Thomas Hooten is both a great friend and one of the greatest trumpet players in the world. As Principal Trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a frequent solo artist and clinician, Tom is fast becoming one of the most sought after musicians on the classical scene anywhere. We caught up with him at the 2017 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December and recorded this very impromptu interview. Originally posted on Instagram Live, we are pleased to have archived it here complete with a transcript as our surroundings were a little loud! We covered a lot in just 15 minutes, so please enjoy!
Dan Gosling: Good morning everyone, my name is Dan Gosling, the ChopSaver guy, and I am speaking to you live on the floor of the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. We’re in the exhibition hall, that’s why it’s a little loud in here because there’s about a bajillion instruments that people are trying and testing
What we’re going to do here, despite the din, and if you can’t hear this let us know and we’ll adjust, but I’m here with good friend and phenomenal trumpet virtuoso, Tom Hooten who is principal trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We have the distinct pleasure of hearing Tom perform as a guest principal, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Shostakovich 5th Symphony.
So, we’re going to talk a little bit about that. We’ve already got a few questions that you folks sent in over night, and I’m just going to start off by saying Tom, thank you so much.
Tom Hooten: Yeah, thanks for having this.
Dan Gosling: This is really awesome. This came together just in the last 12 hours.
Tom Hooten: Yeah.
Dan Gosling: So you’re here. You also did a clinic yesterday, a little lecture, but you’re also here to play with the orchestra. You’re principal of the LA Philharmonic, but you are acting principal of the famous Chicago symphony. What is that like, and what other situations similar to that have you had to do recently?
Tom Hooten: Of course. Hey, everybody. Thanks for having me. This place is kind of crazy, hopefully you can hear us. I’ve had the opportunity to guest stuff a few other places in Kansas City, Indianapolis, New York Phil.
Tom Hooten: It’s Chicago, I did a couple weeks in September. You know, we all grew up listening to Chicago Symphony recordings, so it’s awesome. It’s sort of like a childhood dream. There’s a guy playing second trombone this week, Jeremy Moeller who I was in school with, and I said to him the other day, if you would have told me that from our school [crosstalk 00:01:55]. So it’s really awesome. The orchestra sounds great, the brass section sounds phenomenal. Gene, and Charlie, Brian and oh my god. They’re just great. I mean, everybody sounds phenomenal.
Tom Hooten: It’s a great opportunity to learn how different orchestras sustain and phrase and not the decibel level dynamic but the dynamic how different sections worked with each other, and how the hall works. So it’s a challenge, but it’s also fun. I mean in some ways it’s like getting in a different race car, and saying like how does this one drive? You know, so it’s great.
Dan Gosling: Any particular differences like, with the hall, that are hard to adjust to on the fly even though you got a rehearsal or two?
Tom Hooten: Yeah, I mean the hall is a funny thing. Like I was saying to a friend the other day, learning how you hear different parts of the orchestra, really a lot of it depends on the halls. Sometimes I’m thinking, am I hearing the strings from where they are, or am I hearing more from a reflection of the hall? Which plays a lot into where I’m placing my notes. So, that’s a challenge. And orchestras, when they’re in their own house, they get really good at that. So that’s something I’ve got to be really mindful of, to try and adjust quickly, listen to my colleagues, but at the same time I’m in a leadership position. So, I’m trying to balance all of that out as quickly as I can and sort of talk to other people, you know just asking them.
Tom Hooten: It really is the idea about how leadership works, and it doesn’t have to be all about follow me, here I am. I’m going to lay it down. It’s more of an interaction and a communication. In this situation I’ve got to be open to that.
Dan Gosling: Awesome. One of the questions from one of our Instagram fans was has your embouchure changed over the years? And I love this question, because I know that that is a relevant question for Tom.
Tom Hooten: Yeah. So, I want to write a book, that’s called “101 and Changing Embouchures.” You know, something like that, because yeah, it has changed and I’d like to think that over the last ten years has become more efficient. This is kind of a hard thing to put into words, like how has it changed? I would like to think that from the standpoint of balance, what drives a healthy embouchure? Air. But also that the air has helped me have a better sense of symmetry. That sounds kind of weird.
Tom Hooten: But yeah, it has changed. I think I’ve gone a little bit higher for me. I’m not saying higher is better for everybody, but basically I’ve tried to get more and more lip into the mouthpiece. I sort of feel that the more lip you have in the mouthpiece to some degree is obviously different for everybody.
Dan Gosling: And you had some challenges in your college days that had to deal with it?
