Interviews

  • A Conversation with Natural Trumpeter Jean-François Madeuf with Historian Krin Gabbard
    by Jeffrey Nussbaum

     This conversation with Jeff Nussbaum, Krin Gabbard, and Jean-François Madeuf took place during  a snowstorm in New York City on February 12, 2006.  

    Jean-François Madeuf was in New York performing Handel's Hercules with Les Arts Florissants on both natural trumpet and horn. Madeuf is a leading player of the natural trumpet in a historically informed manner without the use of modern compromises, particularly the use of vent holes. He performs with many early music ensembles throughout Europe and teaches trumpet at the Schola Cantorum in Basel and at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Lyon. Madeuf also leads a trumpets-and-kettledrums ensemble as well as a nineteenth-century period instrument brass ensemble.

    Krin Gabbard is an Associate Professor of comparative literature at Stony Brook University, SUNY and the author of many articles on jazz history. He is currently writing a book for Farrar Strauss on the cultural history of the trumpet. He is also a trumpet player.

    Krin Gabbard: We've been talking about performance practice-natural trumpets and compromise vented instruments. What are the most glaring differences between the two types of instruments?

    J-F Madeuf: The sound, the tonal quality and also the kind of articulations that one can get on both instruments. Compromise trumpets with modern tubing, modern mouthpiece and tapered lead pipes won't give you the sound of a real natural trumpet of the baroque. The attacks have a tendency to be much sharper and brighter as they are on a modern valved instrument. A natural trumpet allows you to better develop the full range of articulations that are described in many performance manuals of the time, and there are many more varied articulations than modern players commonly use today.

    KG: What was the most difficult thing for you to do in mastering the natural trumpet?

    J-FM: Accepting the fact that it takes a very long time! We live in a world where we want things immediately and the most easily as possible, so it's hard to accept that some things take hard work over a very long period of time before having a result.

    Jeff Nussbaum: As you know, we are planning to present another conference in Paris, and Benny Sluchin is heading an HBS committee and talking to the people at the Cité de la Musique. The theme will involve the importance of Paris in brass making, performance, pedagogy, composition, and theory during the period from about 1840 to 1920. The advent of modernism will be a central theme. We hope to have period-instrument performances of chamber works of that period. Fortunately there are a number of great instrument collections there from which we might be able to draw from in order to do works by Stravinsky, Ravel, and others. I know that you are active with a nineteenth-century period brass ensemble as well as your earlier interests.

    J-FM: That's a good starting date. It's around the time Sax arrived in Paris. It was a fascinating period. Natural horns and trumpets were used along with the newer valved instruments. Much of the repertoire was limited, particularly some of the military music, but it is still a repertoire of some interest that has not been explored. After that early period of brass bands, wind bands with woodwinds came more into use.

    JN: It's fascinating to see how quickly those innovations in brass manufacture and use in the repertoire came into the mainstream. It seems that because of the influence of a few important musicians those developments entered the Conservatoire, as well as the professional performance sphere.

    J-FM: Berlioz was such a person. I've read a lot about him and his music in the last few years. What is not so well known are the developments in military and popular brass music. For instance, much has been written about the British brass band tradition but not much has been researched and written about a very similar tradition that took place in France. I hope the HBS Conference in Paris will be able to explore that. I found a great deal of this repertoire in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It is interesting to notice that most of this music was not yet microfilmed but could only be viewed in the original printed parts. This means that no one in modern times has ever looked at that music because whenever anyone requests music, it would be automatically microfilmed!

    KG: Who are some of the great composers and what are some of the masterpieces that you found among this unknown music?

    J-FM: It's largely not by great composers, nor are the works real masterpieces. However, it is often well-written music for brass, often military music, that deserves attention. Some times there are poor arrangements of opera music but other times I've found some wonderful works.

    JN: Is there a standard instrumentation?

    J-FM: Yes. Mostly they are scored for 36 brass instruments but in an effort to promote his instruments, Sax organized concerts at his workshop with arrangements of these works for a brass ensemble of 10 to 15 players. He got the best brass players in Paris, and we actually know who they were. I have adapted a program with my ensemble, Les Cuivres Romantiques, of this repertoire. We perform on original instruments, which ironically are easier to obtain than copies of nineteenth-century brass instruments. We plan to do a concert at a festival in France this summer and perhaps we will make a recording of this music.

    JN: I've viewed your DVD Autour de Hector Berlioz and I think it's fabulous. I should let people know they can get more information on your website www.cuivresromantiques.com.

    J-FM: Thanks. We are looking forward to doing this performance at the HBS conference in Paris and I look forward to many lectures on this topic. I've looked at many nineteenth-century French journals in my efforts at understanding this music better.

    Jean-François Madeuf

    JN: As a teacher in Lyon and Basel what is your view of the younger generation regarding interest in understanding the history of brass music?

     

    J-FM: People interested in baroque trumpet, specifically to play in an original way, are not so young and are soon professional players on the baroque trumpet (with holes) but it changes and younger players are coming by now. I've been encouraged by the interest from a new generation of brass players in researching and understanding performance practice issues in nineteenth-century brass as well as in earlier periods. David Guerrier is a prime example. He plays both trumpet and horn brilliantly and is one of the best brass players in France and in the world. David won five international prizes between the ages of 15 and 20, including the Maurice Andre Prize. He studied natural trumpet with me. He doesn't play it too much now but he is more active in nineteenth-century period brass performance. A number of players in this circle also play period instruments, both nineteenth-century and earlier, and are also very interested in the historical end of things. Because David is such a well-respected modern brass player, his interest in early brass will help break the false idea that playing old and modern brass instruments can't be done. People will certainly think, "If David Guerrier is doing it, I should too." It is very positive for the ancient music field!

    JN: That is encouraging. I must say it runs contrary to my experience with younger brass players, although I've seen other encouraging activities with the cornetto and horn players in France. You must put me in touch with some of those musicians.

    J-FM: We also have players in France who just want to do early music because they think they'll make extra money and have no real interest in understanding the music!

    KG: It's great to hear of this interest in nineteenth-century brass music in France. It's going to tie in with the upcoming HBS conference at the Cité de la Musique that focuses on Paris and the musical and cultural developments from the mid-nineteenth century that led to modernism. So many important topics can be discussed in an interdisciplinary fashion, including Stravinsky, Picasso, and the reception of early jazz music. The art and literature of high culture quickly gives way to of popular culture. If you look closely, the reception of brass music is related. Bernard Gendron from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has written a fascinating book, Between Montmartre to the Mudd Club that deals with how various types of popular music were, at some point, declared to be art. He begins with cabaret songs in France and moves on to early jazz. Someone like Gendron should be involved because he could expand the scope of the discussion. I'm personally excited about it because it ties in with my interests in early jazz history. Some of the first critics to take jazz seriously as an art form were centered in Paris. The first extensive jazz discography was done by a Frenchman, Charles Delaunay, the son of Robert Delaunay.

    Jean-François, on another topic, what is the worst thing that has happened to you as a brass player?

    J-FM: I had to overcome some poor advice from my early teachers. When I was a teenager I had to completely change my embouchure. Everything was wrong including my breathing and mouthpiece placement. As I started to play more difficult music I completely destroyed my embouchure and where I studied in Clermont-Ferrand, which is in the center of France, there was nobody to help me. I read a number of books on brass playing, including Farkas, and kept trying to develop on my own. I began to study other subjects including art history, but ultimately I improved and entered at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Lyon where I had a very good trumpet teacher and nice man, Pierre Dutot. My brother Laurent studied trombone there at the same time with famous player Michel Becquet as well as my other brother Pierre-Yves who a few years later studied horn with Michel Garcin Marou. Because of my early difficulties with the trumpet my parents didn't think I'd be able to a [attain a] high professional position but might become a music teacher somewhere. I ultimately did play in a symphony orchestra in Nice but I felt that the conservative atmosphere was not to my liking, so I left this very comfortable position after three seasons. Before that I went to Jean-Pierre Canihac in Lyon and studied baroque trumpet with him because my first project to do it with Edward Tarr in Basel couldn't be practical at all with my job in Nice. I didn't have other teachers after that except colleagues who played with me and from whom I learned a lot. It took me a long time to get to play the music I now play.

