Teachers around the world:

Elisa Koehler

Professor at Goucher College. Baroque Trumpet and Cornetto at Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble. Solo Cornet and Conductor at Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band (United States).

«Mouthpiece buzzing exposes (and often cures) a multitude of embouchure problems»

2018-01-30

In this newly added "Teachers Around the World" interview, we have Elisa Koehler (professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, USA), and also the author of the interesting books, "Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer’s Guide to Trumpet History and Literature", and "A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player". Her experience in teaching, performing, directing, and researching is really impressive. And the exercise she shares with our Premium members to simulate a natural trumpet on the modern trumpet in B-flat is fascinating!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 52.
  • City of birth: Baltimore, Maryland (USA).
  • A hobby: Digital media creation.
  • A food: Salmon.
  • A drink: Apple juice.
  • A book: From Dawn to Decadence (Jacques Barzun).
  • A film: The Sound of Music (Robert Wise).
  • A place: 1 The open road.

Musical roots

Where do you come from? That is, we would like to know 1) where you grew up as a trumpeter, 2) who were your most important teachers, and 3) what your professional and pedagogical trajectory has been until today.

I grew up as a trumpeter in Baltimore, Maryland (USA). My most important teachers were John ‘Jack’ Garner (US Army Blues, retired), Wayne Cameron (Peabody Conservatory), Cathy Leach (University of Tennessee), Ray Mase (Aspen Music Festival), and Ed Hoffman (post-graduate studies).

My professional trajectory is perhaps a bit unusual. Orchestral music and history were my first loves, and at the age of ten I had my heart set on becoming a conductor. But I didn’t see any other women conductors at the time, so I transferred my ambitions to becoming an orchestral trumpeter. During my college years at the Peabody Conservatory (undergraduate) and the University of Tennessee (where I was Cathy Leach’s graduate teaching assistant), I became fascinated by brass history and score study and developed an insatiable curiosity about period instruments (natural trumpet, cornetto, vintage cornet, etc.). After earning my master’s degree, I won an audition for third trumpet with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, and during my year in the orchestra, I decided that becoming a conductor wasn’t as impossible as it had seemed when I was a kid. I successfully auditioned for Peabody’s graduate conducting program and went on to earn my doctorate in orchestral conducting while continuing to play the trumpet professionally in the Baltimore-Washington area. While working on my dissertation on the Italian-American bandmaster Salvatore Minichini, I became hooked on research and musicology. I especially enjoyed this work because my maternal great-grandfather, Frank Joseph Kapralek, played E-flat clarinet in Sousa’s band, and Minichini also played E-flat clarinet.

Following grad school, I cobbled together several part-time jobs teaching, performing, and conducting, until I landed a full-time position at Goucher College, eventually earning tenure and now promotion to the rank of (full) Professor. In addition to my job at the college, I was also the Music Director and Conductor of the Frederick (MD) Symphony Orchestra for seventeen years. Academia has become a good home for me because it combines all of my interests: performing, conducting, teaching, and scholarship (research and writing). Research funding has also made it possible for me to explore my passion for historic brass by attending summer workshops and pursuing further studies in natural trumpet and cornetto. This led to performance opportunities on period instruments with several groups, including the Orchestra of the 17th Century, the Bach Sinfonia, the Washington Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, and Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band (as conductor and cornet soloist).

All of these experiences inspired a series of articles I wrote concerning historic brass for the International Trumpet Guild (ITG) Journal. The success of these articles led to an invitation from Scarecrow Press (now Rowman & Littlefield) to write A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player, which I wrote right on the heels of my first book, Fanfares and Finesse: A Performer’s Guide to Trumpet History and Literature (Indiana University Press). After publishing the books, I was asked to edit new performing editions of the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos for Carl Fischer Music, which were published in 2016. In addition to these projects, I have since been appointed to administrative posts at Goucher College in 2013 (Music Department Chair and now Director of the Center for Dance, Music, and Theatre), which is why I left my conducting position with the Frederick Symphony. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I have had to publish, conduct, teach, and perform.

Every trumpeter has his methodological preferences. What type of exercises or methods do you emphasize when practicing and teaching, and why?

I’m a big fan of mouthpiece buzzing, especially James Thompson’s exercises in The Buzzing Book and James Stamp’s warm-ups. Because I primarily teach non-majors at a small liberal arts college, I have found that mouthpiece buzzing exposes (and often cures) a multitude of embouchure problems along with targeted breathing exercises. Flexibility studies are also important, and I like to use Irons’s Twenty-Seven Groups of Exercises with most students because they are approachable and don’t progress too quickly. In lessons, I usually focus on physical playing technique for about half of the lesson time and then on etudes, solos, and ensemble music for the rest, usually ending with a duet or two for sight-reading. In my own playing, I rely on mouthpiece buzzing because I switch instruments a lot and use a variety of different mouthpieces (especially the acorn-size cornetto mouthpiece); buzzing keeps me focused on embouchure fundamentals, as well as supplemental work with Warburton’s P.E.T.E. device.

