Michael Martin is a trumpet player with The Boston Symphony Orchestra. This is parts 3 and 4 of an interview we did a few years ago which can be seen on YouTube, but we wanted to archive it on the blog as well, along with the other great interviews you will find here.
In Part 3, Michael discusses equipment, how to recover from grueling playing sessions, transposition, and what separates good from great. In Part 4, Michael talks about a typical day at work, his involvement with Drum Corps International and how he stays fit physically and mentally. Again, special thanks to members of the Honor Orchestra of America for their participation in this series.
Dan Gosling: These two questions are kind of the same. One from Johnny Brewer and one from Perry Reid. I’ll just go through these and I think you can kind of ferret out the best way to answer this. What equipment do you use? How does that change with different playing situations? How do you improve clarity of articulation? And then the other question from the other gentleman is, do you advise playing C trumpet even on Bb parts or, in other words, C, Eb and D trumpets only. So, kind of an equipment question and how does that change with different situations?
Michael Martin: Sure. I play, right now, I’m kind of all over the place with different instruments, but this week, with the Honor Orchestra of America, I’m playing a Bach B flat. It was made at the Elkhart factory back in the early nineties, I think. in the orchestra in Boston, I also play an Elkhart Bach that’s got kind of personal lead pipe that Steve Shires made for me. We’re constantly kind of experimenting with different equipment trying to figure out what exactly is the best sound for a given moment. But, we more often than not play C trumpet. We very rarely ever play Bb trumpet in the orchestra. The C trumpet provides just a little bit more brilliant of a sound, one that’s able to project through the winds and through the strings…
Dan Gosling: And that, would that be for the (Boston) Pops as well?
Michael Martin: For the Pops? We, for the pops, we certainly tend to play a little bit more B flat, especially on any big band type stuff that we play. I’m usually playing all the lead parts when we play big band stuff in the Pops. So I certainly play all that on Bb trumpet as hilarious as it would be to play C trumpet in a big band. And then on all of, on almost all German repertoire, and Viennese repertoire, we play rotary trumpets, play Schagerls. And I’d say that’s the only consistent hard line tradition that we maintain is we always play rotary trumpet on Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Bruckner. And a particularly exciting challenge coming up is we’re playing Mahler 6 with our music director and he’s requested that we play that on rotary trumpet, which should be, I mean, that piece is hard enough as it is, and to have kind of maneuver through that instrument the way that we’re used to doing for late classical or earlier Romantic works
Dan Gosling: For Brahms or something like that…
Michael Martin: For something that was written close to the turn of the 20th century, you know, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun. But, uh, it’s the sound we’re really looking forward to for that piece in particular because it is so, the depth of emotion in that piece is so unique. But beyond that, we usually, if it’s a part in Bb or C or D or Eb, unless it’s particularly high or written with a smaller trumpet in mind, we’ll always play C trumpet.
Dan Gosling: Okay. This is a great question. What do you do to recover, this from Kim Summer. What do you do to recover between demanding performances that are a day or even hours apart beside, of course, from using tons of ChopSaver…
Michael Martin: Aside from rigorously applying ChopSaver, or not even rigorously because it works so well. Just one layer and I’m good to go. In terms of the playing I do, physical exercises to kind of reduce the swelling because that’s what we’re all looking to avoid, right? Just like any athlete who has to do multiple workouts or play two games in a day, you know, they want to reduce the trauma on their body as much as possible. So, in between, in December particularly, we have a very demanding holiday Pops schedule where we play two shows a day during the week and three shows a day on Saturdays and Sundays. And they’re all out just, you know, half big band, half light classical Arthur Fiedler style Pops programming. And it’s really hard on the face. You get to the intermission of the third show on a Saturday and you’re wondering how you’re going to get through them, the second half of that last show. And so I, the Sachse book to me is, is particularly useful and there are tons of, it’s one that I go to, especially on days like today where we had a very good rehearsal of the Arutunian this morning and we had rehearsal last night. So the turnaround was a little bit, it was a little quick, quicker than, you know, was ideal, but at the same time, that’s what the situation demanded. So after the rehearsal today, I was playing some soft, low, long tones, but also some articulate, relatively rhythmic excerpts from etudes that I, that are kind of my favorites from the Sachse book, from his book of 100 Etudes. I find soft long tones are great and soft, moderately fast articulation, nothing multiple tongued, certainly single tongue. But I find that it really focuses things down, reduces the swelling a little bit. And, I’m not ashamed to say I’m a big fan of aspirin.