    JN: At your gig in Brooklyn are you playing with holes?

    J-FM: I never play with holes. I only did that when I was beginning to learn this very difficult (but so wonderful) instrument!

    JN: You've come a long way.

     

    December 31, 2016
  • 6/29/2015, by Jeff Nussbuam

    The following conversation took place at the Landress Brass Shop in New York City on November 10, 2014. Views on instrument collecting, collections, performance practice and other aspects of music were expressed by a group of musicians representing a wide range of divergent fields of interest. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer (left) is a curator at the Musical Instrument Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and performs on early horns. Scott Robinson (second from left) is a noted jazz performer on the entire range of reed instruments as well as many brass instruments and is an avid instrument collector. Frank Hosticka (middle) is a classical trumpet player. He is an Associate Musician with the Metropolitan Opera, a former cornet soloist with the Goldman Band and an active free-lance trumpeter in New York.  Frank has a collection of fine cornets and trumpets. Josh Landress (owner of the Landress Brass Shop) and Jeff Nussbuam (interviewer) are pictured at right.

             

     

    JN: What are some memorable moments you can recall concerning collectors or collecting instruments?

     

    FH:  I remember a couple, Lillian Caplan and her husband whose name I don’t recall. They had an apartment full of valuable and old instruments. I went to them because I wanted to try to find out more information about a cornet that I own. There was one immaculate coiled horn of some sort that he said was a presentation horn for the Tsar of Russia. It was enameled and had valuable stones on it. Just fabulous. Well, I show him my Adolph Sax cornet and I see that he immediately knows what it is and probably had a very good idea as to the value. At that point I experienced something about collectors that I never experienced before. It was this special cagey atmosphere that is created when a deal and negotiations are about to begin. Now I’m totally guileless. I have no agenda. I don’t really want to sell or trade or anything. I was just trying to get some more information about my horn. We ended up having this hour-long conversation. He doesn’t really tell me too much but shows me a bunch of other cornets.  First he suggests that I have him sell it for me. I’m not interesting in selling it because I had just bought it for a couple of hundred bucks at an antique store on 10th street in the city. He was still not convinced that I wasn’t interested in parting with the cornet. Then he tells me that he’ll trade me anything I see in the room for the Sax cornet. Now remember, he just showed me this fantastic presentation horn that he was asking thousands and thousands of dollars to buy. That’s when I realized, this is how it works. There were a couple of other times when I had similar experiences. I was looking for a 19th century Eb cornet just for my own playing. I went down to the collector in Virginia, a friend of Rick Schwartz. So in the course of talking to this collector he starts picking my brain trying to find out what’s in my collection. I mention a Hall & Quinby cornet, an Allen valve instrument.  I see he’s hooked. I had no intention of selling it. I was just looking to buy a nice playable Eb cornet. He asks if I can send him pictures and wanting to be friendly, I say sure. He jumps in saying, “Let me make you an offer.”  Well, here we go again. He presses me and I say, no. This makes him think I’m just playing the game and being cagey but I really don’t want to sell my horn just buy one. When I get home he sends me an email saying that he’ll give me four cornets plus the Eb for my horn. When I tell him no, he sends me an email of photos of four better horns. That’s what the whole business is about.

     

    JN: That give and take exchange

     

    FH: Yeah. He was certain that I was fishing for something.

     

    BSS: Let me tell you where it gets ugly and dangerous, strings! Last year I acquired a Jacob Stainer viola for the Met. I felt lucky because I was actually able to interact with the owner who is a musician. He played with the Berlin Philharmonic and came and gave a concert at the museum when they were over here on tour. But it’s very unusual to actually speak to the owner.  It’s almost always with a dealer and often involves unknown rival bidders who may or may not exist. The stock characters in any fiddle deal are always the Russians and the Chinese. Seems that’s where the money is these days.

     

    JL: So the brass collectors are not on that level?

     

    BSS: No. And they are not paying a million dollars for a cornet. They tend to be players or really passionate collectors. When I ask a collector what is his favorite instrument, the most common answer is, the one I just acquired.

     

    JN Now with the internet and EBay a collector can get instant gratification for his “fix”. Before you had to shlep out to a flea market or travel somewhere to find a horn. How has this changed the nature of collecting? Has it caused the prices to rise or lower?

     

    JL: Both, raise and lower. Take an old 19th century  Conn cornet. Now because of the internet people hear of them all the time. Twenty five years ago  a casual collector might have seen four or five pre 1905 Conns over a long period of time. Now they are less expensive. Conn/Dupont instruments are still very valuable. A run of the mill Conn cornet is not.

     

    FH: They made tons of them and people put them away in attics and basements and you wouldn’t know about them. Now, it’s easy to post it on the net.

     

    BSS: We still have that last generation who don’t use the internet and don’t want to sell things on EBay. Those people might still sell an instrument through an antique store or flea market. So what do you think? Five or ten more years before virtually everything will be through the internet?

     

    JN: It’s interesting to think about the generational aspect. People of my or Frank’s vintage had grandparents who might have played those instruments in bands. Ultimately, they come into the hands of the grandkids. So, there’s probably still many old horns floating around. Because of the Historic Brass Society, I get calls all the time or people email me. “My great uncle played in a band and I have this old euphonium. What’s it worth?” This brings me to the best book purchase I ever made which was the Langwill.  I get dozens of these queries and I can always site a passage from the Langwill and the people are thrilled to get any information.

     

    JL: I reference that book every day! Just this morning some old guy called and said that he has an old Lafleur trumpet and wants to know about it.

     

    FH: Has the HBS ever done an article on the Langwill? How in the world did they pull it off? All that detailed information?

     

    BSS:  You can’t talk to either of the two protagonist there because Lindsay Langwill passed away many years ago. He passed the torch to Bill Waterhouse who was just marvelous. I remember he had one of the first palm pilots. He would take all his notes on these slim sheets of paper that looked like cash register tape. You would ask about a maker and he would whip out one of these little sheets of paper and other sheets would come out of his pocket and flutter to the ground all around him. He had a brilliant mind and was working right up to the time he died. The last issue was published by Tony Bingham in 1993. When I was still talking to Bill about the next iteration of it  and still talk to Arnold Myers about it, the most logical reincarnation would be for it to become a Wiki. It wants to be an online publication. When I was working on all the London instruments; Boosey, Besson, Distin, I would find something in the archives and payment books that would be a year or so off from what is listed in Langwill. Then whoever is working on this stuff could update information. I think it would need to be a site attached to a university for quality control and long term stability.

     

    JN: Perhaps it might be run by a consortium of organizations such as CIMCIM, Galpin Society, AMIS, and HBS for the same purpose of quality control. I assume Tony Bingham has control of the copyright and then we’d need to confront the business model issue.

     

    FH: I was witness to a similar situation. I was with Paul Bierly, the tuba player, when he was working on those band encyclopedias. You needed to have a core of these obsessive type guys to get the project going. Then you need a key person to pull it all together.

     

    JN: Frank, I think you mentioned the key term, obsessive I think that is the main quality of collectors. Bradley, do you have a personal collection, or do you just steal things from the Met and play whatever you want? (laughter)

     

    BSS: This is actually an important ethics question

     

    FH: You get the tips.

