Article

You are Here: Archived Articles and Videos » Brass » Trumpets » On Stage: The Reason for Being

Share with:

On Stage: The Reason for Being

John Haynie

The University of North Texas Press proudly announces...

Inside John Haynie's Studio: A Master Teacher's Lessons on Trumpet and Life is a wonderful collection of essays on a variety of topics such as embouchure, breathing, tonguing, fingering, musicianship, intonation, equipment, habits, and mental discipline. A set of autobiographical essays takes you through Haynie's life from his musical beginnings as a child prodigy on the cornet to his establishing the University of North Texas as a center of trumpet excellence. Each essay is preceded by a set of vignettes collected from over a hundred former students, many of whom are well known teachers and performers themselves, as they remember how a particular technique was taught and how Haynie's teaching methods worked for them.

For more information or to order a copy please visit the University of North Texas Press.


There are many reasons for learning to play a trumpet; however, the most important one should be the preparation to play for others. Like it or not you will play for others and, from the beginning, you should be aware that someone is lis-tening to every note you play. That one person you are playing for is yourself, the most critical of all listeners. If you cannot please yourself, then why should anyone else want to hear you?

When you walk out on the stage to play you are bringing along more than your accompanist, trumpet, music, mutes, and a glass of water. The other baggage you are bringing out of the wings is your reputation as a person, as a musician, and as a technician of the instrument. It is good to play for your friends, and the cultivation of their friendship should be a life-time goal. True friends will want you to play well. That is why they came, to cheer you on. When Maurice André walked onto the stage in the old Main Auditorium at North Texas in 1970, he received an immediate standing ovation. It was spon-taneous, as everyone stood as one, not one here and there. It was electric. How we all would like to carry that “baggage” on stage! Monsieur André told me afterward that it was one of his finest recitals. Was there a connection?

The number one cause of nervousness, stage fright, and fear is lack of preparation. Sometimes the music is too difficult or not suited for your style. Certainly we should always be reach-ing upward, but the reaching upward should be done in the practice room. Good judgment (or lack of it) in selecting repertoire very well may determine the success of your performance. You should be working on a wide range of solo repertoire, including the major works like the Haydn Concerto, the great romantic Russian works such as Arutunian’s Concerto for Trumpet, the French Morceau de Concours pieces, the cornet virtuoso solos by Clarke, the contemporary and experimental works of our American composers; and by all means, include transcriptions of vocal literature for which you can do the ed-iting.

Before the recital and prior to the audience coming into the hall, go on stage and tune your horn thoroughly. Tune and mark your slide in two places: where you are on those first notes, and where you will be as the temperature rises inside the horn. Tuning is a matter of tuning every note of every piece. Call it tune as you play. Often, too much time is taken tuning for the audience and not for yourself. In this situation you very well might be showing the audience how “out of tune” you are. When you enter the stage, followed by your ac-companist, give him or her time to sit down and have both eyes on you for an immediate start following the ovation you hope to receive. By all means, acknowledge the warm recep-tion and then begin. Do not empty the water key on stage be-fore you play a note. Avoid all such types of nervous behavior. Example: I attended a concert by Doc Severinsen, and in a two-hour concert he never let the audience see him empty his horn or tune. I held my field glasses on him the entire time. What is recommended before going on the stage and also af-ter you get there, is to take deep breaths, exhausting the air and then refilling. This also can be a fetish, and you should not make a show of it.

At last we have you on stage after a lifetime of preparation. You should have the feeling of supreme confidence saying to yourself that you are as prepared as possible. You know you can play every note. You can play it from memory you know it so well. It is also the time to give thanks to God or the superior being you worship who will play the horn with you. You will not be alone if you have prepared yourself totally. It all comes together right now. Enjoy it.

Our soloist is now on stage and ready to play the per-formance of his life. In fact he must consider that every time he goes on the stage it will be his finest performance. For a note-by-note, phrase-by-phrase report, let us hear from the principal parts of the anatomy that have been trained for this performance.

