O.J.'s Trumpet Page Interview

Perfecting Your Practice

for Peak Performance.

Book cover


An interview with Mick Hesse

Mick Hesse - photo

I first met Mick Hesse in 1977. It was at a seminar with Bud Herseth on Hedemarkstoppen in Hamar, Norway.  70 brass players attended. The organizer was trumpeter and professor Harry Kvebæk. Mick was part of the arranging group and did also take part as a player in the different sessions. (Here are some photos with Mick, Bud Herseth and some other players.)

30 years later in 2007, I learned that Mick had published a book for trumpet and cornet. I contacted Mick and asked if he would let med do an interview about his book project. The next day got a reply - in Norwegian (Mick had lived for many years over here). "I'm in Peru on vacation", he said, "but when I get back we can do the interview"

During the last days of January 2008, we had a "cyber talk":
 

Before we start talking about the book, could you tell us a bit about your background as a trumpeter and teacher?
I started playing trumpet when I was in the 4th grade in New York State, I think I was perhaps 9 or 10 years old. When they asked me what instrument I wanted to play I said, "bugle". They gave me a cornet. Shortly after that my parents bought me a brand new Olds Ambassador cornet and I can still smell the case and valve oil smell in my memory. In fact when I open my case today I still have that memory in my mind for some reason and the smell still lingers:)

I played all through public school and was fortunate to have trumpet players as teachers every year. Our public school provided weekly lessons for all the students in the music department. We would take a 30 or 45 minute lesson every week! I don't know of any other school that does that now. I attribute whatever success I've had to that early start and the fact that I had trumpet players, and really good ones, who were my first teachers. My mother insisted that I practice every day and she even pulled me out of a baseball game once because I had a lesson. She said at the time that since I had committed myself to that lesson before I agreed to play the baseball game, I had to go.

After high school I attended Eastman School of Music in Rochester NY. I felt very much out of my league there, everyone seemed to be much better than me. My teacher, Sid Mear, was VERY patient with me and must have heard something in my sound that encouraged him to keep me. Our class started out with 8 trumpet players and when we graduated there were only 4 of us left. Sid was a wonderful teacher and there is a very in depth interview about him in an earlier ITG magazine. The article was published in the January 2004 journal.

In my senior year at Eastman Sid asked me what I wanted to do after graduation and suggested I enlist in the army and join the West Point Band. Many of his students had done that and it was during the war in Viet Nam. Seemed like a good thing to do, so I auditioned there and was accepted. My time in the band was almost 3 years and I got to meet and hear some great players as they passed through the military that way. I ended up playing bugle there, so my dream when I was in 4th grade came true!

After West Point my wife and I moved to Norway, which turned out to be the best thing we every did. It was in Norway that I met Harry and my life as a trumpet player became a reality. My real trumpet study began with Harry and I'll come back to that later in this interview. I began teaching at Norges Musikkhøgskole after several years of lessons with Harry and after I got a job in the opera orchestra in Oslo. Several study sabaticals happened at this time in my life and I had the chance to study with Jimmy Stamp and some other really great trumpet players/teachers while a member of the opera orchestra. At that time Norway encouraged professional players to continue their studies and I took advantage of that as often as I could. It was a fantastic time in my life.

How did this book project start?
The book took many years to write, I like to say it took me 40 years, and in some respects that is true. But over the years I wrote many of my own exercises by hand for myself and for students that I thought worked pretty well. I got tired of looking at the hand written music and all the photo copying, so I thought I should put it in book form. As I studied over the years what struck me was how little written instructions were to be found in most method books, especially ones written with more advanced players in mind. I thought perhaps more written detail about each exercise and some additional information about what I learned over the years as a player and student might be of interest to others who were on the same journey and quest that I was.

I also didn't want to write another book about scales and breathing and weird techniques. I wanted the book to very practical and useful. I have taken enough auditions over the last 40 years and was unprepared for most of them, and nervous when I did the auditions. I wanted to help players in the same situation with ideas and hopefully solutions to very real problems.

You have dedicated the book to Harry Kvebæk . Could you say something about that?
As I said earlier Harry was the teacher who turned me around and helped me win the audition in the Norwegian Opera Orchestra. When I first moved to Norway after the West Point Band job, I had given up on the trumpet. I didn't think I was good enough to win more auditions and I was depressed about the war in Viet Nam and the world situation. I found peace in Norway at the time and was very happy. I started playing trumpet again in the Rommerike Symphony orchestra and Harry was the conductor. Talk about luck! He was also solo trumpet in the Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester at the time. He invited me to a concert one night at Aulaen. The orchestra was playing Mahler's Third Symphony. I knew about Mahler already but had never heard a live performance of any of his music. When I heard Harry play the posthorn solo that night I cried. I had never heard anything so beautiful or so beautifully played!