Tom Hooten: Oh yeah, of course. I had too much of a drag, and I was a little bit too low. The embouchure was kind of pinned, spread apart. So, I’ve tried to alleviate the pressure that pin had, and in that process rebalance with a little bit more lip in the mouthpiece and the air is captured in a more healthy way with the lips, rather than pressure. If that makes sense.
Tom Hooten: I’m actually continually adjusting things and looking for, and knock on wood somewhere, I feel like the path I’m going is in the right direction.
Dan Gosling: So it doesn’t freak you out that, hey, I’m changing my embouchure even though I’m where I am, I should stick with what I’ve got? It’s an organic evolution.
Tom Hooten: Yeah, I know. My friends in the LA Phil, they think I’m nuts.
Dan Gosling: (laughs) okay.
Tom Hooten: You know, I’ll walk into the locker room like, ‘guys, embouchure change 342.’ And we laugh. It’s not really a change, but it’s more like allowing for adjustments to be made. I sort of feel if the majority of the skills I’m using to make an embouchure are similar, a lack of too much pressure, healthy and lined up air stream, then my embouchure is in everything. It’s one ingredient. If I can make enough adjustments and then have helpful support from other parts of the equation, I’d feel like oh, it’s okay. Now, I’ve gotta do it with some degree of… I can’t do too much.
Dan Gosling: Right. And does it ever happen in a performance, like in the beginning and you’re not like, ‘oh, I’m a little…’
Tom Hooten: No, this is a slow conscientious awareness adjustment type thing. I definitely don’t want to say you know, for this passage I’m going to use, it’s not like that at all. I’m looking for simplicity and consistency, and something that’s going to serve me for everything I have to play with. I know some people that do that. They switch around, and I don’t even want to do that. I don’t think I’m strong enough to do that.
Dan Gosling: Alright, other question. How important is a set, or do you have a set routine?
Tom Hooten: I don’t have a set routine. I have set ideas that I do. I do like the Stamp, some of the Stamp stuff. So I’ve been doing Stamp for years, but I have more set ideas. Working on response in the beginning of the day, working on air, and expansion and then going through all the things that I would need. Personally, I don’t like a set, set, ingrained, but some students need that.
Tom Hooten: Depending on where you want your inner development, if you’re in college and you’re looking to build a fundamental base …
Dan Gosling: Lay a foundation.
Tom Hooten: Why do have routine? That’s the question. Like, what are the biggest benefits for having a routine? That is that you have the opportunity to reinforce a lot of good things over and over again. So if you feel that you have a hard time reinforcing some basics, routine is good for you. Like how to time the air in and out, and how to have good response and a measured repeatable way, a routine is really good for you.
Tom Hooten: It’s sort of different for every person. I think in general it’s pretty good, but I don’t like the idea of set fixed. I want to be malleable so that I’m always sort of thinking about what results am I getting. Am I going the right direction? If I’m not, then I’m going to adjust.
Dan Gosling: Awesome.
Speaker 3: We have a question from the questioners.
Dan Gosling: Alright.
Speaker 3: What mouth piece do you use, and what do you recommend?
Tom Hooten: What mouth piece do I use? Okay. I use about the equivalent of a Bach 1-1/4C, with a slightly drilled out throat and a kind of like a symphonic back bore.
Dan Gosling: Mouthpieces are very personal.
Tom Hooten: They’re very personal, yeah, and I’m not really obsessed with it. It’s what seems to work for me, but I probably feel like I could make several different mouthpieces work. I’ve always thought that the equipment isn’t going to make me play better.
Dan Gosling: Let me ask you this. If you’re doing a Pops, a really hard Pops, do you adjust that way?
Tom Hooten: Yeah, yeah. If I have to use something where I’m going over like a concert E-flat, then I would put in a smaller mouthpiece. And I’m still sort of searching for that, but over the years, over my development over the college, there were times I played 3C, I played a 5C. I was messing around, just seeing what mouthpieces would make it easier, and in that process you sort of learn like, wow this is easier on this, let me go back to my normal orchestral mouthpiece and like, why is this so hard? You know, what can I learn? What does that mouthpiece do for me, and can I achieve the same thing?
Dan Gosling: Okay, so I have a question. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Tom for a number of years. Actually, I had the privilege of performing with him at the Indianapolis Symphony, his first big orchestra job. Since then, he’s gotten married and now he has two beautiful children, and that is an adjustment that every musician has to figure out. I was so obsessed with this instrument, now I’ve got a wife and kids, how do I balance all that?
Tom Hooten: Yeah.
Dan Gosling: Yeah. Interview number three.
Tom Hooten: Yeah, it’s a challenge. I think it comes down to discipline. There are times at 9:30, 10:00 at night, on days that I’m not performing, that maybe my routine starts. It’s just the way that sometimes … well, I don’t want to get in to all the complications, but my week is sort of divided into two. I have half the week where I have normal nights, the other half of the week I’m playing until 10:30 at night.
