The Muse in Music - Perspectives from an Astute Trumpeter
Updated: Jul 28, 2018
By, Dan Perttu
Hello! For this week in the “Muse in Music” blog, I am interviewing my colleague and friend, Dr. Tim Winfield, about his passion for trumpet performance. This is a departure from interviewing composers, but I want to know and share what inspires musicians of any kind about musical creation of any form. Tim is a trumpet professor at Westminster College, and he performs in orchestras throughout the region.
Dan: Why do you love performing? What inspires you about what you do as a trumpeter?
Tim: One of the main reasons I love performing is that there are never two identical performances. Every performance evokes a different emotion, even if you are performing the same work several times. The dynamic of the performance venue, the size of the audience, even the temperature of the room may change how one may express the musical line. Performers work for consistency within their craft so that they can spontaneously communicate nuances that best fit the moment. This isn’t something that I practice. It is something that comes from within, and that is what I love about performing. I guess we can call it spontaneous, emotional, non-verbal communication. Whether I am performing the Star Spangled Banner for the thousandth time, or I am performing Torngat for the 4th time, both myself and (hopefully) the audience grow musically and emotionally.
Dan: Interestingly, as I have seen with composers, performers like you also want to communicate emotion. So, what music inspires you as a trumpeter, particularly what contemporary music inspires you?
Tim: I would say there are three elements of music that inspire me the most right now. Music that dances, music that sings, and music that accentuates extremes. Back when I was in high school, I was enamored with the playing of Rafael Mendez and Allen Vizzutti, and I still am! Through their recordings and performances, these musicians took solo trumpet playing to new heights, and in my opinion, they defined how to make music sing and dance even in the extremes of range, tempo, and dynamics. Having any of the three elements present in a piece really inspire me as a musician, but having all three in one piece of music is rapture. Joshua Hobbs’s work Keystone Landscapes does a great job of accentuating the singing element through the first movement, then he accentuates extremes in the second. Your piece, Torngat, demonstrates all three elements throughout, and I love how the third movement dances.
Dan: Thanks, Tim; I appreciate it! So, do you have preferences for certain aesthetic orientations or styles in new music? What does this imply for your programming and for your audiences?
Tim: When programming new music, I am looking for music that is melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically engaging or inventive. I really connect to singing and dancing. New music that contains these features are no brainers for me. This does not mean that I totally dismiss new music that is void of traditional harmony or music that does not have obvious melodic lines. When I work on music that lacks harmony or apparent melody, I work harder to make my musical intentions clear to the audience. Can I make an atonal unaccompanied solo dance or sing? Sometimes it is difficult, but I embrace and enjoy the challenge.
My audiences can then always expect to hear me doing my best to communicate the musical line in everything I do. Most of the time, if I program new music on a recital, it is going to be melodically, harmonically, and/or rhythmically engaging and inventive.
Dan: What great ideas – I appreciate your thoughtful approach to programming, and I’m sure it makes for exciting recitals! On the other hand, now, let’s talk about orchestral playing. Is orchestral playing actually gratifying for trumpeters? I know that sometimes your parts can be rather uninteresting.
Tim: This question really depends on the trumpeter. Orchestral trumpeting playing can often be like the tortoise or the hare, and also at times, everything in between. When orchestral playing is like the tortoise, those performers that are not happy unless they are playing all the time will be unhappy. When I was a younger player (all the way through undergrad), I was one of those performers who liked music that always required playing. I’m not sure if I just didn’t have the patience to sit and count rests, but I grew out of that. I started listening to what was going on in the music during my rests instead of focusing on how much of a drag it was to count 80 measures of rest during a slow movement. I realized that the music during that rest was usually very important to what I was going to do when I made my entrance. If I was out of touch with what was happening musically, I would not be able to enter with the sensitivity needed to be successful in my position as an orchestral trumpet player. So I guess I’ll get to the point of this question, is orchestral trumpet playing musically gratifying. I would say absolutely. There are times, such as big moments in a Mahler Symphony, or during Strauss Tone Poems where I get to play a large role in the music making process. It is easy to say that during these moments, it is very gratifying to be an orchestral trumpet player. Even during Mozart Symphonies, I am reminded that I am part of a larger musical organism, and at times I contribute to the success of that organism. The times that I am not contributing as a player (AKA counting rests), I get front row seats to hear some of the best music in the world.
Dan: That’s a great way of looking at it! And, I understand it totally depends on the personality of the trumpet player. So, on the subject of orchestras, I’m curious about your perspectives on conductors and new music. In what ways do you think conductors should interact with contemporary composers, and what does this imply for the future of art music?
Tim: Conductors are looking to give the music they program, their own interpretation. Composers are looking to have their music portrayed in a way that is characteristic of what they envisioned while writing the work. There seems to be a fine line here. If conductors open up to composers, and the composers dictate how every detail should be carried out, is there going to be any musical freedom? Most likely, no. This may lead to a lackluster performance. If conductors and composers stay out of touch, and the conductor takes the musical features in a different direction, it could greatly distort the initial intention of the composer. I believe conductors and contemporary composers should have a dialogue about musical direction of the piece, but they should both know that both the composer and the conductor are important to the successful performance and reception of the piece. The conductor may have an idea that may further solidify the ideas that the composer had. The composer may hear something the conductor is trying to do in the music and have an idea on how to make that musical idea even more engaging. I believe it should be a courteous dialogue where both are respectful of the music making process. Positive working relationships between composers and conductors could mean for more quality new music for symphony orchestras and other ensembles.
Dan: As a composer, I agree. I hope a lot of conductors see it this way. I have some conductors lined up for interviews soon, so I am looking forward to hearing their perspectives on this too! Anyway, thank you for talking with me and sharing your perspectives as a solo trumpet player and as an orchestral musician.
[Tim leaves, and Dan’s snarky journalist frenemy, Guy, enters.]
Guy: Wow, I never knew that trumpet players could be so intelligent! Just kidding.
Dan: Perhaps this is one thing we actually agree on! [Smiles.] I really enjoyed listening to Tim’s thoughts. Once again, like a composer, Tim is interested in conveying emotion through music. This may not seem surprising in the big picture sense, but I think it’s easy for musicians and even composers to forget this sometimes when we get bogged down in the technical aspects of our art.
Guy: This is true. I also appreciate his perspectives on new music in general. It will be interesting to see if his perspectives are shared by other performers or conductors.
Dan: Indeed. Well, see you next time!