From: Rob Reeves <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 1997 10:46:39 +1000
Subject: Lesson with Simeon Christoff (Long)
I have followed TPIN with interest for over twelve months now, for the most part as a silent reader. Recently, I followed with interest the case of Simeon Christoff, and because I live in the same city as him, I decided to make contact, and see if I could get some lessons from him. Having done this, Simeon requested me to post a synopsis of his lessons to the TPIN, so that others may benefit. This I am happy to do, as some small return for the inspiration and learning I have received from the list, and also as a service to Simeon. Let me say that I have found him to be very generous with his time and help, if somewhat disconcerting in manner at times. I intend to continue with Simeon's lessons for now, and will post more accounts as the lessons proceed. A bit about myself, - I have been playing for just over three years, having taking up the horn at the age of 31, and have now become thoroughly obsessed! I aspire to play melodic and tuneful jazz, and my favourite trumpet player is Eddie Henderson. I have had a succession of teachers, none of whom I have been totally happy with, and all of whom taught apparently completely contradictory methods!
The house was on the end of the street, hidden behind a thick wall of trees and shrubbery. As I parked the bike, and began to unstrap my horn, two alsations in the house across the road barked incessantly through the chiken wire fence. The noise attracted Simeon out of the house, and he came out to meet me. At first sight he looked rather like Father Christmas in his casual summer wear. A portly gentleman in his 50s or 60s, with clear skin and bright eyes. He held out his hand to shake, and we went inside.
For a brief moment, as he locked the latch, I wondered if I'd walked into the den of a stark raving lunatic, and I wondered if I would ever get out alive. You here these stories about meeting loonies after making contact on the Internet. But anyway, as I looked arround the room, I was reassured. There was a piano, a special mute stand, upon which a dozen different varieties of trumpet mute hung. Bookcases full of books, including the dictionary of Music, and Big Band Jazz. In one corner was a tray full of the makings of trumpet mouthpieces.
Well, I thought to myself, If he's a lunatic, he's at least a trumpet playing lunatic, and I started to feel more at home, and began to listen to what he was saying.
He began to talk about Maurice Andre, and his teacher, who apparently died at an early age, in his forties. He was talking about a special mouthpiece that they used, which was not perfectly round in the rim. Working on the theory that the top and bottom lip play different roles and exert different amounts of pressure, it makes sense to have the mouthpiece shaped eccentrically. I couldn't quite get what he was saying, whether he meant two slightly off-centre overlapping circles, or whether the rim was elliptically shaped. But any way, Vincent Bach stopped making them in the 60s sometime, he says, which was a great shame.
"There are three aspects of mastery in trumpet playing," carries on Simeon. "These are Spiritual, Mental, and Physical sides of playing. Addressing the spiritual dimension first, he talked about the need to energize, to use affirmations, and self-hypnosis. He was disdainful of those close minded practitioners who pooh-poohed this side of trumpet mastery. It was very common in Europe, and considered essential to psychically prepare for a performance. The Mental aspect of trumpet playing, he summed up with a single word, solfege. He lamented the impoverished British and American music education systems that ignore this wonderful skill. Essential stuff. If only I knew what it was and could practice something with it! I guess it's do re mi and all that, with sight singing. This will help immeasurably with sight reading. He quoted Dr Charles Collins, in support of his viewpoint, a fellow who he had met personally, and seemed to have a deal of respect for.
The Physical side of trumpet playing involves a number of aspects. The warmup is very important, and should vary depending on the type of music to be played. High notes, melodic solos, or soft and tender music requires different warm up exercises. He also talked about the importance of a warm down, though for the life of me, I can't remember what he told me to do for a warmdown. For warm ups, I need to do some loose lip raspberry blowing, which we decided to call by the poetical name of horse lips, for 1 minute. This stimulates the blood flow to the lips. This followed by free buzzing for two minutes. One of the bad habits I had picked up was the tendency to tense the lips with a smiling type movement to get the buzz. Simeon was very emphatic about avoiding this smiling, as it added tension to the lips, meaning that one would tire very easily. He demonstrated pushing the lips in towards the centre, and told me to go look at the monkey on the front of the Maggio book. Follow this with buzzing on the mouthpiece for three minutes.
Then I should pick up the horn, and play a second line G as soft as possible, for as long as possible. Do this for five or ten minutes. He told the story of Cat Anderson, the first trumpet player to play the G above double high C, at least as far as the usual stories go. However Simeon knew a whole bunch of European trumpeters who could perform that feat, and more, but were unknown in the west. He has actually met Cat Anderson, who was quite chuffed to have all these trumpet players following him around wanting to know how he played. According to Cat, the secret was playing as softly as possible, for at least half an hour per day. He used to practise at night, with his horn wrapped under blankets, playing as soft as he could, so as not to wake the neighbours. According to him, this was the secret of his incredible range and power.
