Sound is the most fundamental and critical element of any trumpet player’s performance, since it is inseparable from the performance itself. Style and technique are important, but even the most uninitiated audience member, who has no idea whether an individual interpretation is “correct,” can tell you whether the sound he is hearing is a sound that he would like to continue to hear.
In general, a player with a great sound has probably been at pains to develop it. Most great players have taken the following steps:
1) They have learned to identify a great trumpet sound, and they have memorized what it sounds like.
Live performances are the best means to accomplish this. No recording (even a recording of a live performance) can substitute for being in the same room as an outstanding trumpet player. The players whose sound is most enviable have spent their share of hours around other trumpet players, taking mental dictation so that they might go home and imitate what they heard.
2) They have made specific choices about their personal sound.
The best trumpet players refuse to compromise on sound. They do not merely accept what comes out of their bell each morning. If it doesn’t sound the way they want it to, they change it. Immediately.
3) They have spent countless hours during practice sessions focusing primarily on sound quality.
Even a world-class soloist (in fact, especially a world-class soloist) will continue to refine his or her sound. At any given moment, this type of player might be interested in the resonance of the sound, the way it changes color during a certain part of the phrase, or the way that it interacts with the other voices in the ensemble. They record themselves, station trusted colleagues in the hall to offer feedback, and learn to listen as if seated in the audience. Sound quality is of primary concern.
Although sound is certainly influenced by considerations such as equipment, air usage, and shape of the oral cavity, the basis for decisions in such matters must come from a guiding concept of sound production. Many young trumpet players make the mistake, for instance, of switching equipment because it will make something (usually high range) easier, but they do not consider the implications for their sound. Because sound is the single most important factor in any trumpet player’s performance, it should be the first consideration in any decisions about equipment or technique. A good rule of thumb is: if the action you are contemplating moves you further from your desired sound concept, don’t do it.*
The following players (who have been listed alphabetically) are present-day soloists who tour on an international level (and who may, therefore, visit your city for a live concert at some point). All of them have certain qualities in their sound that have helped to catapult them to their current level of prestige and continue to attract audiences to their concerts. Several of them are “crossover” artists who have learned to alter their sound depending on the style of the music.
Students listening to any of 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, and students would therefore do well to study either (or both) of these players. However, certain sounds are more suited to certain environments than others; Philip Smith, for example, has made a career playing principal trumpet in an internationally-respected orchestra and consequently has a sound that is especially well-suited for this kind of work. Although the artists listed here are soloists, for the simple reason that solo recordings afford the best opportunity to study sound, students who are interested in a particular specialization (orchestra, brass quintet, jazz, etc.) should make a point of studying performances within that genre to learn more about the kinds of sounds that are desirable in that field.
* In some cases, particularly where embouchure is concerned, players must be careful to keep track of their priorities. A temporary decrease in high range is often worthwhile if the tradeoff is a fuller, more resonant sound.
International Soloists (Alphabetical by Artist Last Name):
Personal Favorites (not included above; listed alphabetically)
Recordings of My Teachers (listed chronologically by years I studied with them)
Richard Giangiulio, former principal trumpet, Dallas Symphony (Dallas, 2000-2003)
Barbara Butler (Northwestern University, 2003-2007)
Charles Geyer (Northwestern University, 2003-2007)
David Hickman (Arizona State University, 2007-2009)
Eric Yates (The University of Alabama, 2009-present)