It can be jolly hard work being a brass musician. To produce a good sound, you need to be generally relaxed, with the exception of your mind, which needs to concentrate on where to put your notes both vertically (pitch) and horizontally (time). There are also parts of your body that at times require great strength, which is normally built up over years by practising numerous exercises. Learning to be very calm yet focused is a destination that can be approached from a variety of paths. Some musicians practise yoga or T’ai chi ch’üan, take a bicycle ride or go for a swim. Others may drink alcohol, go skipping, take prescription medication or indeed, find homeopathic solutions such as peppermint tea or bananas.Whatever your preference, once a state of mind and body that is supportive of artistic excellence is achieved, it needs to be nurtured. Of course, surroundings in which to practise can make a difference to artistic output. We had a music room at most of my schools and in some cases, we were lucky enough to have official practice rooms. Finding a place to practise a brass instrument can be challenging. It can cause problems at home when other people are trying to rest or focus on work and it can get the goat of stage hands at 8:00 am when they are preparing a concert hall or studio for a day of symphonic rehearsal. Finding somewhere to have a blow while on tour is a complaint I’ve heard from many of my brass-playing colleagues. Hotels, reasonably enough, are often shared with air crews and other professionals who really need to sleep.
If you are one of those lucky people who don’t seem to need much practice, perhaps none of this concerns you overly. However, I’m not one of these privileged souls so I practise religiously. As soon as I decided I wanted to make my living playing the trumpet, I dived into study books such as Jean-Baptiste Arban’s ‘Cornet Method’, John Ridgeon’s ‘How Brass Players Do It’, Herbert Clarke’s ‘Technical Studies for the Cornet’ and made friends with orchestral excerpts using books such as the Probespiel.
When I’d get home from school, I’d get a couple of hours done before anything else. Almost every single day from my teens until well into my 20s, this was something I just had to do, and I’d get seriously upset if my routine was disrupted. I know loads of musicians who’d relate to this obsession.
What do I need to do to at least stay as good as I was yesterday? There are mutes specially made for practising on brass instruments, which are great. I’ve found that 10 minutes heavy blowing a day on a practice mute can really help to fill out my tone, but just like a Royal Marine doing circuit training, exercise needs to be balanced. Personally, if I do any more than 10 minutes a day on a practice mute, it’s not long before my tone deteriorates.
So, where am I going to practise today? At the moment, on Friday the 23rd of August 2019, the answer is ‘The Shed’.
This Shed/Garage is believed to date back to the late 1970’s and benefits from sitting in a pleasant, level concrete garden with two well proportioned breeze block walls to the left and right of its front. Overall the property does require some modernisation to bring it up to a modern-day standard, this may expose further hidden features and will certainly enhance the property. The cottage and outside space appeals to those seeking a practice space in a quiet/noisy town location, with great potential to create a lovely spare room. The shed has been a friend of mine since around February 2015 when I was evicted from my previous practice space. It belongs to my delightful mother-in-law who charitably lets me settle there from time free of charge. I am on occasions, granted permission to enter the house near to the shed but, it is rare to do so whilst holding a trumpet.
Shed has, on occasions, witnessed excruciating artistic frustration over the last half decade which commonly manifests itself in utterances of expletives. To those who overhear such foul rantings I apologise unreservedly. However, the shed understands completely. It is a host to substantial effort and is sympathetic to those who try.
The Shed isn’t lonely. Over the years there have been plenty of spiders, flies, wasps, rodents and stays drifting through its openings. Every week, people enter to find tools, frozen food, oversized toys and furniture. Somehow, no sooner have articles been removed from The Shed in a well-meaning clear out than they are quickly replaced with other redundant possessions.
Soon, The Shed will undergo cosmetic surgery. Gone will be the noise of long-haul flight, roaring cars on the road outside, bellowing birds and chattering lawn mowers. Damp-induced chest infections and weather-inhibited dexterity will become challenges of the past. The Shed will soon come of age and emerge into its new incarnation as an all-mod-cons practice space/office.
May I please thank my lovely wife for encouraging this change and converting her mum’s garage into a delightful room x.
