They say that the definition of orchestral trumpet playing is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. Of course, they also say that’s the definition of war and baseball and who knows what else, but we’ll overlook that for right now. (And who’s “they” anyway?)
I’ve been doing some serious reminiscing lately. Maybe it’s just this stage in my life where I’m not in school (for now…) and I’m living in the town where I grew up. At any rate, while reading through some old emails I wrote to friends and family while I was at college, I came across a description of my first experience in an orchestra, and it’s too hilarious not to share! First, let me give you a little background:
I grew up in a small town with an awesome band program and not a violin to be seen. Anywhere. Most of the music I’d played up to that point was fairly new and was most certainly written for modern instruments, so I was incredibly ignorant of the compositional implications of the development of the trumpet. (Like the lack of valves until the 19th Century. Kind of a big limitation…) So I showed up to my first college orchestra rehearsal armed with a B-flat trumpet and was handed a second trumpet part that switched between “In E” and “In C”. My reaction?
…let me tell you, some composer was slightly crazy when they wrote the wind parts! Not only do the wind instruments have to play what’s on the page – no, that would be too easy! – we have to transpose while we are playing! It’s like the composer said to himself, “I’m going to write random notes on the page that are not really the notes they should play, and then I’m going to make them guess what note it was I wanted! Mwa-ha-ha-haaaa!” Or else it was some guy that favored E and C trumpets over B-flat ones and was rich enough to own one of each! Okay, I’m just joking, but seriously, I wonder why they can’t just write what they mean!
Thankfully, the principle trumpet player was kind enough to show me the ropes, and I began a regiment of transposing exercises. I do, however, remember making hypothetical plans to write an orchestra piece called something like “The Impossible Symphony” where the brass always had the melody and the violins were either resting or transposing a tritone. Silly college freshman me…
Anyway, I’ve learned a LOT since then, but orchestral playing still kind of freaks me out. I guess I’m just not wired for it, and that’s okay. I’m perfectly happy staying behind the scenes and writing for or listening to the people who are!
[September 4, 2012]