     

    BSS: Absolutely right. When you are a curator at a place like the Met or the Horniman you become a member of ICOM (International Council of Museums) and the musical instrument component is CIMCIM. They have ethics guidelines. If I am aware of an instrument being sold, my first duty is to offer it to my institution. However, since I’m a horn player there are a handful of instruments that I own as a player, and that’s a legit. But, if I find something at a flea market and think that I could but it and then turn it around for a nice profit, then that’s an issue. Basically, you should not buy or sell personally in the area in which you do curatorial work. Unfortunately, not everyone in my field adheres to that code of ethics.

     

    FH: I would think that if you offered the instrument to your institution then you would have fulfilled your obligation.

     

    JN: I think there is the letter of the law and then there is the matter of perception.

     

    BSS: There is also the frustrating issue of informing people of fair-market value, of which I have a good sense, but I’m legally unable to tell them. Someone comes to me with a 1920s kazoo and wants to know what it’s worth.  Even if I know what the market value is, all I can do is just say, “There is a market for it and you should investigate its value."

     

    JN: What is the criteria to become a professional appraiser?

     

    JL: I do appraisals all the time. I go to the internet and based on that extensive data, I determine value. EBay keeps a listing of up to 90 days as to what has been sold. So the data indicates sales not asking prices. There are other archival sites with that information. There are also auction records and based on those records plus photos, so I can determine if an instrument is of similar quality, I determine value. Of course EBay asking prices can be very misleading. Someone may be asking an outrageously unrealistic price. It’s almost like a real-estate bubble situation.

     

    JN: Fortunately, unlike the real real-estate bubble, we don’t have banks shelling out loans to buy Bach cornets at 10 times the true value.

     

    JL: On the other hand, there are instruments that are truly rare and in pristine condition. Those are worth more. Then there is the personal worth of an instrument that prevents me from putting a price on it. That Besson cornopean that I have has personal value to me because of its place in the history of brass music, its unique design and that it pre-dates other similar instruments. Those are things of interest to me. That instrument might be worth more to me personally than the accepted true market value.

     

    JN: Frank, what is nature of your collection?

     

    FH: I don’t consider myself to be a collector like Niles. I’m more of a hoarder. (laughter) I have about 15-20 very nice cornets and trumpet which are all in good playable condition. That is what’s most important to me because I’m primarily a player.  But I love having those horns. I remember as a little kid a neighbor gave me an old horn. It was a Carl Fischer English Besson trumpet. Even as a kid, I just treasured it. There was information that it was played by a West Point cadet and that seemed magical to me. I still have it. I love playing  old trumpets and cornets. I mostly have old Bach’s and Besson’s.  

     

     

    BSS: The historical performance movement in the 19th century first latched onto the keyboard instruments and the string instruments. It was relatively late that brass instruments were seriously looked at. Horace Fitzpatick was one of the first to examine the horn from a historical performance standpoint and Mike Laird started playing natural trumpet in the UK in the 1960s.

     

    JN: Trumpet players were forced behind the eight ball as a result of the use of vent holes.

     

    BSS and FH: Absolutely

     

    JN: (To SR) Do you know how this works? In the early brass of the early music movement, a few instrument makers knew that if vent holes were drilled in the yard of the trumpet it would essentially shift the horn into a different key.

     

    SR: Like a saxophone.

     

    FH: Yes, it would allow you to play stepwise at the critical moments

     

    JN: Of course, that is ahistorical.

     

    JL: I love it when guys come in and say I have a new baroque trumpet. It’s a five hole. Well, there’s no such thing as a 5 hole baroque trumpet!

     

    BSS: When I teach an organology course I know I’m in trouble when I show a fingering chart for the baroque trumpet and no one questions it. Of course, using a proper  baroque period mouthpiece is vital.

     

    JL: That’s a very touchy subject. I know that I personally find it difficult to adjust because there are so many aspects of a baroque trumpet mouthpiece that are different from playing a modern one.

     

    BSS: My first degree was in education and musical performance and I remember that we were traumatized at even the thought of playing a different mouthpiece, to saying nothing of playing a period instrument mouthpiece. As I began playing natural horn I came to realize that the mouthpiece was as important if not more important than the actual horn. If you can’t buy into that idea then you’re not going to have a true historically informed musical experience.

     

    JN: Scott you’ve had much experience with this mouthpiece issue since you play a wide range of saxophones as well as many brass instruments. How did you adjust to playing on so many different horns and mouthpieces in terms of chops and general technique?

     

    SR: Chops and technique?? What’s that?! I try not to dwell on it too much. Here’s the reed, here’s the horn, let’s go. Also, I know my limitations. On cornet I’ve been asked to play in the trumpet section of big bands but I wouldn’t do that. I get written up in the press all the time and they say that I’m equally good on reeds as on brass. Well, that’s baloney. I may play a tune on cornet or euphonium or ophicleide but that’s about it.

     

    JN: Well, when I saw you recently at the new club, Mezzrow, with Rossano Sportiello, you did a very impressive job on the euphonium.

     

    FH: Concerning natural instruments without holes, I think players today are like the kids on the internet. They simply have no patience. Centuries ago, if you were a kid apprenticed to a master trumpeter, you’d be forced to play all day just to keep your food coming on the table. Eventually you reached the level of being an accomplished journeyman. Plus you didn’t have the distractions we have today. There was no TV or the internet pulling us away. I think they must have practiced four, six, eight hours a day which is what it would take to develop that sort of facility. Today it takes someone with an obsessive drive like a Don Smithers to practice to such an extent to master the natural trumpet. And he did it.

     

    SR: I don’t think I know his work

     

    JN: Remember the Sunday Morning news show that began with a virtuosic trumpet fanfare. That was a recording of Don Smithers playing the Abblassen by Reiche, Bach’s trumpeter. The music is depicted on a sheet of music from a painting of Reiche that he is holding. He played that on a replica of the coiled trumpet show in the painting. I studies with Don and he told me that he played that countless times and kept recording it and ultimately got that beautiful take.

     

    BSS: It’s like the ten thousand hours rule. If you do something for ten thousand hours, then you’re an expert. I used to worship at the feet of Phil Farkas and he said your practicing only begins after you finally got a hard passage right once.

     

    FH: I’ll give you another version of that. There was an old horn player at the Met named Dick Moore. He played there his whole lifetime. He was the first horn at a time when the Met orchestra only had one first horn. He played seven shows a week. Strauss, Elektra and all those great operas. He said to me, “You never really know the book until you’ve screwed up every note. Then you know the book!”

     

    JL: It’s the same thing with instrument repair. You really don’t know what you’re doing until you mess up a repair job real bad.

     

     JL: Niles Eldridge has a wonderful collection. He’s drowning in a room with 741 cornets. That’s the size of his collection. Bradley, I know you have access to the London Besson stock books. I’d like to compare notes because I have what I believe is the oldest English Besson cornet.

     

    JN: Right now Bradley is feeling very unusual because she’s examining your Besson cornet  without wearing her white gloves.

     

    BSS: I have a favorite white glove story. I was invited to examine the brass instruments from a collection of a very prestigious institution which is not in the state of New York. Everyone has his or her own ideas about how to handle instruments and when I got there I asked if he should wear gloves or just wash my hands. Then the head of the collection, wanting to do things properly, proudly proclaimed that they bought gloves for me and took a pair of gardening gloves out of the desk drawer! I asked if the ones with the heavy duty leather palms were for handling low brass.

     

    JN: Any other thoughts about collections and instrument collecting in general?

     

    BSS: At the most recent CIMCIM meeting there was much discussion about the relationship between museum and institution collections and private collections. There really is a symbiotic relationship. There are some things that a museum can do in terms of placing things in a broader context and providing stability from generation to generation that would be harder to do for private collectors. Private collectors, on the other hand, have much more flexibility. As a museum curator, if I have an example of a particular type of instrument and then a finer example of the same type comes along, I would have a hard time trying to obtain that new instrument for the collection. Private collectors trade and swap instruments all the time. It’s the nature of their game. There’s also the issue of refinement and obsessions. It’s wonderful being able to work with a collector who may be totally focused with all his energy and all his financial resources on one small area.

