In May of 2005, I hosted a trumpet conference that featured the former principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony, the great, Adolph Herseth.  It was a three-day event that not only showcased him in recital with none-other than Doc Severinsen, but featured him in a number of educational settings.  What follows is an article written by a former student, Jerod Sommerfeldt, and myself that appeared in the September 2005 ITG Journal.

Adolph Herseth Master Class

Mr. Herseth’s master class consisted of two parts, a mock audition and a trumpet sectional. Both of these were performed by the trumpet studio at UW-L. The participating students, Lucas Swanson, Elizabeth Ofte, Matt Twieg, Jerod Sommerfeldt, and Matt Cody, played the opening Promenade from Pictures, the opening of Mahler 5, and the lyrical solo in the first movement of Mahler 5. The audition was run like any other, with the students playing from off stage right, and Mr. Herseth and Dr. Cooper serving as the panel, both seated onstage and taking notes. Though there were specific comments for all of the participants, Mr. Herseth re-iterated a few main points that seemed to apply to all of them.

One important aspect that Mr. Herseth discussed was the issue of breathing in the Promenade. Several of the students took slight breaths at various spots in the excerpt, one example being a breath between the octave leaps up to F and Ab. He stressed the importance of playing all the way through the phrase, which helps to give it a more complete feeling. By breathing in the middle of the phrase, things start to sound awkward. If breath support is an issue in this excerpt, then Mr. Herseth states that you simply need to take in more air. ‘Imagine breathing as if you are trying to blow a leaf off of a tree outside’ was one of his main points. To him, if you breathe properly and play musically, there is nothing more you can do.

For the opening of Mahler 5, Mr. Herseth stressed the importance of keeping a consistent feel in the triplets, maintaining the slight crescendo in each set, and especially staying in the same tempo with the last, arpeggiated set of triplets. It is also necessary to ensure that the phrase builds gradually, throughout the gradual crescendo that occurs before the more prominent C#. In keeping with consistency, it is always important to maintain a very solid feel with the dotted eighth/sixteenth note rhythms. Richard Strauss, he mentioned, would even place the accent on the sixteenth note, to ensure the driving feel. Most important to Mr. Herseth, is to maintain the highly musical quality of the excerpt, and never to forget that it depicts a funeral march in Vienna. This should help to ensure that you play in the right style, or to tell the right story.

The choice of spots to breathe was another central issue in the lyrical solo. He also mentioned that it is very important to know where you are in the orchestra, in this case with the violas, and to maintain a singing, string-like quality.

For the final portion of the master class, the students played group excerpts taken from the literature. The first group to play was a trio, playing the trumpet section solo in Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture. Mr. Herseth told the group to remember when to play out and when to be less prominent in the excerpt. The time to back off, he said, is part way through, when everyone is sounding the octave C’s. The spot to be more prominent begins when the 1st trumpet plays the C major arpeggio up to the G. After this advice, the playing of the students really opened up, and the excerpt seemed to take on a whole new life.

The next section to play performed the muted, trio section from Debussy’s Fetes. Mr. Herseth stressed that the section should always try to find the softest mute possible when playing this excerpt. It is also necessary to use the same mute, in order to achieve a balanced sound. He also commented on the sixteenth note pick-up at the beginning, stating that Pierre Monteaux, with the approval of Debussy, treated the pick-up as a sixteenth note triplet. He stated that this helps to prepare for the triplet figures within the excerpt. Finally, he reminded the group to tell the story, this time of a festival parade coming slowly over the distant hills.

The last section of students performed excerpts from Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, both the Eb and Bb parts. Mr. Herseth’s main points were to ensure that the sixteenth note figures lead into the downbeat, and that playing a full forte is necessary. It is always better to play a little louder than too soft. He also reminded everyone to enjoy playing: to him, that’s the main thing.