Tom Hooten: I just takes…I have to be aware, and I have to be disciplined about getting to the things that I…. How do you define discipline? It’s doing what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.
Dan Gosling: And yours is a little unique, because I should point out that Tom’s wife is Jennifer Marotta, a fantastic trumpet player in her own right, so you have two musicians who have to practice. You’ve got to be parents to your children, and you live in a big city where time is of the essence with the commute, and all those kinds of things. So, I’m sure you have to be a super good planner, and also deal with things in the moment when things don’t go quite how you planned.
Tom Hooten: Exactly, like the idea of expectation is a four letter word. Like, I’m expecting to practice at this time, and it doesn’t happen. Or I expect a kid to take a nap, and it doesn’t happen. I think the other thing that’s important, is really notice how you use your time. That’s why I like that seconds pro app, where I want to develop routines that people can push play on an app. Like, here’s your routine, that’s 30 minutes, that’s comprehensive, that has rest, and you actually get through a lot of stuff.
Tom Hooten: Because I think back in college I would have two hours a night, I don’t know if I really would get that much stuff done. It was a lot of wasted time. Not to say that you need to sometimes just throw yourself at it, but now I’m much more efficient. I work in smaller chunks, it’s like I got that, that, that done and I gotta go now, but I’ll be back and I’ll get this, this, and this checked in. So, I think you can get a lot of things done in like a 10-15 minute segment, but sometimes they’re not going to be in a two hour session.
Dan Gosling: Right, those are just luxuries that don’t happen as often.
Tom Hooten: Yeah, you just don’t have it anymore.
Dan Gosling: So, I promised Tom we wouldn’t take a lot of his time. We’re at about 15 minutes right now. I don’t know if we’ve got any other questions, but I’m going to ask one real quick one and then do a little followup. I was also privileged enough to watch Tom’s clinic yesterday, and one of the things he talked about was books. And it wasn’t Arban’s and Clarke and performance books and even performance anxiety books, although I’m sure that there’s some that you recommend. He recommended the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. And why is that?
Tom Hooten: Well I think the way that we have success in general it permeates all different forms of careers and stuff like that, and I just try to look at some of the most successful entities in our human existence. I mean, obviously Apple and Steve Jobs changed our entire human experience. And so, what is it about that guy? Like, how did he come up with these ideas? What kind of passion? What drove him? And so listen to us, like there’s got to be something here I can learn and bring back to my music. The thing I got from that book, actually ironically, meditation leads to inspiration, leads to intuition, and leads to clarity.
Dan Gosling: That’s a lot. That’s a ton.
Tom Hooten: You can see how that worked in his life and for better for worse. There are so many clues in other places. If people have other passions, we need to learn how to cross-pollinate in a way. Like, what can we learn from other places? There’s just so much there and to learn from. It’s just get the blinders off, open it up and see. Start with questions like how could Steve Jobs success as an entrepreneur transfer to my life
Same thing with Pixar. The Creativity Inc. by Edwin Catmull is an awesome book about how an organization works together, and works through problems and tries to create new things. Here’s the big thing, after you have success, should you do what you did before? Or do I have to …
Dan Gosling: Adjust again.
Tom Hooten: Right. You’ve got to be really careful. You can’t keep trying to repeat what worked. Because there’s a human condition to that, that doesn’t seem to work exactly the same. Pixar has been amazing at that, and Steve Jobs was the president of Pixar for many years. So, yeah I just like looking at other places and it gives us a little bit of a fresh idea.
Dan Gosling: Right, not music, music, music all the time. Well Tom, it’s been truly awesome. Where can people learn more about you’re doing? You have a website.
Tom Hooten: Yeah, tomhooten.com. I do these workshops, where I sort of explain a lot of this stuff, and I really love doing that. It’s a mixture of audition prep, and sort of the general mindset of how we approach our careers and life in general, and a little bit about how we manage nerves and performing experiences and auditions. So you can check that stuff out on my website.
Dan Gosling: Awesome. Well, it’s getting a little noisier here as more people come in and try out their instruments, and I want to thank Tom once again. I actually did a little longer interview a couple years ago with Tom, you can find that on ChopSaver.com/blog and then there, search July 2015. You’ll find an hour long interview chunked up into three parts. It’s also on the ChopSaver YouTube channel under interviews.
Dan Gosling: With that, I’m going to say so long from Chicago in the Midwest Clinic. Thanks for watching, and we’ll try to archive this so it’s viewable in the future. Thanks again. Bye-bye.