     

    JL: There’s the murkier topic of mouthpieces. I have a number in my collection. I have perhaps the oldest Bach mouthpiece. It’s from 1917. I can date that because it’s on a Holton blank. Lorenzo Greenwich is a great source of mouthpiece information. He’s the mouthpiece guy.

     

    JN: Scott, what brought you, as a saxophonist, to collect and play brass instruments?

     

    SR: I love sound. Different instruments bring their own individual sound to what I’m trying to do. I do play brass instruments, in addition to the reeds, on a gig but I play the brass on a limited basis. I’ll play a few tunes on the cornet or euphonium or some other brass instruments and that’s about it. Then I go back to the tenor sax.

     

    FH: Well there are physical limitations

     

    SR. Yeah but it’s different for me also. With brass instruments I don’t need to worry about reeds or anything like that. I just pick up the cornet and there it is. What are we going to do together? I get asked to play 4th trumpet in big band gigs but I never do that. I won’t pretend. I see press write ups all the time saying that I’m equally adept at brass as I am on reeds and that’s just baloney.  On a good night I can get out two or three tunes and that’s about it.

     

    JN: I thought you did great on the euphonium when I recently saw you at Mezzrow’s with Rossano Sportiello.   You also have a collection including an ophicleide. How did that come about?

     

    SR: I studied at Berklee in Boston and also did some teaching there for about two years. At that time I had a gig at a jazz club in the suburbs of Boston and took all my crazy instruments with me. I had various saxophones including the bass sax, double-bell euphonium, cornet and some other stuff. After the set an old guy in a wheelchair came up to me and says, “I bet you I have an instrument that you don’t have and never even heard of.” He went on to describe a large brass instrument with a trombone type mouthpiece and saxophone keys. Of course I knew exactly what he was describing. The he tells me, “It’s an orphankleed!” I nearly broke up by the way he pronounced it. He actually rescued the instrument from being taken to the town dump by the historical society of his small town in Massachusetts. They told him that if he wanted it to just take it. Turns out this fellow was a valve trombonist but had a horn that was completely torn apart. He wanted it fixed and asked me if I could find a new bell for his horn. He told me that if I could fix up his trombone, he would give me the “orphankleed.” Of course I was very interested. At that time I was doing some repair work and, if fact, was teaching a class in instrument repair at Berklee. I worked on that trombone and really did a thorough job. The guy couldn’t believe that I brought him back his horn with the original bell but it was. So he gave me the ophicleide. I took it back to the shop at Berklee and spent an entire day with it, figuring out how the finger system worked and in a short time, mastered it. I started taking it to gigs and really feel in love with it. That’s the story of the orphankleed!

     

    JN: I think two aspects of collecting instruments for a performer has developed. In early music, collecting and the subsequent performance on those old instruments or reproductions of old instruments is to try to unlock the sound-world of a particular repertoire. Another view, as Scott has, is to obtain a larger sound pallet.

     

    BSS: In either case you’re collecting sound. You’re either trying to capture historic sound or trying to find new soundscapes. It’s still sound that’s drawing you toward those objects.

     

    SR: However, there are many collectors who just keep the instruments under glass you never hear the sound.

     

    BSS: This is interesting because I was talking to a flute collector who is very compulsive. When you really compulsively collect it’s almost like a disease. I asked him how be began collecting flutes. His answer was interesting. Flutes in the woodwind world and cornets in the brass world are the two instruments that have the widest range of permutations of valve and key combinations and various subtleties of design. So this flute collector friend of mine explained to me that he first began collecting stamps. When you collect stamps, you have these sheets that 100 stamps will fit on. When you are serious about stamp collecting, you want a stamp from each position on the sheet. When he began collecting flutes he had the same attitude but this time he focused on Boehm system instruments. He wanted an open G# key, closed G# key and every conceivable variation.

     

    JL: My collecting approach is to have something older or a different example of what I already have whether it’s playable or not.  It may be older or newer but it must be different in some way. That’s why my slim family of French instruments that I’m collecting are unique or special in some way. If they are playable, that’s great but that’s not my main focus. If no one has an example like the one I have or doesn’t even know of it’s existence, that’s what really gets me going.

     

    JN: We’ve mentioned the desire for old instruments to play and the purely obsessive desire to collect for its own sake. There is also the organological aspect of collecting to study the changes in design and how those changes affected the sound of the instrument and how those sounds influenced players and composers.

     

    BSS: Sure, there’s a didactic aspect of it. Establishing a taxonomy and developing a historical sequence of changes and how they actually work.

     

    JN: Frank you’re a player but you’ve educated yourself to the intricacies of variations of instrument design and how they may affect sound and playing.

     

    FH: I was probably horn a hundred years too late. I would have been happy at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century. I love the cornet. In the Goldman band we really played the cornet. I had a list of cornet players who really played the instrument but if I needed someone and I couldn’t get one of those guys I’d call a trumpet player who would say, “Yeah, I have a cornet.” Often when those guys would come down, they didn’t know how to play the instrument. They could play the notes but they had no idea how to play it because the cornet is a different animal. I appreciate the differences only to that extent. I’ve played very old ones and appreciate the improvements that followed. Volume is the main quality that caused design to change. Now it’s going backwards. Trumpet players are less concerned about how the instrument sounds because everyone is playing into microphones. The concept of overall tone and projection is not valued because of technology. Modern instruments just don’t play the way the ones even 40 or 50 years ago played. With all these modern instruments made by Yamaha and these boutique makers, they play like dreams but the sound quality is not like the older horns.  Some of my colleagues at the Met play less than old instruments and it’s a different sound. Thirty or forty years ago guys like Izzy Blank or Mel Broils would play a note and bang, it would bounce off the walls. That’s gone. No one plays like that and the conductors don’t want to hear it either. They are used to listening to  a perfectly balanced record when they are practicing their scores and that’s what they want.

     

    JN: Scott do you find that in the jazz world?

     

    SR: Most definitely. Microphones have killed everything. It’s killed the individual sound.

     

    JN: This is how the instrument itself informs the performance practice.

     

    BSS: This is interesting. You look at these taxonomically or developmentally based collections demonstrating technological change from the 18th century onward to bigger sound and larger range and ultimately homogeneity throughout the range of the instrument.  As someone who plays a lot of 19th century horns, I think today horn players live in a sort of two dimensional world. We lack the subtle shadings of sound that different crooks and hand stopping gives you. One of the exciting things today concerning performance practice and having these resources such as historic collections and research at our disposal is that we can start to get away from this teleology that says one thing is better than the next. We can now think about modern instruments and historic instruments as apples and oranges. They produce different results. A hand horn and modern horn are both wonderful things, different from each other, but one is not better than the other.

     

    FH: I remember guys talking about how synthesizers are going to put us all out of work, and it’s true. But I think players must have had the same type of conversations 170 years ago. “Those chromatic instruments are going to put hand-horn players out of work!”

     

    JL: Absolutely true. In the 1820s and 1830s, particularly among horn players, when the first rotary valve patents were coming out, people hated those innovations.

     

    BSS: It was very emotional. There was a second wave of it in Britain. The transition from the narrow bore French piston horn of Dennis Brain’s early career to the larger German instrument brought about outrage. You can read reviews from the 1930s in the London Times where they describe the new German horn as a “cow horn.” This was in a generalist newspaper not a specialist music trade rag. People were enthralled and I’m amazed that there was such wide public interest.

