Timothy J. Kent
Historical Author, Paddler, and Reenactor

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpts

"I first met Adolph Herseth in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 1, 1967, when I was a brand new freshman at the University of Michigan. On that day, I heard for the very first time symphonic music played live; it was only a few weeks earlier that I had been first introduced to such music on recordings, in music literature/history class. That sunny Sunday afternoon in October, I heard the Chicago Symphony play "Ciaconna" by Buxtehude (arranged by Chavez), the world premiere of the Seventh Symphony of Roger Sessions (which had been commissioned by the University for its sesquicentennial year of 1967), Nobilissima Visione Suite by Hindemith, and Ravel's La Valse. In addition, the second piece on the program was the Concerto for Trumpet in D Major by Teleman, featuring Mr. Herseth. (To this day, I am still awed by the tape recording I have of the live performance of this piece which he and the orchestra did two weeks later back in Orchestra Hall in Chicago.) After the heavenly rush of the concert, I eagerly made my way to the stage door to meet the trumpet master, get his autograph, and take his picture with my Polaroid camera. When I framed and hung those two treasured mementos on the wall in my dorm room the next day, I could never have imagined that, eleven years and three months later, I would be one of Bud's colleagues in that trumpet section. In fact, until that fateful Sunday afternoon, I had not even imagined that I would become a professional player."
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"Every aspect of Adolph Herseth's music-making was astounding. His magnificent tone was so rich and concentrated, with loads of overtones and plenty of air flowing, that it could be heard within the orchestral texture no matter how softly or in whatever register he played. His intonation was impeccable, as was also his disciplined precision, execution, and rhythm. His complete mastery of all technical aspects of trumpet playing in all registers, as well as his fantastic dynamic range, power, and endurance, resulted in music that was always clearly articulated, rhythmic, and energetic. Bud's immense musicality, involving a constant pulse and forward motion as well as an acute sensitivity and attention to the slightest of nuances, was so communicative that it caused visceral reactions in everyone who heard it, including me. These reactions would range from tears brought about by a simple six-note lyrical passage in Pictures at an Exhibition to exhaltation from a bombastic and glorious ending of a piece like Mahler's Symphony Number 5, as well as myriad other sensations in between. The degree of artistry that he consistently maintained created an indelible impact on all listeners. When this pillar of self-confidence played his horn, Gabriel himself likely stood in awe, and I was next in line. I was determined to do whatever it took to some day play with at least some semblance of that style and degree of quality."
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"At the end of the semester in early May, I traveled to Chicago to have the Schilke technicians do a couple of minor repairs on my two horns. Afterward, I slept overnight at my Greek grandmother's apartment in the suburb of Oak Park, and then stopped in to see my aunt a few blocks away, before beginning the long drive to northern Michigan to spend the summer. During the course of the conversation at my aunt's home, she happened to show me a newspaper clipping which described a soloist who had played the Hummel Concerto for Trumpet with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago the previous Sunday evening. She asked, 'Have you ever heard of this cornet player? He lives just down the street, in the next block. [Our son] Bob has been good friends with his daughter Christine ever since they were little.' I was stunned when I read the headline of the article: 'Herseth Triumphs in Trumpet Concerto.'

'He lives here?! He's the greatest trumpet player in the world!' I exclaimed. I could see from the look on her face that she was not convinced that this guy down the street with the southward-slouching porch steps had international stature in any field. And she did not have time to be convinced, since she was leaving for work.

Pulling away from the curb of South Clarence Avenue, I suddenly had the impulse to stop at house number 1044 and say hello to the master. So I first headed for the nearest gas station, a few blocks away, to brush my teeth and hair for the momentous occasion. Returning to the house, my heart pounding in my chest, I excitedly mounted those slanting green steps and rang the bell. When the door swung open, I said, 'Hello, Mr. Herseth, I'm Tim Kent, a nephew of the Neumans just down the street. When my aunt mentioned that you lived here, I thought I would stop by, to say hello and tell you how much I admire your playing. I'm a trumpet student at U of M in Ann Arbor, and I met you when you played there a year and a half ago.' Although I had interrupted his practicing in the basement, Mr. Herseth was very gracious and cordial. Encouraged by this, I suddenly had the thought of asking him if he might occasionally give me lessons, if I drove there from Michigan. Without the slightest hesitation, he agreed! At the time, I was totally unaware that the master very rarely taught anyone, except trumpet players in the Civic Orchestra. That specific moment on the porch signaled the very beginning of many years of generosity, encouragement, and in-depth training by Bud Herseth directed toward me. It is certainly food for thought to consider how my life might have played out quite differently if my aunt had not shown me the Hummel review clipping, or if Bud had not been home on that particular morning, or if he had chosen not to answer the doorbell and had instead continued his practice session in the basement, or if he had not decided on the spot to teach me. When I descended those five porch steps, the direction of my life had improved considerably. And, thinking back all these years later, there were very few times thereafter when I would come down those steps without my chops being absolutely wiped out and my mind being thrilled from all of the improvements that Bud had just wrought in my playing."

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"When Bud and the other members of the brass section who had been part of the audition committee came down to the locker room a few minutes later, they each congratulated me. These messages of warm welcome assured me that my assumptions of sweet success had been correct.

At this point in time, I had been working on my music-making skills for four months short of twenty years. In addition, I had first heard Bud and the Chicago brass section eleven years and three months earlier, at my introduction to symphonic music on that October day back in 1967, at U of M. It had been a long haul up a rather zig-zag path, but each and every playing experience along the way had contributed to my total array of skills.

Upon arriving back at our small apartment in Oak Park, where Doree was waiting to hear the results, I headed directly for the bathroom without saying a word. There, I took down a little scrap of paper that had long been taped to the wall, handed it to two-year-old Kevin, and instructed him to deliver it to his mother. On the slip was printed a quote from Eddie Cantor: "It takes twenty years to become an overnight success."
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Tim Kent, member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The newest member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, January of 1979.

"The fifteen members of the brass section, making music together as a unified ensemble day in and day out, played a very wide variety of literature in a great array of situations over many years. In the process, they established a universal set of standards among themselves, and then continued to solidify and refine those standards over the following decades. Earlier recordings of the orchestra reveal that the sound of the Chicago brass players during the 1940s had not been at all dominant; the recordings also show that their performances had generally not been of particularly stellar quality. However, by the early 1950s, within three years of Bud's arrival, the overall brass sound had changed considerably and increased immensely, and numerous aspects of its musicality had soared.

By listening carefully to one another, the entire brass section had developed a homogenous sound that extended from the bottom tones of the tuba to the top tones of the trumpets. Myriad earlier recordings of orchestras across the U.S. and Europe demonstrate that the tonal concept within the four different symphonic brass instruments had traditionally been quite disparate. Trumpets had tended to produce shrill and nasal sounds, with much emphasis on the higher overtones. In contrast, horns, trombones, and tubas had tended toward indistinct and diffused sounds, with emphasis on the lower overtones. The new distinctive sound of the Chicago brass choir was created by the trumpets playing with a deeper, richer, and more resonant sound than had been traditional, and by the lower brasses playing with sounds that had more crispness, sizzle, and projection than had been customary. This unique and attractive tonal continuity extended from Bud's trumpet at the top, down through each of the sections, to the anchors of Jake on tuba and Ed Kleinhammer (who had joined the orchestra in 1940) on bass trombone. It created an easily recognizable sound that was clear, intense, energetic, and exciting.

Part of this conversion of tonal concept was facilitated by Bud's usage of the C trumpet as his primary instrument. In virtually all orchestras throughout the world except those following French traditions, the B flat trumpet had been the standard instrument up to this time. In the U.S., only the Boston Symphony, replete with French players, utilized C trumpets. It was in the French orchestral tradition that Bud was trained between 1946 and 1948, by Georges Mager and Marcel Lafosse of the Boston orchestra (who also trained his first two CSO section replacements, Rudy Nashan and Bill Babcock). Thus, when Bud arrived in Chicago in 1948, he brought with him the more scintillating sound and crisper articulations of the C trumpet (which would eventually become the standard orchestral instrument virtually worldwide, following his stellar example).