Whilst sitting in the Green Room of the Wexford Opera House on 18 November 2018, I received a phone call from my first trumpet teacher, Phil Makin. Phil gave me my first trumpet lesson when I was ten years old, in my parents’ kitchen. I remember the excitement I felt standing next to a high-quality player for the first time. The sound he made was rich, centred and satisfying with excellent intonation. Phil continued to teach me until I left home aged 19, but I’ve stayed in touch with him ever since.
Phil told me that his middle daughter Katie, also a trumpeter, was getting married to her partner Harry the following June in Cornwall. The ceremony would be held on the edge of a cliff in a beautiful spot near Gwithian Beach, overlooking a lighthouse and across the bay from St Ives, which is famous for inspiring generations of artists. I was deeply honoured to be asked.
In the past, I’ve attended and played at a variety of weddings, but I’ve never been asked to play in such a dramatic setting. On the day, I arrived very early. I’ve heard many musicians say that the most stressful part of playing at a function, recording or concert is the process of getting there, especially for those of us who sometimes work in congested cities. For this wedding, the weather looked like it might go a number of ways. Phil had explained the day before that if it rained the service might be held at the beautiful farm complex which was to host the reception, but as the day unfolded it looked as if we were all on for a clifftop union.
One by one, the guests arrived. I had a lovely chat with one of the photographers, Isobel Neale, who was working with her husband Jonathan. Phil had taught her son the tuba when he was younger, so we shared stories and explored the merits of music education. We both agreed that learning an instrument and playing in an ensemble can really help with personal as well as musical development. Isobel took some photos of my A/B flat Yamaha Piccolo trumpet.
It is often the case at weddings that musicians, be they in a string quartet, seated at an organ or standing with a wind instrument waiting to play, find themselves looking into the distance as the guests settle down and we all await the arrival of the bridal party. On this occasion, the distance into which I was gazing was particularly stunning. We could see the arriving vehicles from around half a mile away. In one direction was the very dapper-looking groom Harry and the guests, and in the other was the striking Cornish coast stretched out for miles in front of us.
Waiting to perform affects different people in different ways. To be honest, I felt more nervous than usual in the knowledge that I was to sound the entry of my former teacher and members of his family. I always endeavour to do a good job, especially at weddings, but because of the personal connection, I was particularly keen to play my best.
Although I was set up to play in the best possible position, I was playing straight into a very strong wind! Even with the assistance of about seven clothes pegs and my heavy bag containing my spare mouthpieces, my sheet music was only just about staying on its stand. The wind and waves were smashing against the rocks and the clouds were reshaping continually.
Before we knew it, Katie, Phil and the rest of the bridal party were on the cliff path a couple of hundred yards away, all looking like a million pounds sterling. I took a deep breath and smashed out ‘Trumpet Voluntary’ by Jeremiah Clarke. Katie had arrived and the wedding ceremony was underway.
It was a touching ceremony, bringing together two lovely people with the strong support of their families and friends. As the wedding continued, the sun beaconed in and out of the grey, casting numerous shades and colours.
To end the proceedings on the cliff edge, Phil and I played a duet, ‘All You Need is Love’ by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, it was really great playing next to Phil again. We then all went down to a more sheltered area nearer to the beach where we were served with delicious pasties and bubbly before heading off to the reception.
May I take this moment to thank Katie, Harry and their family for allowing me to share my experience of their wedding. It was one of the highlights of my summer.
The first time I saw trumpeter Crispian Steel-Perkins perform live was in early 1996 in St Margaret’s Church in Topsham in Devon (UK) when I was a member of Exeter Youth Brass. Crispian was performing with groups from the East Devon Music Centre and played an arrangement of Haydn’s trumpet concerto on his E flat trumpet with us.
Before the performance, he had demonstrated parts of the concerto on the keyed trumpet, making an impressively well-tuned sound. A keyed trumpet is a trumpet with keys on it, similar to those found on woodwind instruments. The concerto was originally written in 1796 for the Austrian trumpeter Anton Weidinger, who premiered it on the 1st of January 1800.
Crispian has become well known for these sorts of lecture recitals. As a trumpet player, I find it is always interesting to put music into historical context like this. I’ve been a fan of his ever since that concert, so of course I was thrilled when Crispian agreed to meet me for an interview.