Next he recommended pedal tones, also to be played for five or ten minutes, with the aim of loosening up my chops, which he said was too tight. However, he did say I had well developed muscles in the face, which was good. The important thing with the pedals is to stop if it starts to feel tingly.
Once per day is not enough to get anywhere. He recommends three times a day, morning, immediately after work, and again after dinner. With a smile, I said I can probably manage morning and after work, but after dinner as well might be going a bit too far for my social relationships! At least twice, he said.
The aim of exercises is to maintain the current level of proficiency, and to progress in specific techniques. Also one mustn't forget to warmdown after playing. This becomes especially important as one gets older, and the body and muscles are more easily damaged, and not as easily restored.
Food also was an important factor in performance, a trick he'd learnt from the cyclists in the tour de France, who ride twelve hours a day for days on end. Carbohydrates will energize you for about one hour, fish for two hours, chicken for four hours, veal for six hours and beef for eight hours. Therefore if your going to an eight hour gig, be sure to have a steak beforehand!
Of course its important to have regular relaxation techniques several times a day, and proper and sufficient sleep.
Simeon opened a cuppboard, and showed me four well stocked shelves across the width of the room, full to bursting with bottles and vials of pills, vitamins, herbs, homeopathic remedies, and the like. He recommended protein powder to try and put on a little weight and build up some bulk in the diaphragm area. The more diaphragm you use, he said, the less you damage your lip. So I should do isometric exercises to strengthen the stomach muscles. Lying on my back, and raising my feet in the ear, and holding them there for a minute. Well, ten seconds is about all I can do at the moment! This should be done every two or three days, and you should definitely stop if it starts to feel like its burning.
Next lesson he promised to help me match a mouthpiece to my lip and to the horn, getting the rim size, cup depth, and bore right.
My second lesson with Sieon was about a week later. He got me to do the lip buzz I'd been practicing for the last week, making the point that the lower the pitch, the better, and to try and keep the pitch as steady as possible. The reason for doing it this way, he said, is to loosen up the chops, in which I had too much tension.
As stated previously, Simeon is a great believer in warming up properly. The warmup he recomended for me is to loosely flap the lips, rather like a horse blowing big loose raspberries. This to be done for one minute. Following this, buzzing the lips, without mouthpiece, for two minutes, and then three minutes of buzzing on the mouthpiece. This is followed by five minutes of long tones on the second line G, played as softly as possible. He talked again about Cat Anderson. According to Simeon, Cat had fleshy lips and used a small mouthpiece. His secret, as mentioned before, was in practising playing very softly, which he had to do under a blanket, late at night, so as not to disturb his neighbours. The warmup concludes with five minutes of pedal tones, starting on second line G, then decending a 5th, and then a 4th to make the octave, and repeating this down one semitone etc, until pedal C sharp is reached.
Simeon then discussed up-streaming and down-streaming. He observed that the air stream from my embouchure was directed rather strongly downwards. This set-up, he assured me, would make for easy and relaxed middle register, but would cause me to struggle in the high register. The method he recommended was to change to an up-streaming embouchure, by jutting forward the lower jaw, and slightly protruding the lower lip. According to Simeon, this would make for an easy high range and a relaxed middle register. He did emphasize, however that it was important to maintain even pressure on both lips.
Mixed in with the discussion on up-streaming, was a discussion of mouthpiece placement. Simeon recommended slightly more lower lip, or evenly distributed. The slightly more lower lip placement he attributed to the old German school of trumpet playing, which, unfortunately has been replaced in modern times. However the French still teach this method, according to Simeon.
During my previous studies, I had, almost inevitably, picked up some bad habits. One of these was adopting a slightly hunched and tense position, with the head jutting forward when preparing to play. Simeon suggested an exercise for correcting this - to stand with back against a wall. A very simple, but helpful exercise. I had also adopted a right hand position that placed undue strain on the embouchure. Simeon pointed out that with my right thumb extended towards the mouthpiece, with the valves all in front of it, every time I pressed a valve with my fingers, it caused a pivot on the horn, making it difficult to control the start of notes, and needlessly pushing the mouthpiece up on the lips. To counteract this, he suggested moving the right thumb to a position under the lead pipe between the first and second valves.
For the left hand also, he suggested I use the middle finger on the third valve slide trigger, and support the horn on the little and ring fingers. I had been using the ring finger on the trigger, and supporting the horn with my index funger under the top pipe.
So the lesson concluded with getting me to do some lip flexibilities, which I am to practice for the next lesson. This is slurs from low C, though second line G up to 3rd space C, giving attention to diaphragm support, which should increase as I ascend, control of the aperture, which should become smaller, and raising the tongue to alter the resonant cavity of the mouth, by imagining an "EEEE" sound. This should not however result in the drawing back of the lips, or smiling type action.