Those of you that know me know that I have a passion for playing many musical styles as deeply and sincerely as I can.  In fact, I think the main thrust of this AllThingsTrumpet blog is geared for the versatile cross-over player.  All that being said; I would like to convey some thoughts on a musical situation that recently got me thinking.

A more subtle cross-over playing situation

My contracted position with the Madison Symphony is for 3rd trumpet.  Last night I played a concert of Opera hits as principal trumpet in an outdoor setting for about 14,000 people.  The first half was the typical Mozart, Verdi, Puccini… The second half was Broadway show stuff from Company, Ragtime, Sound of Music, Phantom, West Side Story…  The interesting aspect of this concert for me was comparing my experience to the two halves.  I play Broadway shows all the time as principal; in fact I am subbing as principal in the musical “Chicago” this afternoon.  However, I don’t get to play principal trumpet in operas, especially with the MSO very often at all.

First off, in my opinion it is much easier to play principal than section.  Obviously the technical requirements are more demanding as principal but you are generally playing or involved all the time.  This consistent engagement is great for your musical consistency and overall confidence during the concert.  Plus, there is the excitement of being in “the hot seat” that keeps you more attentive.  In short, even though the music is much simpler in the section, I make way more mental mistakes when I am not playing principal.  I think the lack of a sense of engagement, lack of “nerves” and all the tacet movements combined with the simplicity of section music makes it difficult for me to keep focused and on edge.  When I do get worked up for a section part in an orchestra I find that it is involved with something technical, like waiting 20 minutes then coming in on the perfect piano low G.  This is hardly the same musical concerns I would have as a principal.

The other big reason I believe playing principal is easier is that I get to set the musical style for the section and they have to follow.  As a contentious lead player I want to be consistent and defining the lengths of notes and dynamics if pretty much up to the principal.  It’s the sections duty to follow what has been laid down.  As a section player, if the principal is consistent this isn’t too tough but if the principal decides to be “expressive” one particular concert you have to read that spontaneously and follow him like a hawk.  The issue with a lot of “pops-like” concerts is that there generally are not a lot of rehearsals.  The principal is expected to set the style at the read through and maintain that interpretation through all the shows.  This is easier said than done.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this subject especially from players that are 3rd/associate principal in an orchestra whose role it is to play third on the big pieces and principal on the overtures (often in the same concert!).  This has got to be the toughest job in the section.