After a long journey from Dublin, my family and I arrived at Crispian’s cottage in Bexhill, near Hastings. Crispian spends some of his time there with his second wife Jane, who is a nurse. He also shares this cottage with two lovely classic motorbikes, which he is under strict instructions to keep in his garage and not in the house!
Above: Crispian on one of his motorcycles.
Crispian welcomed us in his usual energetic, charismatic style with a big smile and cheerful manner. We had approached Bexhill from the west, so we had travelled through Normans Bay which, Crispian informed me, was where William the Conqueror landed when he invaded England in 1066. As you travel along the beach you drive over a marsh that used to be in the sea. William the Ist chose the bay because it was shallow, which made it easy for his army to disembark. It is also near to Pevensey Castle, a Saxon Shore fort with complete Roman walls. A fort has stood on the site since the Iron Age.
History is one of Crispian’s many interests, which is perhaps not surprising since he has plenty of history in his family. Like me, Crispian is from Exeter in south-west England. His dad, Guy, was a fifth-generation doctor in Exeter and his mother was Sylvia de Courcy who danced at the Savoy Theatre, Strand, London under the direction of Madame Casavana. Amongst Guy’s patients were the Aclands, who used to own Killerton estate – a beautiful house and gardens in east Devon now owned by the National Trust. Crispian is related to Admiral Beatty, famous for his role in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He also has Irish connections. Some of his ancestors were from Kinsale in County Cork and his maternal grandmother, Victoria Parker, was one of the first group of women to graduate from Dublin’s Trinity College.
We went inside and into his kitchen where we got straight down to the important business of tea and cake. He carved out two enormous slices of coffee and walnut cake. Then, after checking my preferred prescription, he poured two equally gargantuan mugs of tea.
Above: Crispian with a very large slice of coffee cake!
We moved through to his dining room, where he had laid out some of his instruments for me to examine. Crispian enjoys collecting antique instruments. He is one of just a handful of people on this planet who can play some of these instruments and he is a world authority on the history of the trumpet. “My collection used to have 155 instruments,” he told me. “It has recently been radically reduced to about 40 – I sold another three this week. They’re all in playing condition, though!”
As we pored over the instruments together, Crispian told me some of his professional history. He was a founder member of the Devon Youth Orchestra. He joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain as a 16-year-old in 1960 and was a member for two years. He’d attended Marlborough College before studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has held several positions with prestigious orchestras: Sadlers Wells Opera (2nd trumpet); 1st trumpet with the London Gabrielle Brass; English Chamber Orchestra (moved from 2nd to 1st trumpet). He was joint principal trumpet of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Jim Watson until about 1980. Since then, he has been a freelancer.
Crispian explained that in the 1980s orchestral jobs were not regular, meaning that it was not usual for musicians to have longer-term contracts – most groups were freelance. This seems to have suited Crispian, who is a bit of a free spirit and enjoys having multiple employers. He has “fingers in lots of pies” and said he’s found that “a moving target is harder to hit”. If anything were to not work out with one employer, he has plenty of other things going on. Music, he explained, is a “fickle business”. This doesn’t seem to bother Crispian, who thrives on the uncertainty and seems to enjoy the adventure.
Crispian taught himself the trumpet for the first three years after using one belonging to his brother Barry. His parents bought him his own in 1955 when he was 10 – a B&H Regent. Crispian’s musical ability seems to have come to him over the years from various influences. His father was “totally unmusical” but his mother studied the piano at Brussels Conservatory for a brief period. None of Crispian’s three children have followed in his musical footsteps, though oddly in the last few years he has learned of a recent ancestor who was a professional trumpeter. None of his immediate family knew about this until recently.
Crispian can’t play the piano himself, but he is a very capable arranger of music. He published his arrangements for a few years but stopped when he got fed up with the publishing industry. If you want to hear some of Crispian’s great arrangements, many are featured on his albums.
