3 Non-Negotiables for Working on the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto

Mary Galime

Why the Haydn is the standard concerto that all trumpet players are measured against, I will never know. If you want to hear and see the heart and soul of a trumpet player, give them the Arutunian. Whether your teacher introduced it to you, or you heard it for the first time in a performance, it is impossible to not be inspired to work endlessly on such exciting music!

I started working on this solo at a time in my life when I had no idea how to systematically practice so much of my practicing followed the right steps, but lacked the focus. Here are the mistakes I made, and hopefully after reading this, you will not do the same.

1. Tempo

As you listen to the intro, it is so free and open and this is where you bear your soul to the world right? My mind raced with images of starving peasants in winter conditions, and I let this lead the music that I made in those opening phrases. Now as a side note, I always say, "If music was just about playing the right notes, it would be a visual art." I.e., our music needs a story. But if I am really honest, music needs a tempo and pacing in order for the story to get communicated well. Even though there is some room for rubato in the first movement, it still must be in the context of the tempo. Practice pushing and pulling the tempo with your metronome, so that like a wheel slowing down and speeding up, your rubato has some pacing to it.

You will make it very difficult for yourself to return to your original tempo or prepare the accompaniment for a new tempo if you let "the spirit" determine how much you push or pull the tempo. In addition, during a performance or recording there is nothing built into your process that protects you pushing those tempos beyond your comfort zone when nerves enter the picture. Just use your metronome. Every time you practice. Every movement.

"It's always appropriate to look ahead and plan forward in phrasing, but when working on technique you must stay in the moment and let your ears lead the technique you've trained your fingers to accomplish."

2. Do not get ahead of yourself

Though I did practice with my metronome at least 95% of the time, I still had the same road blocks in different parts of the technical movements. I would practice slow, and slowly increase the tempo, but I would still get finger or tongue tied when performing the whole movement. What I didn't understand back then was that the metronome practice is not just for your fingers, tonguing, and pacing. It is for your ears as well. 

I practiced at the speed my fingers/tongue/air machine could keep up with correctly, but I was not paying attention to how fast I was able to listen and hear every note. I sang my parts, but I noticed later on in life that the parts of my technique that got tongue-tied or blurry, were also blurry in my terms of my audio memory. In short, you can only play as fast as you can hear. Are you hearing every small sixteenth note as you play it or are you hearing in sweeping blocks? 

Go back to your metronome and rework your technique, but this time start the metronome at the speed that your ear can lead your fingers, not the speed you think your fingers and tongue can handle the technique. Move the tempo forward as you can hear the notes and lead with your ear faster and faster. Your blurry sections will disappear if you can hear as fast as your fingers, without letting one or the other get ahead. It's always appropriate to look ahead and plan forward in phrasing, but when working on technique you must stay in the moment and let your ears lead the technique you've trained your fingers to accomplish.

3. Listen to multiple recordings

This may come across as funny to you, but it happened to me... it could happen to you. I started working on Arutunian in 8th Grade. I got the Dokshitzer recording and listened to it on repeat for many years to come. As I was only in 8th grade, I had no concept of vibrato either, so after months of working on the solo, and performing, this young Midwestern girl had one of the weirdest Dokshitzer-inspired vibratos that still periodically haunts my playing to this day.

While vibrato might not be an issue to you, when you tunnel-vision on one performance, you run the risk of playing (for instance) "The Dokshitzer" as opposed to "The Arutunian". Give yourself some options that influence what you want to do with the music, and what story you want to tell. And when you figure out what that story is..... Use your metronome. 


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