I called Harry the next day and said I wanted to talk with him and we agreed to meet for coffee somewhere in Oslo. I told him in my broken Norwegian, (my wife and I were teaching music in Lillestrøm at that time) that I wanted to give myself one last chance to learn to play the trumpet. I told him, as best I could, that I had made a decision that I would present myself to him on a silver platter, and that I would do whatever he suggested if he would take me on as a student. It was sort of a revelation to me, a meeting of a student with a guru. I had come to a point in my trumpet life that I needed to give myself completely to a teacher and Harry was the one I chose. Not long after that he asked me to play 1st trumpet in the off stage part of Mahler's 2nd Symphony with the Oslo Filharmonisk and my life turned around as far as trumpet was concerned. I remember going to the first orchestra rehearsal only to find that my first valve slide was missing! This was 5 minutes before the conductor wanted to hear the off stage trumpets. Harry quickly gave me his horn to make it through that session.

My life as a professional player and teacher would not have happened without Harry. The next 10 or 12 years I was fortunate to work with him and hear him play. I had the opportunity to party with him and get to know him personally as well, but to hear him play was the defining moment(s) of my life. His playing of Faebodpsalm and works written for him like the Sommerfeldt Sonata and Elegi were so inspiring that I've never forgotten them. I remember him playing the Elegi in Elverum the summer Adolph Herseth was there. Herseth had tears in his eyes and said he would never be able to play the piece again after hearing Harry play it. In fact he told me later that he was asked to play for a funeral here in the states and decided he could not play Elegi for it after hearing Harry! And then I heard Harry play Petr Eben's Four Windows for trumpet and organ, live at Trefoldighets Kirke in Oslo. He played all four movements non stop!

His sound lives in my head whenever I play my trumpet, and this prompted me to write in my book how very important it is to have an aural memory bank and to fill it up with the best trumpet sounds the world has to offer. Harry filled my bank for years and I will be forever indebted to him for those aural memories.

There are also dedications to Lars Næss and Brassworks 4?
Lars Næss taught me how to be a professional player. Under his kind guidance and beautiful sound, he encouraged me to join him in the search for perfection in playing. Lars seldom missed a note all the years I played with him. He made me realize the importance of that wise saying from Rafael Mendez, "make every note a solo." Lars's attacks and intonation were a model for me to follow and I did my best to match his beautiful sound and phrasing. I was very fortunate to sit next to Lars for many years, and the fact that we played together was a huge influence on my playing. I learned to love opera and tried to sing though my horn.

One very important thing Lars said to me happened after he sat up in the audience where he had a chance to see me play. Someone in the orchestra played a wrong note during a performance and I made a bad facer or gesture when that happened. Sort of my way of saying to the audience, "that was really bad and I want you all to know that I know it was bad." Lars said to me the next day that that was not my job, my job was to play my part and to give the audience the best experience they could have. He was absolutely right. To be a professional is sometimes more than playing all the right notes!

After moving back to the states I formed a brass quartet called Brassworks 4. Two cornets, trombone and euphonium. I had never done much quintet playing while in the orchestra so this was new venture for me. I wanted the group to be as good and successful as the best quintets that were on the circuit. We had no French horn player in our town and I loved the cornet sound, so I decided it had to be quartet using cornets. I called the one trumpet player I knew in town, Scott Ramsey, and asked him who else would be good. He said Paul Bara on trombone and Connie Schulz on euphonium. My only experience with euphonium players were at Eastman and I wasn't too crazy about the instrument at that time. But after hearing Connie play I knew this was the way to go! She had a sound and musicality that made me realize my mistake about the instrument. There is very little good concert music written for brass quartet. Both Scott and Paul happened to be very good composers and arrangers and we were finally able to put together 3 full length, 90 minutes, concerts. Taking a cue from groups like Canadian Brass and Dallas Brass, we agreed to the very difficult task of memorizing our concerts. We had discovered over the years that memorized concerts were much better received by the audience and really a lot more fun to play. It helped that most of the music was written or arranged by members of the quartet. I also discovered that I could actually play a 90 minute concert, something that while playing the opera I never dreamed possible! Brassworks 4 was my inspiration for playing for the last 10 years. It was a dream come true to actually go on tour. We were lucky to make trips across the US with these wonderful friends.

How is the book organised?
My book is divided into 6 chapters and each chapter has an exercise that I present in some detail. Along the way the text includes things I've learned over the years about being a professional. My original exercise, "Ascending Bending," comes back in three of the chapters. I introduce the concept in chapter one and then continue to present it in other exercises throughout the book. I write in some detail how each exercise is to be played, and more importantly, why. There is a chapter on developing your breathing capacity and a chapter on how to practice. One chapter is also about developing your high register with the use of trills.

"Ascending Bending" - what is that?
"Ascending Bending" is perhaps the most important part of the book. I studied with Jimmy Stamp in 1979. I had heard of his work and book about bending notes and wanted to study personally with him so made the trip to Los Angeles to do just that. In many ways I counted my trumpet life as before and after Stamp. He was a real inspiration and a huge help to me in my development and the idea of bending notes seemed to be central to his method of playing. I did these exercises every day for about 25 years and found them to be very helpful. One bends notes down a half step in his exercises, using the lip to change the pitch, not the valves.

