted 8 playing minutes) on an Eb trumpet -- and did a fantastic job...technically sharp and expressive. In the college division, the top 3 finishers (Eric Brown, Karen Bliznik, and Douglas Reneau) were all spectacular. The jazz competition had the 6 finalists perform with a rhythm section, each a set piece and one of their own choosing, and once again the judges had the unenviable job of selecting from near equals based upon differences in style and interpretation. Afterward, the finalists, the judges, and anyone else who wanted to blow got up on stage for a jam session. It was a lot of fun listening to each of 15 or so players take 32 bars and add something interesting to the tune -- or in some cases just try to outblow everyone who had come before.

The clinics/masterclasses/lectures were interesting. Dennis Najoom interviewed Doc in a conversational setting.  Those of you that have heard Doc know how funny he can be. One playing tip I recall is that he felt that every now and then you should pick up your horn and play G in the staff just as loud as you can - even if the tone breaks up a bit, to get the feel of some real air moving through the horn.

Phil Smith spent a fascinating hour describing his approach to playing the trumpet. He described his "inner Gabriel" that produces the beautiful musical ideas that he has, and how one should always be striving to make every note, every arpeggio, every scale or whatever, just as beautiful as you can make it. He said that he stopped giving lessons because he found it hard to perform after a day of lessons -- when his inner Gabriel had been under attack. (As a golfer, I would say that his mind had been seeded with bad swing thoughts)

And the performances! The Atlantic Brass quintet were a real treat in the exhibition hall one lunch time. Crispian Steele-Perkins gave an hour long history of the trumpet performance, in which he performed on half a dozen historical instruments with great virtuosity. In between, he explained the progression of trumpet design from natural trumpets, through vent holes, onto valved trumpets and the modern piccolo, playing characteristic songs on each, and explaining how the songs took advantage (or avoided the difficulities) of each type of instrument.

Phil Smith then performed a recital of modern trumpet music, with Joseph Turrin accompanying him on piano. Anyone who has heard Phil play knows how magical and gorgeous he makes our instrument sound.

On Sunday afternoon, after the awards ceremony, there was the final performance held in the cavernous George Mason U. Performing Arts Center. The Army Blues provided the nucleus of the concert - they are an 18 piece Big Band, and are all dynamite players. Interestingly enough, there was only one female -- but that was the lead trumpet player, Liesl Whitaker!

After several smoking numbers by the band, they were joined by Vince DiMartino for some even more sizzling trumpet pyrotechnics. Then Doc was introduced, and he just blew the house away in "What is This Thing Called Love" and Tommy Newsome's arrangement of Stardust.

(As a side comment, apropos the mike discussion: I was disappointed that the hall was so large that everyone was miked, but when Doc came out, he largely ignored the mikes - and was heard without difficulty, such is his enormous power.)

As someone has already alluded, the real showstopper came after Phil Smith had been called out to join Vince and Doc. Doc clowned around a bit with him - having Phil play Mahler's 5th and Petrouchka excerpts, with Doc supplying entertaining jazz continuations at the ends of each. Then Phil played Amazing Grace on the flugel. Gorgeous. Doc had him take a second verse to which Doc interspersed jazz licks. Then, in the up-tempo section Doc, Vince, and Phil(!) jammed along, sequeing into Saints after a while. At times, Phil didn't seem totally comfortable up there on a stage full of jazzers, but it was obvious that Doc totally respects the guy ("He's the #1 symphony trumpet player in the world"), and they ended up having a lot of fun and making some great music. It was an instance where you wish you could just bottle up that memory, and keep it pristine to savor for the rest of your life.

Roger Cappallo
MIT Haystack Observatory