Female Trumpet Players

Female trumpet players are uncommon but not rare. Most of my work is in small groups, and I rarely stand next another trumpet; yet the few I did see last year were women.

If I had to pick a “best trumpet player” out there, I’d go with Alison Balsom. She has a technical mastery of the instrument, and she manages to do plenty of brashness and flair without losing precision. The tone is pure, and—the real test—she just makes everything sound easy. Her version of Syrinx is positively ornithopteric.

I admit a personal dislike of style with Tine Thing Helseth—it’s in the way she attacks notes—but I love what she’s doing with TenThing. You can’t do that kind of work without a perfect internal clock. Check out the video of TenThing at Proms. Along those lines, also see the Seraph Brass, an all-female quintet with a rotating roster.

Gunhild Carling is in a class by herself. The proper word is “entertainer” rather than “musician”, but listen to her note-perfect renderings of Louis Armstrong—that is not trivial stuff. The average band player would be happy to have her skill on just one instrument. Cindy Bradley’s jazz work is modern and lush. Saskia Laroo has been doing interesting things with sequencers and EWIs—try her *TED talk.

We heard a lot about Cindy Robinson when she passed away last year, about her groundbreaking career as a session musician and a member of Sly and the Family Stone. She was hardly the first, of course—Clora Bryant and Valaida Snow, for two, played in jazz bands decades earlier.

But if you really want to go back, here’s an account of Olympics in ancient Greece:

“And there was a woman, too, who played on the trumpet, whose name was Aglais, the daughter of Megacles, who, in the first great procession which took place in Alexandria, played a processional piece of music; having a head-dress of false hair on, and a crest upon her head, as Posidippus proves by his epigrams on her. And she, too, could eat twelve litrae of meat and four choenixes of bread, and drink a choenix of wine, at one sitting.”

–Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Deipnosophistae

Trumpet dentistry

When I was a kid I broke my front teeth and got temporary caps. In high school I resisted getting braces because I was afraid they’d set me back, and competition for Allstate was pretty fierce. I don’t really regret that, because even if I’d pursued a career, there would have been time to do braces later when I would have been pursuing virtuosity rather than competition.
But when that convenient time came, when I was otherwise occupied and not playing for a few years, I didn’t have insurance. I finally got my teeth fixed in my forties, and it went badly. The new crowns looked great and were strong enough to play, but I couldn’t get air into the horn. They were too big; they were a wall.
So after looking at the “before” X-rays, and bringing the horn in to the dentist’s office, we fixed it. First, I’d always had a gap between my front teeth. I’ve seen discussions about whether a gap helps with high range, usually ending with the interview from Maynard where he says he got his gap fixed. The dentist looked at the mouthpiece and at how I was playing—she wished that I had see-through mouthpiece and lips—and concluded I needed only a very small gap at the bottom, about 1/8”. It doesn’t matter if the front teeth are closed up closer to the gums because air doesn’t go through there.
The other problem was just that the teeth were too long, so they made contact with the lower lip too easily. That was a simple matter of grinding a bit off the bottom. She explained that it was a really tiny amount, well under a millimeter. We went in stages, shaving a bit and then playing some more notes.
After the initial surgery, I was too sore to play for several days and really couldn’t do much for a couple weeks. So even when we fixed it, I couldn’t make a judgment on finer points of technique. Also, of course, I had to adjust my embouchure, so I practiced etudes for a couple months and finally went back to get a little more taken off and to make the gap a little wider.
I am still missing a few notes off the top of the range, but other than that things work about as well as before I made drastic changes to the landscape of my mouth.