Interview with Frits Damrow

Professor at Zurich University of the Arts (Switzerland).

«Pierre Thibaud taught me that, without discipline and hard work, nothing will improve»

2019-01-01

Today, we are interviewing a person who won his first position as a principal soloist (in the Netherlands Radio Symphony) before finalizing his studies. Afterwards, he turned into one of the most historic soloists of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, where he occupied the seat for 20 years, and is now the professor of Trumpet at the Zurich University of the Arts since 2009. We are talking about none other than Frits Damrow. Don’t forget to download his exercises that he is sharing from his book, “Shape Up”.

Up close and personal
  • Age: 58.
  • City of birth: Ubach over Worms, Limburg (Netherlands).
  • A hobby: Golf.
  • A food: Paella.
  • A drink: White wine.
  • A book: The Inner Game of Music (Timothy Gallwey).
  • A film: Ben-Hur (William Wyler).
  • A place: Rome (Italy).

Professional career

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

I was attracted to the trumpet because a friend played it, and I was impressed with the sound and appearance of the instrument. When I was about 13 years old, I won some competitions and realized that I had the possibility to become a professional musician.

Where have you studied and who were your teachers?

I had my first lessons from the conductor of the band in my village. He was a great and very musical person. A few years later, I visited the music school in Kerkrade. I started my studies at the Maastricht Conservatory. I took private lessons from James Stamp, Thomas Stevens and Pierre Thibaud.

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

When I was 21 years old, I won the audition for principal trumpet in the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra. After 9 years, I auditioned for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and became principal trumpet for 20 years, until 2010. Since then, I am professor of Trumpet at the Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland.

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

My most important influence was Thomas Stevens. His playing and his ideas about teaching, music and professional life influenced me a lot. James Stamp taught me how to play his own exercises and many others, and how to organize my daily practice. Pierre Thibaud taught me that, without discipline and hard work, nothing will improve. I’ve been influenced by the many great musicians and conductors with which I have worked.

Daily work

What is your daily practice routine?

I like to start with an easy warm-up using Stamp or flow studies, or my own exercises from the Shape Up book. Clarke and Schlossberg are also part of my daily practice. Every day, I play vocalise styled etudes to improve my sound, breathing technique and sense of phrasing.

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

I try to practise as much as I can and play a lot of basics.

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

Resting is a very important part of the daily work. The more intense our practice is, the more we have to rest. Finding a good balance between playing and resting can improve our shape and overall condition.

How do you approach a new piece?

First, I try to get an overall impression about the musical character of the piece. Then, I try to find out what technical challenges the piece requires. The actual practice is first very slow, with many repeats on difficult passages.

Education

What is your approach to teaching your students?

I want my students to become independent musicians. First, they should develop a solid technical level by learning what, how and why they must practice. Next they should become very skilled musicians, learning all possible musical styles, from Renaissance to contemporary music. Listening to many other great musicians can help to develop a musical sense.

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

It depends on the student. Some students can combine different genres, while others should concentrate on one discipline. For a classical trumpet player, I recommend also learning the natural trumpet. Many players will have difficulties combining classical and jazz at a high level.

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

The most important thing is to find equipment that’s suited the style of music you play. You should also feel comfortable with the equipment you use. Quality of sound, intonation and comfort while playing is important when choosing a trumpet.

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

Try to stay motivated and inspired. Always look for new challenges and surround yourself with the best possible people.

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

Yes. Playing principal trumpet in a world-famous orchestra can be very stressful.

How should one take criticism?

It should motivate you to become better.

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?

With good preparation and staying in shape. Breathing exercises can help to relax the body and to keep the air moving.

Any advice on preparing for auditions?

Do not over practice. Practicing a long list of orchestral excerpts can be very tiring, so take time to rest when needed. Learn all the pieces completely, not only the required passages. Listen to different recordings, many times.

Musical preferences

What kind of music do you listen to?

Many kinds of music, depending on my mood or what I am working on.

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

Classical music in general. I especially like Baroque music and late Romantic (opera). I also like some different kinds of pop music.

Who is your favorite trumpet player?

I grew up with Maurice André, and his playing was great motivation for me. I also listened to Timofei Dokshizer a lot, Rafael Méndez and ‘Bud’ Herseth. In recent times, Håkan Hardenberger is my favorite trumpet player.

What is your favorite piece for trumpet?

The one I am going to play on my next concert.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

Here some exercises from my book Shape Up. In this book, you will find warm-up exercises and exercises for developing coordination, endurance, sound and flexibility. Many exercises include bending, false fingerings, flutter-tonguing and other techniques for better efficiency and progress.

Free download:

Exercise by Frits Damrow (PDF 265,26 KB) [Only Premium members]