Sound is the most fundamental and critical element of any musician’s performance, since it is inseparable from the performance itself. Even a first-time audience member with no musical background can tell whether the sound he is hearing is a sound he would like to continue to hear.
A trumpet player with a great sound has probably been at pains to develop it. Most have taken the following steps:
1) They have studied other players’ sounds.
The artists whose sound is most enviable have spent time around other trumpet players, taking mental dictation so that they might go home and imitate what they heard. Recordings are helpful, but nothing replaces a live performance.
2) They have made specific choices about sound.
Top players do not merely accept what comes out of the bell with a shrug. Their extensive listening has given them a strong preference for how they wish to sound, and they spend time in pursuit of this ideal.
3) They have spent practice time focusing primarily on sound quality.
Even a world-class soloist (in fact, especially a world-class soloist) will continue to study his or her sound. These players record themselves, station trusted colleagues in the hall to offer feedback (especially when test-driving new equipment), and practice in a way that optimizes their ability to retain their sound no matter how challenging the music.
The Bottom Line
Although sound is influenced by considerations such as equipment, air usage, and shape of the oral cavity, the basis for decisions about it must come from an imagined ideal. Because sound is inseparable from performance, it should be the first consideration in decisions about equipment or technique.
Potential Sound Models
The following players (who have been listed alphabetically) are present-day soloists who still actively tour (and who may, therefore, visit your city for a live concert). All of them have qualities in their sounds that have helped to catapult them to their current level of prestige. Some are “crossover” artists who have learned to alter the sound in different settings. I have restricted this list to soloists because their recordings are easy to find and all of them feature the trumpet.
Students listening to these artists should bear in mind that sound is a personal choice; asking whether Håkan Hardenberger has a “better” sound than Alison Balsom is like asking whether green is “better” than blue. However, certain sounds are more suited to certain environments. Christopher Martin, for example, has made a career playing principal trumpet in two internationally-respected orchestras and consequently his sound has become a model for this kind of work. (See the link below for information on how to hear his playing.)
For those seeking a wider variety of players or a recommended starting point, here is the handout I give to my students.
International Soloists (Alphabetical by Artist Last Name):
Ole Edvard Antonsen (Norwegian Trumpet Soloist)
Alison Balsom (British Trumpet Soloist)
Chris Botti (Amercian Jazz Arist and International Soloist)
Gabriele Cassone (Italian Trumpet Soloist)
Francisco “Pacho” Flores (Venezuelan Trumpet Soloist)
Håkan Hardenberger (Swedish Trumpet Soloist)
Tine Thing Helseth (Norwegian Trumpet Soloist)
Matthias Höfs (German Trumpet Soloist)
Sergei Nakariakov (Russian Trumpet Soloist)
Rex Richardson (American Trumpet Soloist)