Dan Gosling: From Raquel Rodriguez – What do you recommend college students do for transposition study?
Michael Martin: The Bordogni. Bordogni Lyrical Etudes and I believe there is a transposition book as well. And also the Sachse book again, every etude in the Sachse book is, it offers you possibilities of four or five different transpositions. I think with an understanding that you would be playing them on Bb trumpets. So there’s, you never see “in Bb” you see it always transposing from that. But that was one thing that Charlie and Barbara at Northwestern were vigorously dedicated to, was preparing us for every key. So I remember bringing in a list of five or six etudes to a lesson with Charlie as a freshmen. You know, as an 18 year old, three months removed from high school, he’d have five etudes on there and one of them was on Bb in Bb, and the rest were up a whole step, up a third, up a tritone, down a major third. So that you, not necessarily because you’re going to see a whole bunch of trumpet that’s in F# if ever, but just to turn your brain on to that so that you learn how key relationships work and you find the patterns that are kind of most repeated. So when you get in those situations that you have to sight read something, which invariably, inevitably in your life is going to happen. You have to sit down and you have to play something you’ve never played before. And, and it comes down to whether or not you’re going to get hired again. It doesn’t matter what the transposition is, they want it to be good right then. So, I would say Bordogni and Sachse and, and honestly, the simplest thing I found when I was first starting out with transposition, was getting, going through the Arban’s book and he’s got all of his scale drills and I would look at a scale in C and I would play it in D and I would play it in Eb, and I would play it in F. And it seems simple. But once you again, you’re training yourself to look for those relationships and those patterns, and you remember that even though you’re transposing what you’re playing is in a completely and totally reasonable key, even though it might be F# or Ab minor or something that’s still, you know, those are still notes that exist on the instrument, so it shouldn’t be unattainable. So I say, start simply, you know, don’t just pick up a Schoenberg part in F and start reading that.
Dan Gosling: Sure. Right.
Michael Martin: But certainly work your way up. And just remember that all the notes exist, so they should all be played.
Dan Gosling: I like that. Uh, one final question from my Facebook friends and then it’s about students. And I’m going to let you guys think of some questions. And then the next question after this will come from one of you or a couple of you guys. What common problems do you find with students?
Michael Martin: I would say in my relatively limited experience in teaching privately at New England Conservatory and Boston University compared to my colleagues, Ben Wright and Tom Rolfs, who’ve been doing it for years now. I think the most, I don’t want to call it a fault, but I think most consistently what I see from students is…I’ll call it a, I guess a lack of a commitment to having a sound in their mind that they want to come out of their bell. And at that level, when we get students at New England Conservatory or Boston University, they’re like these guys, you know, they’re tremendous players, tremendous talent that are the top players in their program. Allstate and youth orchestra and all of that. So they’re fabulous musicians and wonderful players. But somewhere along the way, I think the most consistent thing I’ve noticed is that, that concept of sound, you know, the reason we all started playing a brass instrument to begin with, whether it’s trumpet or tuba or horn or trombone, you know, you started playing that instrument when you were younger almost all of us because of the sound. I heard that trumpet solo in Jurassic Park and I was like, I was eight years old, I was like, I have no idea what that is, but I want to do it! And then I was like, oh, my brother does it. And then, you know, and so I had had these two great things to draw from, but it was always, every time I played a note, you know, my first day in sixth grade, I just, I was so frustrated because I couldn’t make that sound, you know, it was, and it drove me mad. And that’s what drives you to practice. So it’s whether it’s Phil Smith or Chris Martin or Mike Sachs or Tom Hooten or Tom Rolfs or anyone, if they have, once you find that sound that just like moves you emotionally and makes you want to get up at seven in the morning every day and play your boring long tones, that’s what you have to keep forefront always, always. And that that drives your articulation, your flexibility, your dynamic work, everything. Your low register, the high register because you have to, because if you make any other sound than that, than what’s in your head, it drives you insane, it drives you up the wall. So I’d say that kind of, that almost maniacal persistence and insistence on what’s coming out of the bell. I’d say that’s what I really want to see kind of the next generation of players focus on.