     

    FH: I came upon this first hand. We were doing some crazy revival of an early Donizetti opera at the Met. The big deal was that they had discovered the original parts in the basement of La Scala that were lost since 1830. There was a stage band which called for eight trumpets. There was trumpet in E, Eb, D and all these different keyed trumpets. We began rehearsals with great difficulty. The guy had gone to great trouble transcribing the old notation into modern parts. No one could figure out what was going on because this guy had a note and then another guy had a note and it was this weird pointillistic thing going on. It was impossible. The management lost patience and they threw the guy in charge out. T hey threw the parts out. The librarian rewrote the parts and it ended up with three guys playing the whole thing. They really tried to get it to work but we were essentially playing natural trumpet parts. I finally figured out what these 1830s parts meant. No one could play every note of the entire line so, it was like the bell-ringers, each guy got his own note to play.

     

    BSS: You know, the collecting thing affects everything. You asked me before if I personally collect instruments. I personally collect what I play. Professionally, I am lucky because I do get to collect many different types of instruments that go to the museum.

     

    JN: So do you feel personally insulted when you buy something for the museum and they decide to put it in storage in the basement?

     

    BSS: Of course I do. That said, we have fantastic collections and limited space, so not all of our treasures are on display at the same time and we have a program of gallery rotations and special exhibitions. Curators put lots of thought into drawing up an acquisition proposal any time they want to buy something. You have to justify why this is an instrument that would make an important addition to the museum collection. So you do feel committed and personally invested in it. You need to balance your personal interest in collecting an instrument against the interests of the institution. At the Horniman we had a very taxonomically oriented collection, for want of a better word. I was following in the footsteps of Adam Carse who put together a wonderful collection of about 350 wind instruments that showed the systematic development of western European winds. Then you have a real reason to get every permutation of a particular type of instrument that you can get your hands on. That fulfills the goal. The Met has a very different collection. First of all, we’re a musical instrument collection within an art museum. I can go on for hours about the disadvantages of that. But this is all outweighed by what that position does enable you to do, which is to connect the dots across the Met's collections. We can collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines. You can study a lute from the collection alongside a Caravaggio painting that depicts a similar instrument. Also, when we make a big purchase, I need to justify to our director why a particular instrument belongs in an art museum. I can make the case that it would go brilliantly with our Strads and shows an important development in string instrument design. But then he will look at me and ask, “But is it art?” Then we have the discussion about what is art. What is mastery in any given medium? What is the development and art of a form? How does this instrument express that? If one is concerned about getting a broader audience interested in a musical instrument collection then we need to think about the idea of why any given instrument is in a museum and how it fits into the bigger picture of music and culture. Part of my responsibility is to try to educate people about connoisseurship, what makes an instrument important or great. At a place like the Met we can learn that the silver kettle drums were made for George III  by Franz Peter Bunsen.  Bunsen was also the silversmith who made George III’s tableware.  The Ehe family not only made trumpets but they also made chandeliers. So, at a place like the Met you can learn about the allied skills of these instrument makers, see the range of their varied output and get a glimpse of the broader cultural context in which they existed.

     

    JN What is the dynamic of having a collection that embraces both Western and non-Western instruments? Any conflicts?

     

    BSS: I don’t have any conflict at all. I think one of the really exciting things about pulling in instruments from around the world is that it allows you to look across all musical genres. It reminds you that there is no one master genre or master instrument. There are master genres and masterpieces everywhere. Look at our gorgeous koto where all the decorative metal work was done by one of the most famous Japanese families of sword makers. It was made for one of the great poet warriors of Japan during the period that Stradivarius was working. You look at both instrument and you realize that each are masterpieces of their individual type. They are  both brilliant pieces, the koto and the Strad.  I think about why, compared to other instruments, the brass collection is weak. It goes back to the perennial low status of winds.  You go back to Apollo the lyre player and Marsyas the pipe player, who challenged Apollo to a musical duel. Apollo won and left Marsyas laying in the dust waiting to be flayed. String instruments represented rational, scientific thinking; winds were associated with irrational emotions and base passions. The founder of the Met collection Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown had great connoisseurship and real knowledge when it came to collecting keyboard instruments. She spent years going after the Cristofori  piano that we have and is the world’s earliest example of a piano. She walked away from Neuremburg trumpets! But at that time in history, very few people were collecting brass instruments.

     

    FH: It might be because string and keyboard instruments are associated with music that is thought of more highly and more lasting.

     

    JN: I want to thank everyone for joining in on this conversation. I think we’ve covered much ground and look forward to continued discussion.

     

    June 26, 2015
  • Don Johnson and a Recreation Brass Band Go Hollywood

     

    Don Johnson meets Eric Jendresen, the executive producer and screenwriter for "Killing Lincoln" (left). Members of the "President Lincoln's Own Band" greet Lincoln director Steven Spielberg at Gettysburg (right).

    19 February, 2013

    When the movie “Lincoln” was in the works Stephen Spielberg wanted a band to play in the movie. Of course there are lots of civil war bands out there. So Dreamworks contacted Chris Johnston who is a person that has done lots of documentaries in the Richmond, Virginia area and asked him if he could find a band using civil war era instruments. There was also hope that the band would play well enough to be recorded live on the set. This had never been done before. At the same time it appears as though Dreamworks or someone else in CA. was doing their homework about civil war bands. The people in California were leaning towards the 1st Brigade Band.

    Chris kept asking around about civil war bands and Mark Elrod's name kept coming up because of his huge collection of civil war instruments. Mark and Chris worked together for a while and Mark saw that there was a E-flat cornet solo. Mark told Chris he should get me to play the E-flat cornet solo. Chris kept looking around at other bands. One was even a band I play in “Federal City Brass Band.” Eventually both Chris and Mark asked if I could put together the rest of the band using Kentucky Baroque Trumpets and other people that I knew.

    This seemed to make up their minds in California. People looked at the Kentucky Baroque Trumpet website, our credentials, and the quality of the musicians and decided we were the ones that would be in the movie Lincoln. I feel like the logistics probably also played a part. Chris and Mark turned over all control to me as far as the musicians were concerned but there were a few exceptions I had to agree too. We spent 3 days in Richmond for uniforms, makeup, etc. and filmed for 3 hours for a very short amount of time in the movie. I’ll never forget the morning we met Spielberg. He said “Hey guys. It’s cold. [It was about 30 degrees]. Nice to meet you. Let's hear the solo and chorus.” Wow, talk about pressure – we nailed it. Afterwards Stephen said “Who needs the rest of the chorus. You guys are great!” Our soundtrack was used in the movie. We are the first band to record live without a click track. You can’t see me playing the solo, but when the chorus is singing that is me on E-flat cornet.
    When we were done I talked to the costume supervisor and told him I would like to purchase the uniforms. He told me they would go into storage for 1 year until the movie was released. I emailed him several weeks later and told him not to forget me when the uniforms were available. He asked me where he should have them shipped!! I told him I would pick them up. I drove back to Richmond to get the uniforms. The price was later negotiated. I did have to pay a fair amount for them.

    Later that year an employee for Dreamworks recommended us to National Geographic when they wanted to use a band in “Killing Lincoln.” The budget for National Geographic's movie was surprising low. They wanted less players because of pay. It was still another great experience and we got to meet the director Adrian Moat, screen writer Erik Jendresen, and actor Jessie Johnson. Jessie plays John Wilkes Booth in the movie and he is the son of Don Johnson of Miami Vice. We got some laughs out of that one.

    In November that year we were able to play at Gettysburg for Dedication Day and Stephen Spielberg and Doris Kearns Goodwin were the featured speakers. Stephen agreed to have a photo with the band at the National Monument. It was unbelievable how many cameras were clicking. Within 4 hours President Lincoln's Own Band was seen and heard by millions around the world. The Associated Press took a photo which went all over the world. We saw video clips of us performing on many television stations around the country.