Crispian told me about some of the trumpeters who have inspired him. The first was the popular English trumpeter Eddie Calvert who after appearing with the Stanley Black Orchestra around the middle of the last century became known as ‘the man with the golden trumpet’. “Derek Watkins was a great player,” Crispian told me. “He really played from the heart.” Crispian feels that this is very rare these days.
Bobby Pratt and his sidekick Bert Ezard from the Ted Heath Orchestra were “big heroes” of Crispian’s. Another was the French trumpeter Maurice Andre. I share his admiration for Andre – my first teacher introduced me to his recordings when I was quite young, and I love his clear and creamy sound. Crispian told me that when Andre recorded, he endeavoured to put his tracks down in one take. Many of Crispian’s recordings likewise have been made in as few takes as possible, as he believes this is a more musical way of doing things.
He detests buyouts – when a musician is offered an upfront fee in return to waiving their rights to any subsequent royalties made by a recording or concerts. And although he holds the view that the best recordings are done in one take, are not heavily edited and are to all intents and purposes rough and ready, he is not a fan of recordings of live concerts. He believes there is a fine art to making a recording which cannot be replicated in a live recorded performance. I see his point of view: if one’s energies are directed towards a live audience, this will produce a different musical output than that from a focused recording session.
I asked Crispian: Do any moments in your career stand out as particularly satisfying?”
“Well, you remember the f-ups!” he laughed. He performed two B Minor Masses in Bayreuth in Germany that were “brilliant!” He has enjoyed working with John Elliot Gardener, and also an especially memorable performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and the Ring with Reginald Goodall in 1969/70. He is particularly proud of a recording of the album ‘Six trumpet concertos’, which is currently available on the ‘Musical Concepts’ label. “The album was made using very few takes, so it’s fresh and has lots of energy,” he said.
Crispian has fond memories of playing the Haydn Concerto with a severe hangover in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh to 133,000 people. Some years back he also enjoyed playing in the castle moat of the Tower of London, where, he said, “everyone was stoned out of their heads. I was playing lead trumpet for ‘Barclay James Harvest’. Rick Wakeman was right in front of me! At this time in my career I also played lead trumpet for Curved Air and Led Zeppelin.”
Then I asked if there were any years that stand out as being a bit more challenging? “It’s hard to say,” he said, after a pause. He explained that when things go quiet, it can be hard. “Any time without concerts is challenging because no amount of practice can keep you match-fit.” This is known all too well by many brass musicians – including me.
Crispian’s music has taken him all around the world. He is a huge fan of archaeology so was very happy to visit Iraq and Syria some years ago – also Uruguay. He has played to numerous VIPs, including a particularly memorable performance for the late Queen Mother in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, and another for the former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, in her private residence.
I asked how many recording sessions Crispian had played. His answer was: “Haven’t a clue – 80 films, maybe? I took it all for granted.” He is proud of his first recording of Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine by Handel with the King’s Consort, and a recording of Handel’s Messiah with the conductor Andrew Parrot for EMI. For this, Crispian used a trumpet originating from the 1720s that’s known to have belonged to the leading 19th-century British trumpeter Thomas Harper.
Given his success over the course of such a long career, it surprises me to hear that Crispian was never particularly ambitious. He became a soloist gradually in order to survive in the cut-throat world of professional trumpeting. When he started out, he was one of a handful of players with his specific skill-set, though as time went on more trumpeters came onto the UK scene. He has always done his lecture recitals, which call on his specialist knowledge of older lip-vibrated instruments. Also, over the years, he found himself working more with the concert promoter Raymond Gubbay, which further established his soloist status.
In Crispian’s dining room, time was marching on. To conclude our interview, I asked: “What future projects are you looking forward to?” He answered: “Queen’s College Oxford own a solid silver trumpet from 1660. I will be performing a concert on this trumpet on the 6th of November,2019 as a lunchtime concert with the celebrated
Australian Organist Anne Page [with whom I perform quite regularly]. I would like to make a recording, so people can hear the sound of it.”.
Above: Crispian playing one of his natural trumpets.
It happened to be St George’s Day on the day I met Crispian, so before I left he took one of his natural trumpets – with no finger holes or valves – and played ‘Saint George’ by Henry Purcell for me, beautifully.