Dan Gosling: And does that sort of connect to that magic thing that happens in an audition when you found someone who’s not trying to sound like somebody else, but they’ve found their own sound?
Michael Martin: Absolutely.
Dan Gosling: Kind of where that all comes together.
Michael Martin: Absolutely. And I think, again, I think Jim Markey is a tremendous example of that because Jim started, he came to us from the New York Philharmonic as the Bass Trombonist, but before he was Bass Trombonists in the New York Philharmonic, he was Associate Principal Tenor Trombone. And before that he was Principal Trombone in the Pittsburgh Symphony. So you know, that’s a guy who in terms of sound, from the time he left school at Juilliard to when he went to Pittsburgh and then when he went to New York and then decided, I’m not going to play tenor trombone anymore, I’m going to play bass trombone.
Dan Gosling: Right.
Michael Martin: And that’s a sound that, and I can’t speak from personal experience, but I am, I would imagine that sound has changed and matured over the years. But at its core, what Jim hears in his head is still what’s going to come out of the bell. And that obviously comes from the hours upon hours of practice and dedication to fundamentals, but that never leaves. And he’s, I think there’s a small handful of players, in our country that every single time you hear them, they have that characteristic sound. He’s one of them. I mean, I could name several, but Tom Rolfs in our section, my brother, Mike Mulcahy in Chicago, Mark Inouye in San Francisco, Tom Hooten, Nitzan Haroz in Philadelphia, trombone. Every time you hear them, you’re just, you’re just like, oh yeah, I know. Blindfold me. I know exactly who that was…
Dan Gosling: The signature.
Michael Martin: And that’s, I think that’s what distinguishes, not just the good from the great, but the great from the greatest.
(End of Video 3)
Dan Gosling: So we’ll take a couple of questions from our young friends here. The young brass players from the orchestra. Go ahead.
Student : So what’s a normal day like for you in terms of practicing, rehearsing and performing?
Michael Martin: Sure. On like a normal Tuesday where we have, we generally have rehearsal in the morning and a concert at night that carries over from the week before, I’ll get out of bed between 7 and 7:30 and take a shower, have breakfast, and then I do about 25 to 30 minutes at home. Just down in my basement. And I do, I’ve got a routine of a mixture of Pierre Thibaud and Vincent Cichowicz and Michael Sachs. But it’s variations on the same thing. It’s buzzing and long tones and breathing first before I do anything. And working just enough flexibility and articulation and that I feel like I can kind of play anything throughout the day. So, one thing I really try to do is play every horn that I have, so I play, I start on Bb and then I go to C and I play a lyrical etude on Eb trumpet. And if I’ve got my rotary handy, I’ll play some scales or some lip slurs on that. And I always finish with piccolo, just articulating some scales on piccolo to make sure everything’s focused. I call it kind of the fight club warm up. So you’re absolutely ready for anything that the day kind of throws at you. And then, I have rehearsal and depending on how tough the week is, I’ll come home, and I’ll put about an hour to an hour and a half in, just etude work or solo stuff. If I’ve got that going on. If it’s a particularly light week, I’ll give myself a Top Tones or a Charlier to kind of work on and I’ll try, Sunday morning, I’ll turn my camera on and play that. And that’s kind of my goal for the week if I’ve got, don’t really have a whole lot going on. So for this week, for the Arutunian and that’s been obviously that’s been on the stand for pretty much every practice session. So then that night, I’ll get to the hall about 45 minutes early, get a gentle warm up in and then touch some spots for the concert that night, play the concert and then I’ll get home. And if I’m not too worn out and too exhausted, too fatigued, I’ll play just about 10 or 15 minutes of some soft, low, long tones to make sure I’m balanced and set up for the next morning.
Dan Gosling: Great. I want to take one more from you guys, but could you quickly just talk about your passion for drum corps and how that came about and cause I think that’s surprising to some people to know that someone in a major symphony orchestra has this huge attachment and experience with Drum Corps International.