    In December a very high ranking person at the Smithsonian happened to see us on a person's Facebook page. It was us at Gettysburg with Spielberg. He emailed the person and said “Who is this group and how can we get them here to play for the Presidential Inauguration Festivities.” This is kind of humorous to me now because we almost lost the gig because of a bad cell phone: I could not receive voice mails because it would crash several times a day. I did get a new phone a week later. I heard my voice messages and realized what I had missed. I called and left a message telling them I was sorry for the delay. The Smithsonian calls back and says we are first priority on their list. If we are available they want President Lincoln’s Own Band. Of course we did the gig.
    We recently performed for the Premier of “Killing Lincoln” in Richmond. This was probably the largest premier in the nation. Richmond was where the movie was made. After our performance I was able to again see the Director, Screen Writer, and Jessie Jackson. The Screen Writer and Director, Erik and Adrian, want to use us again and in a much bigger way. Especially after hearing us perform.

    I am working on the possibility another documentary. I've uncovered a huge amount of history about the first casualty in the civil war with ties to Ky. The story is really amazing including murders.

    Our time is very short in both movies. We are still honored to have been a part of each movie. The movie is about Lincoln, not about a civil war band. “President Lincoln’s Own” is still getting calls to perform. We are scheduled to perform at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in June. We are also their first choice!

    "PLOB" portrays the US Marine Band of the civil war era, not a regimental band. People interested in using us should note the difference in the two. There should be no competition with any regimental civil war band. Please check us out on Facebook and on our homepage.

    Don Johnson
    Kentucky Baroque Trumpets
    President Lincoln's Own Band

    December 31, 2013
  • An Interview with Cornettist William Dongois
    by Jeffrey Nussbaum

    The following interview took place in New York City on October 1, 2005. Dongois had just performed a program of large-scale works by Giovanni Gabrieli with the New York Collegium, directed by Andrew Parrott.  

    Jeffrey Nussbaum: I know that you have been very interested in the topic of improvisation and you presented a lecture/demonstration at our recent Cornett and Sackbut Conference in Toulouse. I also find it fascinating but also a subject filled with questions. Just starting with the meaning of the terms is baffling. Ornamentation, embellishment and improvisation are often used to mean similar things, but with Renaissance and Baroque music what is it really? We can ornament a cadence with several notes based on what Ganassi or Bovicelli tell us, but it's not improvisation, at least not in the sense that we usually mean. Adding divisions to a simple line might be closer to true improvisation, but I think it usually lacks the spontaneous aspect of improvisation as we know occurs in jazz. Then again, maybe we are at a disadvantage because of our intimate twenty-first-century understanding of jazz. Perhaps it's leading us astray?

    William Dongois: First of all, what we have today from the ancient repertoire are many different kinds of music. What is the "repertory"? What we call "ancient music" and consider as "classical music" or "serious music" or as it is called in French, musique savante, because it is written, is only a blend of different kinds of music. That music played different roles artistically and musically during various periods. Some types of written manuscript and printed music are placed in the area of popular music. However, some written/transformed music falls in the area of art and polyphonic music such as the motet, Mass, ricercar, or madrigal. Regarding improvisation, some types of written music are only fixed versions from some "standard" form. In that case, we should decide the form of the performance, like an arrangement in jazz, then we can add something (notes, lines) to really create "music." In the other case, sometimes music "still written" includes things musicians normally add. We have examples of the art of improvisation and divisions in the treatises. We get from the past dances, rondos, canzonas, sonatas, motets and other kinds of polyphony, all different kinds of music, some of which is complex and others less so. The composition and its structure sets limits on what performers can do. From there, what is improvisation? It starts from the moment something unplanned happens. This can happen on several levels with several aspects. We can improvise a structure, a new line in the polyphony, add more notes or less notes, or create divisions and ornaments.

    The word "improvisation" is a world of possibilities on several levels. We have written sources that explain how to make all sorts of divisions, which is one level of improvisation, but we must have an understanding of which types of compositions these divisions may fit and consider the repertory. One example is the treatise from Ganassi.1 We have a lot of examples and we can imagine the repertory that these examples would have been used in and in what sort of settings. To play the examples from Ganassi as there are written is very difficult rhythmically but also because of the speed if we compare the value he uses, 24 and even 28 notes for a brevis. What kind of performance and with what sort of music still remains somewhat of a mystery.

    At least, it is more or less the same with the music from Dalla Casa a bit later. Who can imagine today, a performance with Le chant des oiseaux from Janequin like Dalla Casa proposed? Which musical setting, which kind of ensemble, who would have played that? Who tries to play that today on the cornett in a concert?

    Another problem is to consider the written music generally. There are clearly two kinds of written music, two different tendencies to fix music on the paper. One tendency is to fix only the structure and the basis of the music, simple chords and/or basic polyphony. The other practice is to write the musical line as closely as possible as a florid improvised line might have been played. This can be done only as much as the limitations the notation of the time would allow.

    On paper there are two kinds of printed music: "white music" (only the structure) and "black music," (full of divisions, ornaments). There are also two kinds of "composers": the "professional composers," for a chapelle (Josquin, De Rore, Monteverdi), and the "players" (Ganassi, Dalla Casa, Rognoni, Fontana, Castello). The composer/performer such as Gabrieli or Bassano composed motets ("white music") and probably composed on the order, more or less, of how they played (organ music, divisions, or "black music"). Each level of improvisation, whether it is to play alone on a ricercar, to improvise a melody on a polyphonic piece, to improvise from the structure from a known ostinato, to create divisions on a line, or to add only some ornaments presents a world of different solutions. My interest is to find a way to practice so that I might be able to be free on the repertoire I play. The goal is to play free improvisation on a standard without any note, to stay more or less in the style of that period, play in a variety of styles, and play divisions on a line and create ornamentations, if the music is already divided.

    We also need to understand that divisions were not regarded in the same way in all places. In Venice around 1601 we know, from the documents, that the players performed very elaborate divisions. They really tried to show how much they could do. A very important thing is to respect the melodic line, which is something that was not always done as we know from the surviving music. Sometimes only a few extra notes should be added and sometimes much more elaborated divisions can be added, but a respect for the original line needs to be kept in mind. Of course it is not only the type of music that is being played but the nature of the ensemble also helps determine the sort of divisions you perform. If everyone in the group is playing in a rather straight and conservative way without divisions and an inflexible sound, then it would sound out of place to be the only one playing very elaborate divisions. We must always respect not only the spirit of the line that the composer wrote but also the context today, including the musicians you are playing with. It may appear to be a paradox, but even though you are adding extra notes the purpose is still to show what the original line is all about. Someimes a good division is the division the listener doesn't notice. It's the line that has nice movement.

    JN: What were you doing last night in the Gabrieli concert? Was there much embellishment?

    WD: On my part I did a bit, but I certainly would not have done more than I did. I have great respect for Andrew Parrott and like him very much. Under his direction I feel that I only need to play and not think too much.

    JN: I think the HBS readers will like to know a bit about your background. When you grew up was your family musical?

    WD: Not really. My father played trumpet in amateur bands but he quit when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I was born in Langres, which is about 60 km north of Dijon, but in the Champagne, no more in the Burgund, and grew up in Reims, which is about 160 km northeast of Paris. When I was about 8 or 9 I began to play the clarion in a youth brass band from the "Fire Team" (pompier in French, the band was called "La Fanfare des Cadets des Sapeurs Pompiers de Reims" and was for very young boys from Reims.) I had the opportunity to join this band while I was at school. After a while of playing the clarion, I lost my mouthpiece. I took my father's trumpet mouthpiece and my teacher André Kemblinsky, who happened to be the trumpet teacher at the local conservatoire, noticed this and invited me into his trumpet class when I was about 10 years old. I made a quick progress on the trumpet and graduated from the conservatoire when I was 16, which is several years younger than most graduates. After that I had some personal problems and didn't play for a year. I had one very difficult year in which I couldn't play much more than one octave and a third. So, after a very good summer on the bicycle, I decided to start again and be as spontaneous as possible and proceed very carefully. I got into good condition, and by the end of the year I was able to be admitted to the Conservatoire National de Paris and entered Pierre Tribal's as a "first." My teacher, Pierre Thibault, suggested that I start from the very beginning in order to develop a good embouchure. After several attempts I didn't get good results. I went to several teachers at that period, one of whom was Jean-Jacques Greffin, who was teaching in Marseille and developing a new school and concept in pedagogy for the brass players. He was my savior.

