O.J.'s Trumpet Page Artists and personalities

Don Smithers

Don Smithers 

Don Leroy Smithers
was born on February 17, 1933
in New York (?)

Don Smithers is known to have been active in three different areas, as a performing artist on natural trumpet and cornetto, as a music historian and as a music educator. In his childhood, he sang in one of New York's best church choir. Smithers later commented on this early singing experience:
"This was my world for much of my childhood and adolescent years growing up in New York. With such experience, it is difficult for a person not to have a plethora of association in mind when performing and / or listening to music that was liturgically intended and written for very much the same kind of circumstances of performances I had enjoyed during my formative years."

Recordings / discography
Smithers started recording in 1961. His first two recordings were with Noah Greenberg and the New York Pro Musica. It was two Decca records (one for Elizabethan music, the other polychoral pieces by Gabrieli  and Viadana). He played cornetto on these recordings.

Here is a discography database (under development with the help of Walter Roth).


The Mahillon trumpet
The Mahillon trumpet (see picture above) is what Don Smithers played on a number of his Philips recordings in the 1960's. He felt that the Mahillon was "the one instrument of  20th Century manufacture that comes closest to the original clarino sound."
Starting around 1971, Don Smithers made the switch from the Mahillon to a coiled clarino natural trumpet. This is what is featured on the 1971 "Bach's  Trumpet" LP (Philips 6500-925).

CBS "Sunday Morning"
The "Bach's  Trumpet" LP contains the Reiche "Abblasen" pictured on  the cover, and was used by CBS "Sunday Morning" for many years.

”The lost art of Baroque trumpet playing”
In the late 1800 and early 1900 many attempts and considerable attention was paid to the high (clarino) register of Bach´s trumpet parts. The use of small modern trumpets in D, F and eventually B-flat piccolo began to give a number of trumpets players like Adolph Scherbaum and others the opportunity of successfully performances of this music.

The first to use a natural trumpet was Walter Holy. By the help of instrument maker Otto Steinkopf, Holy used a copy of the coiled trumpet seen on the Haussman painting of Gottfried Reiche. To help with intonation, Steinkopf ”invented” vent holes.

Don Smithers felt that vent holes were incorrect. He started a study of old literature and found clues on how to play the clarino in methods like Cesare Bendinelli´s Tutta L'arte Della Trombetta (c. 1614), Girolamo Fantini´s Modo per imparare a sonare di tromba (1638), Johann Ernst Altenburg´s Versuch einer Anleitung zur heroisch-musikalischen Trompeter- und Paukerkunst, (Halle 1795). Together with John Bowser and Klaus Wogram, Don Smithers conducted scientific tests on baroque trumpets using sound spectrographs. He was able to demonstrate how the irregularities in the tubing of handmade trumpets, together with the large mouthpieces then in use, would have made the process of lipping notes into tune easier than on an instrument of modern manufacture. (Scientific American, April, 1986)

In an interview with J. Nussbaum in 1988 (ITG Journal), Smithers said:
”The true art of clarino playing on uncompromised instruments is still a lost art. No one presently occupying space on this planet can play on a first-rate museum specimen from any one of the several collections of historical instruments the kind of music for which Bach, Molter and a number of other 18th-century composer intended”.
That was perhaps true then, but today, Smithers own effort and experiments with the natural trumpet have materialised. Jean-François Madeuf can now play some of the repertoire of the baroque era, like the 2. Brandenburg Concerto, on baroque trumpets without vent holes, and using the large mouthpiece of the baroque era.



* Walter Roth (info, images, development of recording database)
* Edward H. Tarr: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001
* Mike Spengl (post to TPIN 2008 about Smithers)
* ITG Journal, December,1988 (interview with Jeffrey Nussbaum)
* Wikipedia

o.j. 2010