I would like to thank Crispian for so freely giving me his time, for the giant slices of coffee cake and mugs of tea – and for meeting me again the following day at a garage in Brighton to return my wallet which, in my excitement, I’d left on one of his chairs!
Thanks a million, Crispian, and we hope to see you in Ireland soon.
World Renowned Brass Tutor John Miller Visits Ireland March 27th – 30th
In Association with The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and the Dublin Brass Ensemble (Brass Warriors), we are pleased to announce that John Miller is visiting Dublin this week (March 27th -30). He will be holding a masterclass in the DIT Rathmines 11:00-14:00 on Thursday the 28th of March. This is free of charge and open to the public.
John Miller – Trumpet
MA (Cantab), FGS, FRNCM
John Miller is widely considered to be one of the world’s leading brass tutors. Until last summer, John was Head of School of Wind, Brass and Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester, John continues to work at the RNCM in a part-time capacity as Tutor in Trumpet, coaching Chamber Music and providing inspirational teaching and coaching for our students and contributing to our research activities.
John Miller read music at Kings College, Cambridge. This was followed by postgraduate study of trumpet in USA in the 1970s with William Vacchiano (New York Philharmonic) and Vincent Cichowicz (Chicago Symphony Orchestra). His professional career as a trumpeter was as a member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (1972-80), the Philharmonia Orchestra (1977-1994), a member of Equale Brass and a founder member of the Wallace Collection (1986-2002, and from 2014 onwards).
This has included performing with composers Berio, Henze, Maxwell Davies and Stockhausen; with conductors Bernstein, Boulez, Boult, Haitink, Giulini, Levine, Maazel, Muti, Osawa, Rattle, Kurt Sanderling, Sinopoli and Leopold Stokowsky. John’s performances, broadcasts and discography are wide ranging, with an extensive list of vinyl discs and CDs, embracing most symphonic repertoire at least one time round, and an impressive list of chamber and solo performances. He is particularly proud of a recording of Elgar Howarth’s transcription of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (1978), and of a recording of Maxwell Davies’ Brass Quintet, recorded in 2000 under the direction of the composer. and released by Nimbus Records in 2015.
His inspiring lessons with Ernest Hall, William Vacchiano, Vincent Cichowicz and Fred Fox have lead to a lifelong campaign to help young musicians. A long association with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (since 1991) is central to this. His work at the RNCM in Manchester since 1999 has been stamped by both creative instrumental teaching and artistic innovation. This work with young musicians continues to be recognised internationally. John was awarded a FGSM in 1993, a FRNCM in 2006, and conferment of a Professorship (personal chair) by RNCM in 2010, where he held the position of Head of School of Wind, Brass and Percussion from 2013 – 2017.
All over Ireland – there so much going on for lovers of brass music!
2019 is an eventful year for ‘Brass’ all over the country with lots to come. Here’s just a taste:
Dublin Brass Week
This wonderful event is an opportunity to see world class brass performers and teachers right on Ireland’s doorstep. Project managed by the event’s brilliant-creator David Collins. Information about this fab Brassfest can be found here: https://www.dublinbrassweek.com/
Brass is widely perceived a quintessentially Christmassy sound! With seasonal excitement, the Dublin Brass Quintet proudly announces two concerts with two choral groups in the National Concert Hall in Dublin.
Firstly, on Tuesday December 4th, our brass quintet will be performing with the energetic Culwick Choral Society under the musical direction of the esteemed Bernie Sherlock.
For details about this concert, visit: http://awacsband.com/.
Then on Tuesday December 11th we will be joining the heavenly tones of the Palestrina Choir under the baton of the wonderful Blanaid Murphy. The quintet features on the choir’s latest album so if you’re interested, please visit the choir’s website for more information http://www.procathedral.ie/choirs-music/palestrina-choir/. The album will be lovely to listen to throughout the Christmas period.
Merry Christmas to all of you from the Dublin Brass Ensemble (The Brass Warriors)!
Wedding music (audio sample 3)Dublin Brass
Wedding music (audio sample 2)Dublin Brass
The Earl of Oxford March (audio sample)Dublin Brass
The Earl of Oxford March (audio sample2)Dublin Brass