Impeccable intonation was another salient trait of the Chicago brass, which was facilitated by the homogeneous sound of the fifteen players. Proper intonation resulted in support and reinforcement of one another's sound, instead of canceling out each other; it also produced a clear and transparent choir sound, instead of a thick and muddy one. The overall result of combining well-meshed tonal concepts and good intonation was a grand, solid-cored sound which could be both powerful and delicate, as the literature required.

Other characteristics of the CSO brass section were the very disciplined correctness of rhythms and the attention to the smallest of details. Playing in approximately, but not exactly, the manner in which a composer had intended was not acceptable. A related trait was playing in the appropriate style for each piece, whatever the genre, and being very flexible in making the necessary adjustments for each of the different styles. Certain European orchestras, particularly in Berlin and Vienna, had their own traditional ways of playing: it was a style that was most appropriate for the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruchner. However, their rather limited breadth of styles and adaptability made them much less flexible than the Chicago musicians, who could appropriately play a great array of compositions form the entire spectrum of musical periods. The adaptability of the Chicago Symphony brass players also enabled them to respond to the requests of a wide range of Music Directors and guest conductors, who each tended to elicit particular sounds and styles from the group.

Very expressive and dramatic musicality, coupled with a huge dynamic range, also became hallmarks of the CSO brass. One easily identifiable trait of this musicality was a very sustained manner of playing, without any decay of intensity on the longer tones. Other characteristics included a constant rhythmic pulse and constant forward movement of the music. In addition, the Chicago brass could play not only extremely powerfully but also very delicately. Their approach brought together both soloistic virtuosity and sensitive ensemble playing, reflecting the members' mastery of both the technical and the artistic aspects of music-making. Speaking of ensemble playing, another characteristic aspect of the CSO brass group was that all of the voices within it could be heard, instead of only hearing the lead voice in each section with background accompaniment being provided by the other colleagues. Overlaying all of these various musical attributes was a pervasive striving for the highest standards and a consummate professionalism, no matter the piece, the conductor, the venue, or the demands of the work schedule. In virtually every interview that Bud granted over his decades on the job, he credited the legendary attributes of the CSO brass choir to the excellent quality of the players in each position within that choir and their professional pride, as well as the many years in which the members had played together as a unit, which allowed them to mesh together musically. He once stated to an interviewer, 'I'd be that you could switch around the [positions of the] members of our brass section, and people in the audience wouldn't even know unless they looked. Everybody carries their weight, and that's why we sound the way we do.' Over the span of a half-century, the Chicago style and quality of brass playing, with Bud at the forefront, would influence orchestral players all over the world."
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"My career as a musician was now at its end. At the age of 47 1/2, I had retired even before reaching the peak of my playing abilities, at a time when I was still improving slightly every single week. My age was also at least two decades younger than the typical age for retirement by Chicago Symphony members. During my earlier days, I had whole-heartedly devoted nearly twenty years of effort to preparing myself for a career as a high-level professional player. Then, I had spent a total of 6,500 days, nearly eighteen years, as Bud's colleague in the finest symphonic trumpet section, in the very best of the big-league orchestras. I could not have asked for better results from all of my years of preparation. I had experienced a wonderfully rich and satisfying array of musical adventures.

