I know the life of a performing artist appears glamorous at times — doing something you are passionate about in front of an adoring audience, traveling the world, being immersed in a creative art form, etc. — but appearances, as always, can be deceiving. I was reflecting on this very fact last night while trudging in the pouring rain across an acre-wide, flooded parking lot, wearing my black suit, no umbrella, and with a heel broken off of one shoe. The concert I had just completed had gone fine, but that was the only consolation from a night where I:
- Started warming up and felt like playing the trumpet was the single most difficult thing ever undertaken by man.
- Had the heel of my left shoe inexplicably fall off while walking backstage just prior to going on stage.
- Played well, but felt like I was in a death-cage match against Attila the Hun.
- Forgot to acknowledge the composer for the brass quintet we performed.
- Came out of the hall to find monsoon conditions had once again arrived in South Florida…
- … and realized my umbrella was in my car, which was about a half mile away across the aforementioned flooded parking lot.
I am very fortunate to have the life I do. I love music, my job, performing, collaborating with talented and creative people, and all of the great things that come along with it, but the sacrifices are immense and the glamour? Uh…. no. Not so much.
Théo Charlier: 36 Etudes Transcendantes. I remember the first time I saw those words scrawled on a piece of paper by my college trumpet professor, Ray Crisara. I had no real idea at the time what kind of journey I was undertaking or how many hours of my time would be poured into the music in those pages. I simply took the note and placed my order for what I assumed was just the next etude book. Studying those etudes, though, was a seminal experience for me. I was forced to re-evaluate my playing — new weaknesses were exposed, old weaknesses were laid bare. These etudes cover essentially every aspect of trumpet technique, and they do so within a musically challenging and rewarding context. Given that, I suppose it is no mystery why this etude book has become a long-standing rite of passage for most trumpet players. But unlike most rites of passage, these seem to keep coming back to haunt you, to test your improvement (or lack thereof) to challenge you again in many old ways and also to offer up new challenges that perhaps you hadn’t experienced before. This etude book is not the “Trumpet Player’s Bible” like the Arban Method, but its role in the development of serious trumpet students is unparalleled. Virtually every college level trumpet player works from the book, and if there is an etude book that is universally revered, studied, and debated within the trumpet community, it’s this one. And now I have undertaken a project to record these etudes with no editing or effects of any kind and upload the results to YouTube (CraigMorrisTrumpet ) for the entire world to see. This is how you know that I am clinically insane.
Besides the obvious insanity, however, there are some good reasons to take on this project. In this day and age there is so much editing and processing that goes into recordings that it is difficult to know what a top professional trumpet player actually sounds like, what his/her abilities truly are. You can decide for yourself if I actually belong in that category, but whatever your opinion, these etudes will give you a very real idea of how I actually play. My hope is that this knowledge will be useful for players who are trying to ascertain where they stand in their progress on the instrument, at least as it pertains to these etudes. Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves for playing that we should really be proud of, worried that we just don’t measure up to the players we hear on recordings, especially so called “live recordings”. At other times we aren’t demanding enough, thinking that perhaps top players have perfect recordings simply because of the editing, not knowing how well those people actually played. In this project, however, there is no doubt. For better or worse, this is how I sound. I simply start recording takes until I have one that I am reasonably happy with, and then I continue on, hoping to improve on that. After I’m done, I listen through my top takes and select my favorite to post to YouTube. Simple, honest, and hopefully not horribly painful as the etudes get more difficult (this is where that insanity comes into play).
Beyond those lofty goals, however, there are some personal motives driving this project as well. It was a little over 20 years ago when Ray Crisara introduced these etudes to me and proceeded to shape my playing and musicality with them and through them. I remember so clearly — sitting in his studio and carefully listening as he would point out one problem or another, suggest some different musical ideas and approaches, and demonstrate with his pristine and beautiful playing how he felt they should really be played. For me, revisiting these etudes in a serious manner is a walk down memory lane, a study in my progress as a trumpet player and musician, and a test to see if I can actually come close to how I believe they should go, all rolled into one. For this reason, I am recording the etudes in the order that I first went through them with my teacher. Inside my old Charlier book (a well-worn, large size edition with a missing cover) the dates that I had these etudes assigned to me is written at the top of each etude. My plan is to follow that order throughout, perhaps recounting some of my experiences from when I first learned them along the way.
It will be an interesting journey, as I plow ahead through these transcendent etudes by Théo Charlier. I don’t know that there will be anything transcendent happening, but hopefully this project will give people studying these etudes some kind of real benchmark to shoot for and even surpass. I make no claims to greatness, no assertion that these recordings will be definitive in any way. No, they simply show what is real: just a guy with trumpet, a macbook pro, a USB microphone, and a tattered old etude book, doing the best that he can. I’m glad I have some great teaching and invaluable memories to help light the way.