Date: Sat, 7 Mar 1998 19:08:31 +0000
From: "Ian McKechnie" <>
Subject: Re: The whole gamut of sound, from A to B

Nils Ek wrote :
> I for one am glad for
> the variety in sound and playing styles, and I try to analyze these
> differences in a manner that gives some credit to each performer.
> I think this is the better way, for me at least, because it enables me to
> enjoy a lot more music than I could if I insisted that the only trumpeter
> worth listening to is one who plays everything 'just so'. It also enables
> me as a trumpeter to live with myself despite the fact that I do not play
> or sound like *my* favourite musician :+)

This raises the question, which has come up in several guises on TPIN, about criticism and taste in trumpet playing styles.  A few points spring to mind, and I apologise if they are not marshalled in any particular order.

First, it is very important that learning trumpeters (up to the age of about 97) continue to listen to a variety of styles : this must be a task the teacher should encourage, and I am concerned sometimes that some teachers focus so much on achieving the "right" sound and the "right" result that alternatives are overlooked.  How many of the pedagogues on the list let their pupils hear a variety of players, past and present?  You do?  Well done!!!!

But in this context I am very concerned about the monopoly which the marketing departments of some record companies try to foist on us.  While it is possible to applaud the success of, say, Marsalis's work, it seems to me a pity when a significant number of TPIN contributors appear to be over influenced by it.  (You may recall that a week or so ago a query arose about works for trumpet and soprano.  The only suggested recording was Battle and Marsalis, but this is only one of many such disks : in fact ALL the works on there had been done before, and possibly better, elsewhere.) (Not a dig at Mr M, this time : it would be equally wrong to suggest that the only acceptable baroque performances came from Mr Andre)

Second, while it is important to encourage a broad spectrum of listening, it is equally important for musicians to develop real critical skills : this means that they have to give equal balance to what they like AND WHAT THEY DISLIKE.  It is perfectly acceptable to have a dislike for a player's interpretation or style, while still appreciating the good points.  And it is perfectly acceptable for the dislikes to predominate : I have a friend who cannot abide to hear Maurice Andre play, because of his use of vibrato.  He is perfectly willing to accept Andre's many good points, but finds the vibrato so overwhelming that it spoils the experience.  I cannot see that it makes him a bad judge of trumpet players, nor Andre a bad player : merely that there is not meeting of minds in the music.  (Actually I feel the same about Hardenberger, for different reasons.  When I hear him play, I find it monotonous, and my mind wanders off to other things : this never, ever, happens, when I listen to, say, Don Smithers.)

Also, it is useful to remember that tastes change over time.  The sort of sound which made Roger Voisin famous might not have found its way to the microphone in the 1990's, and some of those recording now (whose marketing support assures us that they are "great artists") will fall, mercifully, into obscurity in a relatively short time.

Final point, it is possible that as trumpeters we are poor judges of trumpet music.  For example, one of the most astounding things I have heard, ever, is Allen Vizzutti's "Carnival of Venus".  I mean, blimey!  But more than one musician I have played it for has said "it's not very nice to listen to, is it?"  And, to be fair, bits of it are a bit rough (musically speaking).  But from the perspective of trumpet player, so what?  Often I listen to a player, am impressed by and appreciate the note production, the sound quality, the range, the endurance, the speed etc etc, but find the musical and aesthetic content lacking.  It is possible to be a good athlete, but not an artist, and still get a recording contract!!

Can I, at this point, repeat something Nils said :

"It also enables
> me as a trumpeter to live with myself despite the fact that I do not play
> or sound like *my* favourite musician :+)"

I think he is expressing an important point, because he should be his favourite musician.  OK, other people may have attributes which he could use (I would quite like to have Marsalis's note production, because it's much better than I can ever hope to achieve) but if your own expression is inferior to someone else's, surely something is going wrong?  OK, to take an analogy, I can't write like Dickens, but if I could, I would not be writing quite what he wrote : I would merely be epressing my thoughts better!  We need to be self-critical, certainly, but we need also to be positive about what we do.

Ian McKechnie