However, along the way, I had also become immersed in an entire series of historical activities in which I was doing original and pioneering independent work. As a result, I had a very interesting, enticing, and challenging new career ahead of me, an occupation that required my full time attention. Thus, the complete and permanent transition from musician to historian was very attractive and exciting to me, not in the least bit sad or daunting. Most of my adult years had been spent pushing beyond the comfort zone and forging into new and unfamiliar territory. This new chapter of my life was simply a continuation of that pattern."
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"From my years of preparation in two different occupations, I am very aware of the importance of our developing disciplined habits, so that we do not have to decide each hour of every day if we are going to strive to make progress. Instead, we simply labor steadily forward each hour, seeking to achieve the highest quality possible, not with the goal of recognition of our efforts by others, but simply for the personal joy of participating in high-quality activities. I found it rather sad and pathetic to read that the baseball superstar Ted Williams had expressed his goal as a young man in this way: 'When I walk down the street, I want people to say, "There goes the best hitter that ever lived."' Unfortunately, he was intent upon not only achieving the highest quality in his particular profession; he was also looking forward to basking in the recognition and adulation of others. My experiences as both a musician and a historian have taught me to be content with working quietly and steadily to achieve excellence, without expecting much acknowledgement or credit from others. The quality of the results will suffice as the personal reward for the efforts expended.

From my perspective as a successful long-term trumpet player and historian, I can readily understand the Dalai Lama's sentiment, 'Great love and great achievement involve great risks.' For virtually everything in life, there is a price to be paid. In most instances, it is not possible for us to know in advance the full price that will be exacted for any given goal, or choice, or forward stride, or achievement, or action. Likewise, the hoped-for rewards and results are never guaranteed, even if we pay the full price. This is one of the risks that are involved in seeking one's dreams."

Lesson Concepts from Adolph Herseth

Practicing

Never practice; always perform.

In your daily practice sessions, balance the time spent on so-called "exercises" with time spent on real music. However, at all times, no matter the kind of piece, perform musically and artistically.

When you are mastering a new piece, first become very familiar with it by singing; then work it up slowly on the horn before finally bringing it up to full tempo.

Melodic playing is very important, since it emphasizes good sound and musicality, and keeps your focus off the mechanics of playing. This vocal approach to music-making, even sometimes thinking of a specific text for the music, carries over when you perform technical pieces.

Rest often during a practice session, whenever necessary to try to keep feeling fresh at all times. However, it is also important to play full-page, challenging etudes, to develop your endurance. Vocalizing during a practice session is excellent, since it allows your chops to rest while keeping your mind focused on artistic music-making and a beautiful sound. With this approach, you can be resting nearly as much as you are actually playing, making your practice sessions very productive and encouraging. When you reach the point where you are really forcing and the notes are not speaking, either take a long break or end the session.

In general, practicing etudes offers many more benefits compared to practicing orchestral excerpts, since the etudes were composed to offer challenges, develop certain aspects of your playing, and keep your performing flexible.

It is important that you maintain the entire range of technical skills and familiarity with all of the horns at all times, so that you are always ready for the demands of any piece. Do not focus too much on any particular aspect of performing in your daily practicing just because it is especially easy and pleasant for you; likewise, do not avoid any element of playing in your practicing because it is especially challenging for you.

To keep from falling into ruts of routine, and to develop a better understanding of the music that you play, vary the styles of articulation, the locations of the slurs and the tongued sections, the keys of transposition, and the volume level of pieces when you practice them on different days. Also, sometimes play them on trumpets with a different pitch. Improvise your own practice pieces, and invent variations on pieces that have already been written. In addition, vary the order of your practice session on different days. All of these approaches will keep your mind fresh, interested, and focused on artistry, rather than simply running through the same standard routine every day.

One of the major drawbacks of thinking of "the warm-up" as a separate part of daily playing is that this fosters the idea that you first warm up and then you perform. We must be performing from the first note of the day until the last one of the day. Approaching "the warm-up" as a set, prescribed preparation before performing easily leads to the idea in the player's mind that he or she cannot perform well, or sometimes not even perform at all, without going through "the warm-up" routine. From the very first note that you play in the morning, think of performing, but in an easy manner at first. We do have to acknowledge that we are using many muscles in playing, and, as with any strenuous muscular activity, these muscles have to be "awakened," so to speak, before they can operate at maximum efficiency. At the same time, the first portion of our daily playing is the time when our brain "wakes up" too. The speed at which this happens is related to how much is expected of the brain. That is why we should vary our daily playing routine, so the brain is not on automatic pilot. Instead, it needs to be very interested, and focused on producing artistic music with a fine sound from the first note to the last note throughout the day. Starting each session with mouthpiece buzzing is excellent, since it activates and engages the mind, the playing muscles, and the breathing apparatus.