Day to day with the trumpet

Could you tell us what your daily trumpet routine consists of?

My daily routine consists of mouthpiece buzzing and flexibility studies (Irons and/or Colin), as mentioned above, and some work in Chris Gekker’s Articulation Studies or Endurance Drills, along with mindful, targeted work on scales and arpeggios in selected keys, ending with some lyrical free improvisation in one key (a different key each day). During times when I have upcoming performances on period instruments, I focus exclusively on that instrument (cornetto, Baroque vented trumpet, or 19th Century cornet) with unique targeted routines. For example, on the cornetto I play lots and lots of meditative long tones and work on exercises by Jeremy West and Bruce Dickey. For natural trumpet and/or Baroque vented trumpet I use lots of Dauverné and Edward Tarr’s exercises from The Art of Baroque Trumpet Playing, and on the 19th Century cornet… lots of Arban. Between performances, I love to work on etudes, especially Böhme, Charlier, and Bach transcriptions.

What brands of trumpets and mouthpieces do you use? Do you use them for any particular reason?

Modern Trumpets:

  • B-flat: Bach Stradivarius 197 (New York #7 Series).
  • C: Bach Stradivarius 229 GH (25R leadpipe).
  • E-flat/D: Schilke 3L.
  • Piccolo: Kanstul 1520 in B-flat, A, and G (separate bells and valve slides for each key).
  • Cornet: Bundy (shepherd’s crook).
  • Flugelhorn: Kanstul 1525.

Period Instruments:

  • Egger Baroque vented trumpet (3-hole system), after Johann Leonard Ehe II (ca. 1746) with crooks and leadpipes for C and D in both A=415 and A=440.
  • Tomes Natural and Baroque vented trumpet (4-hole system), after Johann Leonard Ehe II with crooks, yards, and bits for B-flat, C and D in A=415, A=430, and A=440.
  • Seraphinoff Natural Trumpet (Classical Era), after Carl Missenharter (Ulm, ca. 1840) with crooks and bits for F, E-flat, E, D, C, and B-flat in A=430 and A=440.
  • Cornetto (A=440) by John McCann, boxwood covered in leather.
  • Cornetto (A=466) by John McCann, German plum wood covered in leather.
  • Cornet (ca. 1886) by J. W. Pepper (Philadelphia) in B-flat (shanks for A=452 and A=440).
  • Cornet (ca. 1890) by W. Seefeldt (Philadelphia) in B-flat (A=452).

Mouthpieces:

For modern trumpet, I use a Laskey 60B (B-flat, C, and E-flat trumpets) because it is not too large, which facilitates switching between different instruments. For piccolo trumpet, I use a Warburton 5SV (7 Star backbore, cornet shank), for modern cornet a Wick 5 or 5B (Heritage model), and for flugelhorn a Wick 4FL.

For period instruments, I use an Egger SI6 mouthpiece for natural and Baroque trumpets, cornetto mouthpieces by Matthew Jennejohn and John McCann, and a 19th Century cornet mouthpiece by Seefeldt (“Levy Model”) that came with the original instrument.

Do you use any equipment that is beyond what we would consider normal? (E.G. a Delrin top, bent mouthpiece, bent trumpet receiver, different bell configuration, etc.)

This question might apply to some of the period instruments listed above; my modern instrument setup is not unusual. One instrument that is very unique is a natural trumpet modeled on a trumpet by Hanns Hainlein from 1632 that I built myself using 17th Century methods (with a lot of help) at the International Trumpet Making Workshop this past summer. It’s a fantastic experience I would recommend to everyone!

The teaching center

Where can a student, that would like to study with you, find you? Where do you teach?

I teach at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland (USA).

What can a student expect from you? And what do you expect from the student?

Students can expect me to be patient, insistent, and focused on their individual needs, while holding them to high standards of self-discipline and musicianship. Whenever possible, I like to give students the opportunity to try out the natural trumpet to expand their perception of our instrument’s heritage along with the foundational relationship of the harmonic series to all brass playing. I expect students to be determined to improve, willing to take risks, and willing to take responsibility for their own progress.

In your experience, what is the one common problem young players have today?

They don’t read books.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

To simulate the feel of playing the natural trumpet on a modern B-flat trumpet, use the valve combination of 1 & 3 and start on a low G3 (below middle C, or C4) and slowly move up the harmonic series one note at a time while making sure to hit all of the notes, especially the ones that are naturally out of tune (don’t skip over any notes). Don’t try to correct the out of tune pitches; just let them sit where they naturally lie. The goal is to play with an efficient, focused embouchure and a consistent airflow so that the notes slot easily. Then, focus on individual octaves (from G3 to G4, from G4 to G5, and from G5 to G6, if possible) and notice where the triads and scales occur. For an extra challenge, try playing Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary in the third octave with some lip trills.

Free download:

Exercise by Elisa Koehler (PDF 182,75 KB) [Only Premium members]