    At that time I also met Frédéric Richard, who is now, as far as I know, still a recorder teacher and singer with Marcel Peres. He was into musicology and had many ancient copies of old instruments, including a recorder, cornett, shawm, and crumhorn, and I tried to play them. The cornetts, including the normal cornett and cornettino, were Monk instruments so I decided that I would like to play cornett. I spent the first six months alone with the instruments. What a musical disaster for the ears of my neighbors!

    JN: At that time, were you still a student or were you playing trumpet professionally? What year was that?

    WD: I was teaching in Reims, my home city, and playing in a little orchestra (five operas and about ten operettes each year). Because I was still having some embouchure problems and didn't have a secure high register, I didn't see much of a future as a trumpeter.

    Once, André Kemblinsy, the trumpet teacher in Reims (I was his assistant) gave me information about a course for cornett for musicology students at the university. There were also two courses in Metz with Jean-Pierre Canihac. Jean-Pierre became my cornett teacher and I began practicing three and four hours a day. For the next few years I took the course in La Seu d'Urgell (Spain) with Jean-Pierre and teachers from Hesperion XX. I played with Jean-Pierre Malgloire and even with Bruce [Dickey] and [Concerto] Palatino. After a short visit to Bruce, I decided to go to Basel to study. This was around 1988 or 1989, and I was totally focused on the cornett. I sold all my trumpets to get money because I had to stop teaching in the conservatory, since I wasn't given the flexibility to continue teaching while I studied in Basel. It was a difficult decision, but I saw a future with the cornett and early music. I studied with Jean-Pierre Canihac for a time, but being in Basel was special. Having access to the library and all the music and sources was particularly important. In France it is very difficult, especially in the provinces, to get music from a library. I knew that by playing cornett I would need to develop my historical and musicological side as well as purely musical side. Of course I appreciated Bruce's teaching a great deal.

    JN: Do you play in the center?

    WD: I play on the side of the center. I play on a small mouthpiece, but I've had a great deal of experience making mouthpieces on my own. Sometimes they turned out great other times no so good. Getting a really good instrument when I started to play was difficult. I tried many different instruments where the octave was sometimes a ninth and sometimes a seventh! I played a Monk instrument, which was quite good, and changed after two years to a wood instrument from Michel Litaye. I started doing some research on tuning and ended up destroying at least two instruments. I bought several Fanciullacci instruments. At that time Serge Delmas was my student and I suggested to him to make cornetts. Now he is making wonderful instruments. I played for a long time on Delmas cornetts and now also on McCann, Schuler, and Gohin instruments. With my evolution in improvisation I prefer an instrument with a small bore and in some high pitch (A465 or 490) with a very fast response.

    JN: So, after studying at the Schola and playing with Hesperion XX you began to have more professional experience?

    WD: The contact between the Schola and Germany was very strong. I began playing a lot in Germany with different groups. As with every player I performed a lot of [Monteverdi] Vespers, but did also a lot of chamber music with people from the Schola. I played with Ecco La Musica (now based in Stuttgart, in that time in Aachen), Weser Renaissance (I did fifteen recordings with them), and Musica Fiata. I played in other countries too, with La Capella Venetiana (Livio Picotti, Venezia), Elyma (Gabriel Garrido), and Musica Fiorita. I began playing together with Jean Tubery in La Fenice since the beginning, until around 1993. I didn't have many contacts in France at that time.

    JN: How did La Fenice form?

    WD: From the beginning of my cornett playing I had an ensemble that Jean joined. The name of my ensemble was Le Concert Brisé. It wasn't exactly with the same people as who later formed La Fenice, but a similar type of group. Jean also had a group called Pontormo, named after the painter. From these groups La Fenice was formed. Jean had the idea for the name. La Fenice probably formed in 1989. I played with La Fenice for about three years and made two recordings from 1990 to 1993 (La musique en Lorraine and "Cazzati"). We played together before the formation of the group, and also with a lot of other groups.

    JN: After 1994, in what direction did you go?

    WD: I had a few concerts. I lost a number of contacts since they continued to work with La Fenice rather than with me. I started to conduct research in improvisation. Then I got more and more concerts in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and played a lot because I was free, with a good library at home. I conceived a lot of programs for different chamber music groups and did the first recording from Doulce Mémoire and once again formed Le Concert Brisé in its next vintage, with Carsten Lohff, who gave me the first opportunity to perform a recital on the Süd Deutsche Rundfunk! I was very afraid. Then I played a little bit more in France because I moved to Paris. I did concerts for Jacques Moderne and recording for L'Arpeggiata and I performed regularly with Le Poème Harmonique. To finish with the story of the different ensembles that I played with since 1990, I have been performing in Concerto Vocale, the baroque orchestra led by Rene Jacobs. [Ed. note: Dongois also performed with the medieval group, La Reverdie.].

    JN: During that period were you a full-time performer?

    WD: Yes, it was exclusively performing and very little teaching. I would occasionally give a lesson to someone and give a course but I was mainly performing. Now I also have a position at the conservatory in Geneva. Now I find there are many more cornett students and more places to study than there were 10 or 15 years ago. Of course, there are many recorder players who want to try the cornett and don't stay with it, but there are many of them who are "serious" and do stay with it. They can study with me in Geneva, with Delmas or Tubery in Paris, with Jean-Pierre [Canihac] in Lyon, with Philippe Matharel in Toulouse, Arno Paduch in Germany, and of course with Bruce [Dickey] in Basel.

    Now I am concentrating on developing with Le Concert Brisé and my own activities, performing chamber and instrumental music centered around the cornett repertory, with the main focus being improvisation. We did three recordings for the Carpe Diem label, and now we have the possibility to produce a triple CD for K617, entitled "The Golden Age of the Cornett," with a similar CD as La Barca d'Amore (improvisation, divisions, and virtuoso music for cornett solo), a CD of Venetian Music (Castello, Fontana, Grandi, Monteverdi, and Scarani) and transcriptions from Buxtehude sonatas for violon/viole on the cornett and sackbut (Stefan Legée) and church organ (Pierre-Alain Clerc). It is always uncertain how CD projects will turn out, but I think, and Alain Pacquier from K 617 agrees, that there is still a place for that repertory. There are not enough recordings from the typical cornett repertory.

    JN: Has audience and concert promoter interest in early music continued to grow in Europe?

    WD: I would say it is not growing as much as it once was. Festivals in particular often want to put on a big production of an opera, but programming smaller ensembles has become more difficult. It's more and more difficult to propose instrumental and chamber music concerts to producers. They prefer to have singers--famous ones of course--with the instruments. But I keep projects to play for the sheer pleasure of the music that I love, with the people I like very much, and who share my musical ideas.

    One new point is that each ensemble, even young and inexperienced ones, can do some "marketing." That is, they can create a nice presentation, and develop a nice website. It is only a question of spending time and taking the care to do it. I myself spend time preparing nice programs, practice, and prepare my lessons. It is one reason more Le Concert Brisé is not so famous.

    JN: How has the development of the European community affected the early music scene?

    WD: I haven't seen a big difference over the past twenty years. Twenty years ago musicians traveled throughout Europe. Musicians from the Continent don't play much in England because they have a protected system like in the States. Much of the work is in Germany in the famous festivals, even more than in France because of government art subsidies.

