Monday, February 18, 2013

"A Summer Remembrance": A Trumpet Solo Heard 'Round The World

Perhaps I should have entitled this blog, "Free Download," but I decided to take the high road, instead. Read on!

Many people think of the trumpet as a loud instrument, useful mainly for sounding military bugle calls, leading big band "shout" choruses, and driving great orchestral climaxes. This is true, of course, as far as it goes.


Trumpets and trumpet-like objects have surely been used to project signals over great distances since before recorded history. Old European courts could measure their grandeur by the size of their trumpet corps. And trumpets usually lead the way at big moments in the repertoire of both orchestral and jazz ensembles. But the trumpet is capable of great delicacy, subtlety, and lyricism, as well, and it was this potential that brought forth my work, A Summer Remembrance.

Each summer – like swallows to Capistrano, California (or buzzards to Hinkley, Ohio – the most fitting analogy depends upon your point of view) – trumpeters converge on some city in a ritual known in the business as an "ITG Conference." "ITG" stand for International Trumpet Guild. It's a professional organization with high goals and many worthy achievements. Most of its members live and work in the US, east of the Rockies and west of the Atlantic, so these conferences are rarely held in distant lands, and even more rarely here on the West Coast.

In 1989, however, the ITG held its conference in Santa Barbara, California. Robert Karon was the host. A regular feature of these conferences is the closing program, The Festival of Trumpets, and somewhat predictably, the Festival of Trumpets itself usually ends with a piece that uses many trumpeters all at once. The more, the merrier. But in 1989, Bob Karon had a different idea.

He called me one day – in that lost era before email and text messages, when land-line telephones still rang – to ask if I'd write a piece to conclude the Santa Barbara Festival of Trumpets, and would I consider having the piece finish quietly in a peaceful solo, instead of in the usual quasi-atomic incident? (My words, not his...) This interested me immediately, and when he described the concert venue, I was hooked.

Storke Tower at University of California, Santa Barbara


The concert would be held in a sunken area near the foot of UCSB's Storke Tower, which is a campanile in the middle of campus, measuring 175 feet tall. That's something like eleven stories high, with a carillon up top. I like writing music for specific venues, taking musical advantage of unique spaces, and this was perfect. A Summer Remembrance was born.

In five movements, A Summer Remembrance (for three or four trumpets, minimum) mixes traditional and avant-garde compositional techniques. The second and fourth movements are straight-ahead fanfare pieces; they were played by six trumpeters positioned up in the top of Storke Tower. The first and third movements employ spatial notation. In addition, the first movement allows for performance by one or more players, and there is no limit to the number of players that may be used in the third movement – which also employs aleatory through performer choice. The fifth movement is a simple, tonal, lyrical solo that employs just a touch of jazz flavor here and there. It is this Solo from A Summer Remembrance that I now offer as a free download at my Website. I'll tell you exactly where later!

At UCSB in 1989, all of my performers were positioned out of view of the audience. Four players played the first movement. Sixteen were used on the third movement. Fred Sautter, then Principal Trumpet of the Oregon Symphony, performed the Solo. The players of the first and third movements were placed behind trees and hedges, above and encircling the area in which the audience sat. The fanfare players were in the top of Storke Tower. Fred Sautter and I worked for an hour one day, having him go behind various buildings and pointing this way and that, until we achieved just the right "distant" sound. He was great to work with, and his performance was flawless.

As an aside, I must mention that Fred had been a guest artist at the very first Claude Gordon Summer Brass Workshop in 1978, where he played a recital of music for piccolo trumpet and harpsichord. That was the year that I decided to become a professional musician, so working with him again a decade later was a great pleasure.

But, you ask, What's this business about "Around the World"?

Well, after all these years, I must reveal a little history. While the official premiere of A Summer Remembrance was indeed at the 1989 ITG conference in Santa Barbara, the work received a pre-premiere quasi-performance just a few days before at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop, where an hour each week is devoted to music for "like ensembles," including an hour of music for trumpet ensemble. So, as a long time staff member there, I rehearsed and conducted an informal performance of A Summer Remembrance using 33 players.

One of these was Tom Hyde, a high school teacher of mathematics and astronomy, whom I selected to perform the Solo. Tom is a well-traveled type, and one day afterward he sent me a postcard from Denmark or somewhere telling me how he was on a round-the-world solo trip and how -- having naturally taken along his pocket trumpet (who wouldn't?) -- he had played my Solo from A Summer Remembrance along the way. In Kathmandu in Nepal, there had been some civic trouble, and the city was locked down for some days. So he went on the roof of his hotel and played the Solo as a sort of prayer for peace. Elsewhere, he played the Solo in a cave for the local bat population. In Denmark, he played it on a street corner for passersby. And so on. It was my first international hit!

I've played the Solo many times, and others have played it, too. Most recently, Dr. Joan Paddock -- Professor of Music at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon -- wrote to tell me she played the Solo in concerts in Grecia and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Joan is a dear friend and also a colleague on the staff at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop. She conducts the Linfield College Band and concertizes widely.

So, where is the Free Download? At the Unaccompanied Trumpet page in the Online Store at my Website. I invite you to download it there and perform it as often as you wish. Perhaps folks will perform it around the world and post some videos to YouTube. I'd love that! I must say that, if the last note isn't comfortable for you to play (it's a high D, pianissimo), take it down an octave or two. That's OK. Just play with beauty and love in your heart and sound. There's also a Paypal button nearby, for anyone that wishes to make a $5 donation. You need not do this, and there is no way for me to know who has downloaded the piece. There's also no limit to the number of $5 donations one can make, if one is so inclined!

Either way, Dr. Ray is happy, happy, happy.

(A Summer Remembrance is dedicated to the great Los Angeles studio trumpeter, Mannie Klein, whom I was privileged to know. He'll be the subject of an upcoming blog. The full composition may be purchased HERE.)