After all these years I started thinking about what bending actually does and I think I figured it out. Roy Poper wrote a great book of instructions for Stamp's book and this helps understand those principles as well. I decided to turn things upside down and bend upwards. In other words by just using the lips, play a note with normal fingering and then maintain that same pitch by using fingerings a half step higher. I found that this forces me to move my lips forwards and arch my tongue to accomplish it. Exactly what teachers have been telling me for years! Don't smile while playing, but keep the corners of my mouth firm while ascending and doing upward lip slurs. It works!! In fact I remember lessons with Harry where he said, don't smile when I take a breath. I had a terrible habit of doing that. These "Ascending Bending" exercises force me to NOT do that.

In some of the exercises you give no dynamic marking. For instance the first exercise, should it be played f, mf or?
To answer about bending dynamic I prefer pp or p. I feel like Clarke and Harry that pp is more effective than ff and by far less damaging to the lips.

The exercise about long breaths is different, playing pp is pretty easy or p, but once you get to mf or f it becomes VERY difficult, but I mention that in the instructions.

You have an exercise called "Early Warm Up Study".
Should you start with that, or with the first exercise in the book ("Ascending Bending")?
My exercise, "Ascending Bending" is the main idea of my book. The other pages in the book are intended as practical, day to day, helpful information that I've gathered over the years. But "Ascending Bending" is the basis of learning to train yourself to play with a forward, more cushioned embouchure. The exercise, if played as explained in the instructions, counteracts the tendency among many players to smile as they ascend while playing, especially when playing lip slurs.

Once this simple idea is learned and practiced the concept is easily transferred to all playing situations. The idea is not new or weird. Many players and teachers advocate a forward motion during ascending passages, I've just tried to explain the principle in a very clear and easily understood exercise. Once the idea is firmly rooted in your playing and understood, I present two other, more advanced, exercises- "Ascending Bending with Half Scales" and "Ascending Bending with Arpeggios." These three chapters are the backbone of the book.

The "Early Warm Up Study" is all about air flow and ease of playing. We all need to establish a positive sound early in our working session. In fact it's all about sound, and the sooner we establish our best sound the sooner we can get on with other concerns each working practice session. I've often said. "if it doesn't SOUND good, why are we doing it?" It doesn't matter if we can play faster or higher or louder than anyone else if it doesn't sound good. I believe that the sooner we produce a good sound each day the sooner we can move on to other issues and concerns. This study does it for me. It gets the air moving smoothly and helps set the stage in my mind and body for great flexibility and tonguing. I stress in this exercise that slurring and tonguing are the same with regard to air flow and I present several ways to incorporate single and multiple tonguing with slurring.

What is the idea with the exercise called "Scales with Trills"?
"Scales with Trills" is a perfect way to practice "ascending bending" in real world playing. By establishing a middle embouchure setting on notes in the staff between G and C, the exercise goes down one octave and then up two octaves and ends with a very long trill on the top of the scale, either half step or full step trill.

Playing the trill this way allows you to concentrate on what you are doing with your lips and tongue. All this is explained in detail in the book. The exercise is very demanding and tiring so I advocate lots of rests in between playing. I also recommend playing piano or pianissimo most of the time. That's nothing new either, H.L. Clarke says the same in most of his method books. Harry Kvebæk suggested the same most of the time. And Harry could play as loudly as anyone I've ever heard! Playing softly allows us to play longer and with more finesse and musicality. The control needed for soft playing is worth all the effort, most conductors appreciate good soft playing. It adds a wonderful tool to our playing and creativity as a performer.

Who would benefit from this book, and how should they use it?
I think the book is best for older students who already have a good concept of sound and the desire to become the very best they can be. I wrote it so that you can become your own teacher, a very important concept. This is not a technique book about fingering or scales or high chops. Lots of good books are already available for that. This is a book for the thinking player, on how to do it and some exercises that will help you achieve your goal of mastering this hunk of brass tubing. I wish I had learned about bending notes much earlier in my career, but as we say in English, "better late than never."

I think the book can be used by teachers as well. There is a very helpful practice chart in the book that helps you get organized in your daily work. And the concepts of correct breathing and bending technique should be passed on to younger students as early as possible in their study years.

Finally, where can people get the book?
A signed copy of the book is available directly from me through my website at :

http://web.mac.com/studio1023/Site_1/Welcome.html

The cost to ship the book to Norway is $8 if you order directly from me, for total of $20. I don't use credit cards, but have PayPal. It is also possible to pay for the book with a bank transfer which I'll provide to your readers if they email me at:
mickhesse@me.com

If you want to order through the web with credit card you can go to:

http://brassworks4.com


o.j. 2008 - Photo of Mick Hesse by Connie Schulz