On days off in the schedule of rehearsals and concerts, starting the day with a half-hour session (with a break of about ten minutes in the middle), and then doing two more sessions during the course of the day and evening, each on about 45 minutes, is excellent for maintenance and progress. On days with an evening concert, doing the morning session plus a light session in the afternoon (with its content varying according to the demands of the program that particular week) puts you in good condition for the evening performance.

Practice the elements of playing that are not on that week's program. During heavy-blowing weeks, practice light lyrical pieces and delicate articulations. Likewise, on light weeks, practice demanding etudes and upper register pieces.

Take advantage of the input of both a tape recorder and friendly listeners. They can be objective, and they sometimes hear what you cannot hear, while you are occupied being the producer of the music.

When it is necessary to practice with a mute, such as when you have to play in a hotel room while on tour, the cup mute is best for these sessions. [Johnny Howell warmed up before each commercial show entirely with a cup mute. This was similar to a runner practicing while wearing ankle weights, and feeling very fleet of foot when the weights were finally removed. For Johnny, taking a cup mute out for playing the performance gave him the sensations of unfettered freedom.]

Taking about two weeks off from playing once each year is excellent, for both refreshing your attitude and sharpening your musical approach to performing. Each time you return to the horn after this long annual break, your playing improves a little, since you return to music-making thinking slightly more clearly and artistically. After the long respite, start back by buzzing the mouthpiece three times a day, in ten to fifteen minute sessions, for two or three days. Then, a week of playing increasingly strenuous music should put you back into nearly full condition.

Transposing

Transposition, which involves playing different notes and in a different key than the music that appears on the printed page, is a constant requirement for symphonic trumpet players, due to the history of the instrument. A natural trumpet, without valves, could only produce the notes in its single overtone series. These harmonic notes were spaced in rather wide intervals, except in the upper register of the instrument. For example, on a trumpet pitched in the key of C, the ascending notes in the overtone series, from pedal C upward, would include C, C, G, C, E, G, B flat, C, D, E, F, and G. Thus, scale-like passages were available to the player only in the extreme upper range of the instrument.

To offset this major limitation on the number of available notes, crooks were invented. One of these U-shaped sections of tubing, when inserted into the instrument, changed its overall length and thus its key. Various crooks of different lengths would change the trumpet into various different keys, each with its own respective overtone series. After the development of crooks, composers could write for the trumpet in many different keys. During a performance, the player would change crooks as needed, to change keys and thus make the required notes available to him. For example, during the course of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, the trumpet players changed crooks thirty-five times. By the early nineteenth century, the trumpet in low F (a perfect fifth below the modern C trumpet) had become the standard orchestral instrument. Supplied with a full array of crooks, the player could alter his F-pitched instrument to play in the keys of E, E flat, D, D flat, C, and B, and when the crooks were coupled together, also in B flat and A.

Finally, the Prussians Stölzel and Blühmel invented the valve in 1815, which was perfected within the following two decades. This development allowed the length of the trumpet, and thus its key, to be changed instantaneously. The seven valve combinations that were possible with three valves offered the player the equivalent of having the harmonic notes of seven natural trumpets, or one trumpet with six crooks, available at all times.

Early composers wrote trumpet parts in the keys of the various natural instruments that were available, and later in the various crook-derived keys. After the invention of valves, the B flat trumpet (a perfect fourth higher that the low F trumpet) became the standard orchestral instrument during the course of the nineteenth century, as the parts that were being written became more and more demanding. Later, during the second half of the twentieth century, the C trumpet supplanted that B flat in the role of the standard orchestral trumpet in most locales in the world. This long and convoluted history has led to the present situation, in which most orchestral parts require transposing, often involving a number of different transpositions within the course of a single piece. In addition, players sometimes choose to use another instrument than the C trumpet on a given piece, in order to facilitate its performance or to achieve a particular type of sound; these instances also require various transpositions.