Michael Martin: Yeah. My father, Freddy Martin, founded the Spirit of Atlanta in 1976 and I spent two summers marching under him in that organization early in high school after my freshman and sophomore years. And it was extremely crucial to, not just my work ethic, but kind of my concept of what true, consistent, reliable brass pedagogy is. Because if for all of the, you know, the rumors and, and kind of misconceptions about what drum corps brass playing is, if there’s one thing you get out of it, it’s repetition. And that repetition is the greatest key to success. The adage that I like to think of is the difference between simple and difficult. And the difference between amateur and professional, is just reps. And obviously you’ve got to put the work in to make those reps really high quality and to make them meaningful and effective. But that’s the difference. This is just reps. So, I’m currently the Brass Co-Caption Head with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps out of Rosemont, Illinois. And, it’s something that most of my professional colleagues that don’t know me that well are always surprised to find out because that, you know, the conception of what drum corps is, is that it’s, you know, it’s not something music majors do. It’s, you know, it’s something that you do for fun if you’re not planning on ever majoring in music because you can’t march drum corps and ever play a brass instrument again. And I marched three summers of drum corps, one of them at Phantom Regiment, after my freshman year at Northwestern when some of my other contemporaries in school were going off to PMF and Tanglewood and National Orchestra Institute, I was marching drum corps. And I think the other thing that I took from it that is really difficult to recreate is, how important the aspect of performance is. And it’s not…and the reason why I love the Music For All National Festival is it gives you a taste of that same kind of thing. It’s this really intense, concentrated rehearsal atmosphere for two days. And then these guys get two concerts, which is great. Usually in these environments you get one, you get one shot. And that in a nutshell is sort of what I think is special about both this, what these guys are able to be doing and, and the drum corps activity is, it gives you that repeated experience of what it takes to really put on a great performance when it matters, which I was able to take with me into recitals and auditions and concerts in the BSO. So pedagogically and from a performance aspect, I think it’s something that’s very special and should not be discounted regardless how much you want music to be a part of your life in the future, whether as an educator or a player or not at all. So I was very active in sports growing up and, you know, once I really started to focus on the trumpet, I turned away from organized athletics and that kind of competitive side of me was always wanting for something through high school and through college. And I played Frisbee for the club team at Northwestern for a couple of years and it was okay, but you know, I was a bench player. I’d come in and I certainly wasn’t a starter or anything like that. So that was still always something that needed to be nurtured and fed. And I found, I was introduced to CrossFit through high school friend in 2009. Now it’s about five and a half years ago. And that was it. It was like, I did a single workout that was super simple. It had some little bit of running and pushups and sit ups and then some squats. And it took about 12 minutes and I thought I was going to die. I thought I was ready to throw up all over the floor, and I did it. But it was just absolutely the worst pain I’d ever been in to that point. And about 10 minutes after I finished, when I recovered a little bit, I was like, yes, when can I come back and do it again?
Dan Gosling: You were hooked.
Michael Martin: I was hooked and I was going five days a week, and then after about a year and a half, six days a week, and now it’s, you know, I think I go 27 or 28 days a month now.
Dan Gosling: Wow, wow!
Michael Martin: And I love teaching and I love, you know, that’s part of my outlet through drum corps, but also through New England Conservatory and Boston University is my passion for teaching. I absolutely love the engagement with younger players and younger students. And that’s something else that I get through CrossFit. And so after a few years, I found that that was something I was very drawn to and felt it was something I had to give back to the CrossFit community is coaching. So I ended up coaching about, at my peak, kind of like 10 to 12 classes a week, which is just way too much. And , did that for about six months when I realized I had about 33 minutes a day, I scaled that back. So now I’m doing, I coach about once or twice a week. And it’s very similar to the same energy that I get with when I’m playing with these guys or when I’m teaching at New England Conservatory or Rosemont with The Cavaliers. It’s this, everyone’s there for the same reason. Everyone’s on the same page and there’s this element of suffering and working together that brings everyone closer and really creates this great community. And that’s what drew me to it in the first place and it keeps me going through it.
Dan Gosling: Fantastic. Well, I wish we could continue, of course. I mean, we’ve touched on a ton of great things and you’ve got you’ve given us and our young friends here and people that will see this video, some amazing insight. I can’t thank you enough and the Honor Orchestra of America, for bringing you here and thank you for spending some time with us.
Michael Martin: Thank you.
Dan Gosling: Thanks so much, Michael.
Michael Martin: Thank you guys.
Dan Gosling: Thank you.