    JN: It's always interesting to me to hear a European perspective. As far as I can tell, America early music continues to struggle. While the U.S. has many great musicians and schools and orchestras, there are very few ensembles playing to the extent that European groups seem to be.

    WD: Since many of the best players are in European ensembles today, part of the problem might be the great difficulty those ensembles and performers have in obtaining permission to play in the States. This leaves many of the young American musicians without contact with the best early music players.

    JN: William, thanks very much for sharing your ideas with our fellow HBS members. You've certainly given us much to think about.

     

    1. Opera intitulata Fontegara (Venice, 1535).

    October 15, 2005
  • by Sabine K. Klaus

    Photos by Bobby Yeo and Mark Olencki

    The following interview is based on a visit with Robb Stewart in his workshop and home in Arcadia, California, in May 2005, and some emails in the fall of 2006. Robb is one of the foremost brass instrument makers, restorers and dealers of vintage instruments in the United States. If you have a vintage brass instrument that needs repair or restoration, Robb is the person to go. His expertise will help you assess or date your instruments, and his meticulous work is rarely found elsewhere.

    Sabine Klaus: When I visited your workshop in beautiful Arcadia, California with a group of cornet-enthusiasts in May 2005, I immediately realized that they all couldn't do without you. Their vintage horns simply wouldn't play like they do, if they hadn't gone through your hands. All these cornet players and collectors are incredibly grateful for your work. They would show you their instruments and seek advice on what to do with leaks or stuck valves, how to get the dents out of a bell, and how to transform a battered old horn into a beautiful great player again. How did you become the leading expert and restorer in 19th and 20th vintage brass instruments in the US?

    Robb Stewart: I had interest in old and unusual brass instruments early on. I would look for books on musical instrument in the library and go through the big books of patents looking for brass instruments as well as cars and airplanes.

    SK: Where did you grow up and go to school?

    RS: I was born in Chicago and grew up mostly in rural northern Illinois. I started playing the cornet in the 5th grade band. I continued playing in the school bands all through school and became very serious about being a trumpet player, although I never had any private lessons. Moving to California and playing in several honor bands and orchestras opened my eyes to what a long way I had to go to become a good player. While a senior in high school (1976), I started attending a repair class set up at Fullerton High School. The teacher, Don Heaston, got me a job at Bartold Music in Woodland Hills CA in 1977. Norm Bartold was quite a character and had a large collection of antique instruments hanging in his shop. I would occasionally work on these and Norm suggested that I reassemble used parts to appear as some of these antiques to be sold as replicas. I worked there for two years and started my own business in 1979. Norm continued to encourage me to make instruments and by 1981, I had enough new parts around to make a replica over the shoulder Eb cornet. Word of this got out and I sold this to the 11th North Carolina Regimental Band. They asked me to make an Eb tuba next.

    SK: How did you go about setting up your own workshop?

    RS: Norm Bartold was closing his shop and I needed a job. I set up a shop in a two-car garage and continued to get work from many of the same customers. Larry Minick, who was the best repairman in town at the time, would send customers to me that he didn't have time for. More importantly, Larry was always willing to give advice and scold me when I really messed up.

    SK: How do you develop your models?

    RS: I tooled up to make Eb keyed bugles in 1983 which involved making the bells and keys in my shop. I now make Bb keyed bugles as well and have made them in copper, nickel silver and Sterling Silver. I have improved my instruments over the years and have made over 250 to date. I have made many different designs that customers have asked for, including cornets with bells forward, upright, over the shoulder and circular. Also ophicleides in C soprano to Eb contrabass, "English" bass horns, an orchestral F trumpet, post horns, coach horns and English hunting horns in Sterling Silver. This has always been an adjunct to the more profitable repair business and I have always had call for customizing modern instruments as well. Some of my favorites are double tubas in F and CC for Tommy Johnson and the Fluba (flugelhorn shaped tuba) and Selfphone (baby sousaphone in F) for Jim Self. As much as Los Angeles is an entertainment capitol, there are not enough professional brass instrument players to keep a repair shop busy full time.

    SK: When you make vintage instruments how faithful are your copies? Do you copy the original in every detail, including possible design flaws, or do you make some sensible changes and "improve" the original somewhat?

    RS: I copy the originals as closely as it is practical to do. I have rotary valves made to my size specifications, but I can't make exact copies and still be able to sell them for a profit. I recently made a copy of a Graves circular Eb cornet as an exercise in getting as close to the original as possible and to have an example in my collection. If I were making this for a customer, I would have to charge more than double what I normally charge for a cornet. I don't see any need for improvement of the best instruments made 150 years ago and I wish that I could make mine exactly like them. Original keyed brass instruments vary to a surprising degree and I believe that I have been fairly successful in getting mine to play as well as some of the better originals.

    SK: Have you ever gotten a commission from a composer to develop a new instrument, say in the way Richard Wagner influenced the brass design of his time?

    RS: My biggest passion has always been history of brass instrument makers and restoring and preserving antique brass instruments. I find it the most satisfying work and I believe that it is my greatest strength. I feel that it is very important to reproduce missing parts to appear exactly like the original. When a part looks wrong or the instrument has other sloppy workmanship like parts mounted wrongly, this becomes the focus of the instrument, rather than the beauty of the design or the historical importance.

    SK: In the Joe and Joella Utley Collection we have both, new instruments made by you and historic ones which you repaired and restored. I have been impressed by the high standard of workmanship of both. When you replace a part it is hard to distinguish it from the original just by looking at it. However, you do something that I have appreciated very much; you stamp the new part with your initials. How did you get acquainted with common conservation practices that preserve an instrument not only in its playing qualities, but also as a historical document?

    RS: I have worked for several museums, but mostly for individual players and collectors. I have learned some things from museum people, but preservation is mostly common sense. I try to make good judgments regarding historical importance of particular instruments and how to deal with a damaged or missing part. There has been a growing interest in history during my whole career and in the last five to ten years the interest in 19th century brass instruments is booming.

    SK: I was amazed seeing your home. You and your family live in a museum, which you created yourself. How did this come about?

    RS: In 1986 Nancy and I really wanted a beautiful old Crafstman style house and Monrovia was more affordable than most of Southern California. We couldn't afford anything really nice, so we bought the neighborhood eyesore and spent the next twelve years fixing and restoring it. It was the same with furniture. We bought a few nice pieces but prices were escalating and I found that I could better furnish the house if I built exactly what we wanted.

     

    click on image for larger example

    SK: When we visited, we all got a ride around the block in your beautifully restored 1912 Hupmobile. Is this hobby related to your interest in brass instruments?

    RS: It's the same fascination with industrial history. I could make a hobby of any old mechanical object and its history. I've had a passion for old cars since I was a child and it's safe to say that I'll never be able to afford to get into antique airplanes! The next time that you visit, I hope to have the EMF (restoration project car) ready to take a spin.

    SK: Present day 19th and early-20th-century brass music revival in the United States owes you much. Many of the vintage bands couldn't play without your work. How does it feel to occupy such a key role in this revival movement?

    RS: I do feel very fortunate to be able to make a living while at the same time creating something. Even though the restoration projects are the creation of craftsmen more than 100 years ago, I feel that they are now a part of my legacy as I am part of theirs. In most cases these instruments will receive better care in the coming centuries than they have had in the last one. I try to educate my customers in the importance of preserving history rather than just hoarding trinkets. In the future there will be fewer historically important instruments damaged for the sake of display.

     

    The Robb Stewart "Three-in-One"

     

    Interchangeable bell front, bell upright and over the shoulder string-rotary-valve cornet by Robb Stewart, Arcadia, CA, 1988.
    Joe and Joella Utley Collection, National Music Museum, no. 6938.

     

    May 30, 2005