Interview with Edward H. Tarr

Trumpet player and musicologist. Pioneer in the revival of Baroque and Romantic era trumpet performance.

«Musicianship is just as important as technique»

2017-12-05

Out interviewee today is without doubt one of the people that has most investigated and has published more than anyone in respects to the trumpet and its history. A large part of the bibliography that we have regarding our instrument, we owe to him. He was the professor of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis for 30 years, and possessor of an innumerable amount of awards and distinctions. It is a grand honor to have him with us in Trumpetland, so don’t miss this interview! Especially the PDF of exercises that he shares with our Premium members!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 81.
  • City of birth: Norwich, Connecticut (USA).
  • A hobby: Collecting musical instruments (brass).
  • A food: Swiss fondue.
  • A drink: Malt whisky.
  • A book: Wunder wirken Wunder: Wie Medizin und Magie uns heilen (Eckart von Hirschhausen).
  • A film: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock).
  • A place: Boston, Massachusetts (USA).

Professional career

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

The first thing that really drew me to the trumpet was a hymn, God of Our Fathers, that begins with a trumpet fanfare. That brought me in contact with the instrument. When I started to live in Europe (1959), trumpet playing was my only source of income; so it took over!

Where have you studied and who were your teachers?

My most important trumpet teachers were Don Pratt (a pupil of cornet soloist Herbert L. Clarke), Roger Voisin (principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and Adolph S. Herseth (principal of Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

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

My first professional job was teaching at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Baroque trumpet, 1972-2001) and then in the Basel Conservatory (modern trumpet, 1974-2001). A fellow musicology student, who became the director of the Schola, contracted me.

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

I’ve had many different musicians (from horn to cello) influence me. Also, Dennis Brain’s recordings of the Mozart horn concertos.

Daily work

What is your daily practice routine?

I play warm-up exercise by Vincent Cichowicz, then move onto some long tones, a few etudes, and finally concertos or other solos I am working on.

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

I make sure that I practice a minimum of one hour each day. This helps keeps my chops in shape.

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

Resting is very important. My rest periods are as long as my playing periods.

How do you approach a new piece?

I go through a new work visually and try to understand how it sounds. If I find some difficult intervals or sections, I try to whistle them and then play them on the mouthpiece alone, before trying to play it on the them on the trumpet.

Three generations of trumpet players: from left to right, Tarr, Hardenberger & Herseth.

Education

What is your approach to teaching your students?

My main approach is simple — musicianship is just as important as technique.

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

Sure, why not?

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

I try to choose my mouthpiece primarily based on tone color and ease of tone production.

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

For younger players, I always say to make sure to play real music (see the first response in this segment), not just technique.

A life dedicated to research

Where does Edward H. Tarr’s hunger for trumpet history come from?

My interest in historical themes connecting with the trumpet arose quite naturally, since I was studying musicology (music history) and played the trumpet. Up to that time, nobody had made a historical study of the trumpet. It was about time that happened. Well, that is not quite true: Don L. Smithers wrote a book about the trumpet up to the year 1721 (The Music and History of the Baroque Trumpet before 1721 — Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), not a well-chosen year in my opinion, since Johann Sebastian Bach moved to Leipzig in 1723. Don and I got to know each other in New York in the autumn of 1959, just before I got onto the ship that was to take me to Europe. We got along well then, but he became disgusted with me when I reviewed his book and noticed some things that, in my opinion, needed to be corrected. Only in the last couple years has he become friendly to me once again — a good thing, since we have such similar interests.

Tarr's The Trumpet cover (revised and enlarged edition, Hickman Music Editions, 2008). Available at www.hickmanmusiceditions.com.

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

Oh, yes. I performed a solo with the Basel Symphony Orchestra on the Haydn Concerto. My Musicology professor forced me to remain in his seminar and released me only a quarter of an hour before the concert began. Thus, I was not able to warm-up properly and disaster followed.

How should one take criticism?

Accept it. It is always important to learn.

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?

Try to be extra well-prepared when performing a new piece in public. It takes at least 3-4 performances to remove all the ‘bugs’.

Any advice on preparing for auditions?

Again, be extra well-prepared; it’s good to play the entire program in advance for a group of friends.

Holding Théo Charlier's trumpet.

Musical preferences

What kind of music do you listen to?

Classical music.

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

Classical music, and the horn player Dennis Brain.

Who is your favorite trumpet player?

My very own pupils, Håkan Hardenberger and Reinhold Friedrich.

What is your favorite piece for trumpet?

The Concerto for Trumpet in Eb Major by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

I will share Vince Cichowicz’s warm-up exercise with the Premium members of Trumpetland. I have used it myself for decades. You only need to play it as written, and not transpose it downwards. It is important that you play the first three notes as if they were only one; just pressing the second valve down will make the second note sound properly.

Free download:

Exercise by Edward H. Tarr (PDF 95,92 KB) [Only Premium members]