The following list presents the methods that are commonly used for the various transpositions:

*Up a half step: read a half step higher, and add seven sharps to the key
*Down a half step: read a half step lower, and add five sharps to the key
*Up a whole step: read a whole step higher, and add two sharps to the key
*Down a whole step: read a whole step lower, and add two flats to the key
*Up a minor third: read in bass clef, and add three flats to the key
*Down a minor third: read in soprano clef, and add three sharps to the key
*Up a major third: read in bass clef, and add four sharps to the key
*Down a major third: read a major third lower, and add four flats to the key
*Up a perfect fourth: read a fourth higher, and add one flat to the key
*Down a perfect fourth: read a fourth lower, and add one sharp to the key
*Up a tritone: read in bass clef and one step higher, and add six sharps to the key
*Down a tritone: read in bass clef and one step higher and down an octave, and add six sharps to the key
*Up a perfect fifth: read a fifth higher, and add one sharp to the key
*Down a perfect fifth: read a fourth higher and down an octave, and add one flat to the key

These various transpositions must be mastered and maintained to such a degree that you can sight-read music in all of them with facility; this particularly applies to the most commonly encountered keys. When playing a C trumpet on the standard orchestral literature, this includes transposing trumpet parts written in A, B flat, D, E flat, E, and F.

Tim's Musings

"During the course of my many years of training with Bud, I developed a number of personal insights and perspectives. Certain of these outlooks, particularly those that pertained to my own progress and advancement as a player, would serve other aspiring musicians as well. One of these points involves the issue of assessing one's own progress. On many occasions during my younger years, when certain aspects of my playing would come out ideally, I would say to myself, 'Someday, those good things that you now do occasionally will become habitual and regular.' This is a kind of healthy and realistic encouragement that each of us can give to ourselves. The increments of our forward progress are always very small, but as long as they accumulate steadily, the end goals will eventually be reached. Likewise, it is not appropriate to worry about and focus on 'problems' in our playing. We must mentally reframe the situation, and simply acknowledge that not all of the elements of our music-making are fully developed yet. However, with serious dedication and constant effort, all of the various aspects of our playing will eventually develop as they should. Pertaining to our end goals, as we advance, our perspective on the level of quality that we want to achieve also changes. It is human nature that, as our skills become more developed, we automatically and continually raise the bar of our expectations of ourselves.

To developing and aspiring players, I would recommend focusing on these activities: listen frequently and intently to fine players in many different genres of music; practice in moderation and do plenty of vocalizing; and play various different styles and genres of music, always as musically and artistically as possible. In addition, I would urge them to seek out a teacher who focuses very much on the artistic approach, with only a light focus on the technical and physical aspects of playing, and only when absolutely necessary. I would also encourage young players to master the art of being both a style-setting, secure lead player and a sensitive section player, and learn to listen to and follow directives well. Finally, I would urge them to be hard on themselves and push forward with full dedication, yet I would also encourage them to avidly engage in a number of non-musical activities that they enjoy.

Success does not come easily or quickly, in spite of the quest for instant fame that pervades our culture. As encouragement to those who are seeking steady and solid forward progress, I would offer this well-known adage: "To attain excellence, you must care more than others think wise, risk more than others think safe, and dream more than others think practical."
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"During the final week in which I was writing these informal memoirs, I received in a Chinese fortune cookie the following message: 'You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you.' My life has generally consisted of one long series of fortunate opportunities. Rarely have I felt much entitlement in this world: I consider it to be entirely an accident of fate that I was born into the dominant race in a country blessed with immense natural resources and food production potential, and generally lacking breeding conditions for many of the world's most devastating diseases, such as malaria. I feel that I bear deep obligations to appreciate, respect, and do my best to honor the myriad opportunities and abilities that I have been granted. By the way that I have tried to conduct my life and my work, I have sought to advance both the art of brass playing and the knowledge of life during previous eras of North American history. Along the way, my life has been greatly enriched by very many individuals, including Bud Herseth, and I am grateful for the inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities that he and others have offered to me. It has been one fantastic trip!"