Interview with David Krauss

Principal Trumpet at Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Professor at Rutgers University. Pre-College Professor at Juilliard School. Head Brass Coach at Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Co-Director at Berkshire Summer Music. Professor at Mannes School of Music in New York City. Professor at Manhattan School of Music (United States).

«Knowledge gleaned from overcoming obstacles can be more easily communicated to students than the things I can do naturally»

2018-08-14

Today, we have an interview with David Krauss, a student of Wynton Marsalis and currently the principal trumpet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, who also maintains his intense pedagogical works as a professor in the Juilliard School Pre-College Division, Rutgers University, Mannes School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Berkshire Summer Music… He is every bit of an international figure in the trumpet world and was willing to share his knowledge with Trumpetland… and an exercise in PDF for Premium members!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 46.
  • City of birth: Port Jefferson, New York (United States).
  • A hobby: Making espresso.
  • A food: Hungarian poppy seed strudel.
  • A drink: Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda.
  • A book: Caps for Sale (Esphyr Slobodkina).
  • A film: Fargo (Joel Coen).
  • A place: Home.

Professional career

What first drew you to the trumpet and when did you realize that trumpet playing was what you wanted to do professionally?

When I was 13 years old, my father bought me a stereo and several records to start me off. One of the records was Wynton Marsalis. I remember being blown away by his tone on a tune called Angel Eyes. All I wanted to do was practice to sound like him. I’m still trying… When I was younger, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a profession. All I knew was that I loved playing trumpet and listening to music. I was lucky to have parents who constantly encouraged me to play music. Neither my mom nor my dad were musicians themselves, but they both loved music. It was really inspiring for me to watch them listen to records together or go to concerts and jazz clubs. After a while, it just seemed like going to a conservatory for music made sense — especially after I got my SAT scores back.

Where have you studied and who were your teachers?

I had great band teachers in middle and high school who encouraged me to play and listen to many different types of music. I studied with Edward Treutel at Juilliard Pre-College and occasionally with Wynton when he was in town. Later in high school I studied with Henry Nowak. Once I was at Juilliard for College, I was a student of William Vacchiano and Chris Gekker. I also took many lessons with Jim Pandolfi who was third trumpet at the MET.

What was your first full time professional job as a trumpet player and how did you get it?

My first full time job was the Metropolitan Opera. I won the principal trumpet position there in 2001. Before this, I enjoyed a freelance career in New York City while auditioning for symphony orchestra jobs all around the country. I performed with many different orchestras, ensembles and on some Broadway shows. In many ways, freelancing was more challenging than having a full time orchestra job.

Which musicians, teachers, conductors or trumpet players have influenced and taught you the most?

All my teachers left an indelible mark on my trumpet playing and musicianship, but I would have to say that the two trumpet players that influenced me the most were Gerard Schwarz and Wynton Marsalis. Schwarz’s recordings were a constant source of inspiration to me, especially his cornet solos. I had never heard a trumpet player with the control and finesse of a violinist before. It’s easy to be blown away by his virtuosity, but he created so many moments that transcended the instrument. Wynton’s recordings also continue to inspire me. I was fortunate to meet him at a young age (thanks to my mother, who encouraged me to talk to him backstage at the Blue Note). Over the years, he’s always been so generous to give me lessons or just hang out. Hearing his tone live was even more amazing than on his recordings I admired so much. So round and warm. Every note. Amazing.

Daily work

What is your daily practice routine?

Since most days require many hours of playing, I spend a lot of my practice time on daily fundamentals and efficiency. I’ll focus on a good warm up and some fundamentals but that’s about it. I feel like I play my best when I focus on ease of tone production and articulation. I do lots of articulated scales, flexibility exercises and legato patterns. Since I teach a lot, and like to demonstrate in lessons — I end up playing through many etudes and solo pieces.

You spend a lot of time on the road performing and teaching. What do you do to stay in shape?

When I’m on tour, I like to eat everything, stay out late and see the sights — so it’s important that I drink a lot of water and get in a good warm up every morning.

How important do you consider a rest or break when you are practicing?

Very important! It’s easy to keep playing when it feels good and hard to pick it up when it feels lousy. Striving for a balance is super important, whatever that means for you.

How do you approach a new piece?

When I first joined the MET, every opera was a new piece. Some repertoire, like Berg’s Wozzeck or Strauss’ Salome, was challenging to learn because the music is so dense and the trumpet parts are challenging. Other repertoire like Puccini, Verdi and Mozart are easier to play but require a lot of musical preparation to make sure the style is correct. When I have to learn a new composition, I do what everybody does I guess… I practice slowly and hope for the best.

Education

What is your approach to teaching your students?

I draw from experiences in my development when I teach. I’m pretty open with my students as far as my strengths and weaknesses on the instrument are. For me, knowledge gleaned from overcoming obstacles can be more easily communicated to students than the things I can do naturally. In a way, I’m less in touch with the things I’ve always been able to do because I’ve never had to deconstruct and repair them. Either way, I try to share as much of the information and experiences I’ve accrued over the years.

Do you consider it important to combine more than one genre in your studies such as jazz and natural trumpet?

It couldn’t hurt I guess, but generally speaking most of my students have their hands full without taking up another genre or instrument. I can’t improvise or play the natural trumpet to save my life, but I love to listen to many types of jazz and baroque music. I think I gain more from listening to John Coltrane play Giant Steps rather than trying to play it myself.

What criteria do you follow when you are choosing a mouthpiece and trumpet?

Does it sound good? Does it feel good? That’s about it.

What advice do you have for young students and for teachers?

Be a musician, not just a trumpet player. Have an honest look at the music you carry around with you on your phone and listen to everyday. If it’s mostly trumpet/brass related, you may want to open yourself up a bit.

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

When I was younger, in my junior year of high school, I gave a trumpet recital and completely fell apart. It was horrible. I was playing on my teeth from the first piece. Sweat dripped down my face as I looked out in the audience to see nearly all my relatives there. Worst day ever. Bad experiences like that stay with you as much as the good ones do and it’s important to learn as much as you can from it. In my case, it was important to focus on the fundamentals of tone production so when I get uptight and nervous, the basics remain no matter what.

How should one take criticism?

Listening to criticism or being critical of others does not have to have negative connotations. Criticism is crucial toward being an expert in any field. Take all criticism openly and let the petty or self serving comments go.

They say that everybody has a little bit of performance anxiety and the important thing is controlling it. What do you do to control it?

I try to be as honest with myself to determine what exactly is making me nervous. Nerves happen for a reason. Try to hone in on the specific problems and wage war against them.

Any advice on preparing for auditions?

Always prepare for the worst case scenario. Prepare a list in the hardest imaginable order. Play late at night and early in the morning. Practice getting nervous. Make yourself uncomfortable. Don’t be that person who says they didn’t advance because the room was too cold or they went out of order. Learn to roll with the punches and be flexible and focused.

Musical preferences

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of music. Mostly jazz. I don’t listen to as much orchestral music as I did as a student but I still love going to concerts.

With what musician or style of music do you identify with the most?

My dad loved the Modern Jazz Quartet. I grew up with the sound of the group and still love it.

Who is your favorite trumpet player?

Wynton.

What is your favorite piece for trumpet?

It’s not a concerto or solo piece, but there’s a moment at the end of the first act of Die Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss that I really love to play.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

Do you have any exercise you would like to share with the Premium members of Trumpetland?

I’ve always found exercises like these from the Schlossberg book useful, challenging and revealing. Work on getting a smooth legato and a ringing centered sound from low to high.

Free download:

Exercise by David Krauss (PDF 184,71 KB) [Only Premium members]