Brain: OK, guys, listen up. Do you read me?
Embouchure, Lungs, Tongue, and Fingers: Loud and clear.
Brain: Up here in the control tower I can see clearly that our soloist is on the stage and ready to play. We will let him keep thinking that he is the player. He just doesn’t get it. We are the player. He is the instrument.
Lungs: Right now I am taking his first breath.
Embouchure: Lips are set.
Tongue: I am in position to release the air for his first attack.
Fingers: If he misses this note it will not be my fault. The note is third-space C, so I can sit this one out. Hang on to that C, and I will dazzle you with my speed. Embouchure and lungs, here we go.
Embouchure: How did you like that lip trill I just laid on you?
Lungs: I did my part and supplied enough air to have trilled much longer.

And so it goes. The point of this dialogue is to emphasize that the proper preparation will allow you to stay relaxed and confident that your body will do everything you have trained it to do.

Now let’s turn our attention to other matters related to a solo performance. Without good posture, the soloist will be taking a chance that the connection of air with embouchure, tongue and fingers will be lost. Stand tall, solidly on both feet with one or the other foot slightly ahead of the other. Keep in mind that you must use this same good posture when sitting in ensembles. At a TMEA convention I observed a very good lesson taught by the All-State orchestra guest clinician. Before playing a note, he gave a command to stand up. As you can imagine, bows, mouthpieces, music were dropped, stands knocked over. Then he asked the orchestra to play a tuning note while standing, and while playing he would direct the musicians to sit and stand until each player learned to keep his feet under his torso. By the end of the three-day event the en-tire orchestra could either sit or stand with perfect ease. The sound was excellent. The orchestra simply learned to sit and stand in the same manner.

The trumpet is like a rifle. The sound goes in the direction that the horn is pointed; therefore, you should practice in the hall where you expect to perform. Each hall will have a place to point the bell that best amplifies or accepts the timbre of the trumpet. Experimentation is necessary. Eye contact with your pianist is not completely necessary. It is more important that he or she can hear you take the breath for initial attacks. It has been demonstrated over and over that the soloist may be in the next room and still a fine accompanist will be right on the button. Certainly the horn should be nearly parallel to the floor. To avoid directing the sound to the floor, into the music stand, or into any other player’s back, get the horn up. Do so by getting the shoulders back and chin up, which allows the throat to be relaxed, permitting a more open tone and greater projection.

Have you ever noticed that trumpet soloists frequently do not listen to their pianist in those interludes where the pianist becomes the soloist? It is a courtesy to the pianist to listen and concentrate on the music being played. It is impolite to wiggle the fingers, blow air through the horn, or make any distractions that would take attention from the pianist. 

Intermissions are generally much too long. If a degree recital is so tiring that you must have excessively long inter-missions, then there is a good chance you do not have the strength necessary to be in a performance program. Even if the audience does not leave the recital at the long intermis-sion, they might as well since people lose interest in the recital with such a long gap in continuity. Ten to fifteen minutes is long enough. 

Post-concert tips: Move briskly on and off the stage, expect at least one curtain call. Return to center stage with your accom-panist. If you have an encore piece, play it now. If you have reason to speak to the audience this would be a good time to do so. By all means practice taking bows in front of a mirror. Get your pianist to help by instructing you on the art of bowing. They are schooled in these matters since childhood.

Recital follow-up: Review your music and listen to a re-cording of the recital. What went wrong? Where? Keep working on this music as it now is a part of your repertoire. Keep the list growing until you have at least a hundred solos ready to play. Did you memorize your music for the last re-cital? If not before the recital, do it now. You can polish this music even if you never play the music from memory. The act of memorization requires more detail in the study of the music and will elevate the performance level at least fifty percent.

Trumpet players are usually described as being aggressive, self-centered, arrogant, obnoxious, and I suppose some of it is true. These impressions are no doubt a reflection of being self-confident or an attempt by some to appear self-confident. By nature, many trumpeters are just not of an outgoing per-sona, and my suggestion to them is to work at it. Practice put-ting on an aggressive attitude even in the practice room. A soloist is an actor or actress just as much as a musician, and through sight and sound there is a story to be told. If you see yourself as a drab person, it will be reflected in your perform-ance. So when the horn comes out of the case think of it as a transformation. Who knows? Maybe that transformation becomes permanent through the joy of sharing your music with others. Remember, the stage is our reason for being trumpet players.

John Haynie
University of Illinois, 1948

Share with: