Trumpet Consort von Humboldt: ‘You Can’t Just Pucker Up and Blow’ - Humboldt State Now

Trumpet Consort von Humboldt: ‘You Can’t Just Pucker Up and Blow’

You might reasonably assume that a trumpet made in 1996 or 2006 would be played pretty much the same way as a trumpet made, for example, in the 1660s in the reign of England’s Charles II.

Trumpet Consort von Humboldt performing at Christ Church, Episcopal, Eureka playing replica 1667 copper and silver baroque trumpets. Left to right: Frédéric Belanger, Branden Lewis, Ryan Brown, Andrew Henderson, Anwyn Halliday and director and HSU Music Professor Gilbert Cline. Photo by Audrey McCombs.

True, the valves on modern trumpets had not been invented yet, so the old trumpets were twice as long. They produced more of the naturally occurring “bugle tones.”

That aside, the principle must be the same, right? Basically, pucker up and blow.

Well, not really.

In fact, ancient musical instruments require quite different approaches, both in technique and psychology. Humboldt State music student and baroque trumpeter Anwyn Halliday explains the difference with a comparison to live theater:

“In my experience, playing period music on the actual instruments for which the piece was intended—back in the 17th and 18th centuries—is akin to how a stage actor portrays a Shakespearean play. You can’t just put on the tights, hold up the dagger and kill your uncle; you have to change the entire way you use language and you have to assume a different role. In music, this comes with understanding the circumstances and history behind the music and the instruments.”

To stimulate that historical appreciation, Anwyn will join her fellow students in the Trumpet Consort von Humboldt when it performs this summer in New York City in the second International Historic Brass Symposium: Repertoire, Performance and Culture. The consort is directed by HSU Music Professor Gil Cline, whose own personal and professional interest in period brass reaches back to the 1970s.

The New York symposium will be hosted July 12-15 by the Historic Brass Society, an international music organization that champions brass music from antiquity and the Biblical period to the present. The society’s purview encompasses the history, music, literature and performance practice of early brass instruments, including the natural trumpet.

Students in the Trumpet Consort von Humboldt perform with replicas of natural, no valve trumpets in C, dating to 1667. Anwyn’s fellow instrumentalists are Ryan Brown, Andrew Henderson, Branden Lewis and graduate student Frederic Belanger.

Henderson, a freshman, is the newest member and brimming with enthusiasm. “Trumpet Consort von Humboldt is everything to me. I think the natural trumpet is the coolest instrument in the world. This trip to New York will really mean a lot to me. I’ve never been there before and I’ve never gotten to see real professional baroque trumpet players before; it will definitely be an honor to be in the same room as they are.”

The consort’s performance in the Big Apple alongside other national and international musicians will include music reaching as far back as 1551 by Tielman Susato, a Renaissance composer, instrumentalist and publisher of music in Antwerp. Cline’s ensemble will appear on Sunday, July 15, at the New School Jazz and Contemporary Music Program in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The consort program also will include music from England, France and Italy, plus a bit of American groove-funk as a divertissement.

“Trumpet Consort Von Humboldt has been an enormous asset, not only to my musical sense, but to my historical knowledge as well,” says Anwyn.

The ancestry of her replica trumpet dates to the London of the 1660s. It is one of the enduring artifacts of the major cultural changes brought about at the court of Charles II, the Restoration Monarch of that decade.

Following the downfall of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, which ascended to power after Charles I was beheaded in 1649, Charles II rose to power in 1660. He reopened the theatres, energized bawdy Restoration comedy, fostered English-language opera and made his court the center of musical patronage in Britain.

Charles II loved pleasure and the pleasure of pleasure; he was nicknamed the “Merry Monarch.” His fancy included music, instrumental music in particular. Choral music also re-emerged as the restored monarch, a crypto-Catholic, relaxed the moral strictures of the Puritan regime. His passion for baroque and continental forms of music, instilled during his years of exile on the continent while Cromwell ruled, made London fertile ground for European musicians and composers. The king was partial to all things French, and he encouraged many French musicians to join his court.

Domestic composers of the Restoration period include some of the greatest names in the Western classical tradition: William Turner, John Blow and Henry Purcell, who wrote secular music in his early career, including works for the theater, before becoming the organist at Westminster Abbey during Charles II’s reign.

Anwyn Halliday says the Trumpet Consort’s invitation to the prestigious New York venue will help to inform the HSU campus of the Music Department’s many and varied resources, in particular the historical ones.

“Most Humboldt State students don’t know about the period music ensembles we have and have had in the past,” she says. “Not even all of the other
music students are really fully aware that the department has these resources for playing baroque and classical music.” As for the symposium itself, she adds, “This trip to New York is going to be very intense. I get to play alongside Gil Cline at what is probably the most important historic brass gathering in all of the United States. I’ll also have the opportunity to meet and hear from so many other amazing musicians who share the same enthusiasm for historic music.”

Cline shares Anwyn’s sense that the performance of classical works on period instruments has a magic all of its own. “It’s a different mindset altogether, akin to the difference between a sail boat and a motor boat,” he says. “This is categorically a natural trumpet, it has no valves.
Inside this instrument is a rainbow of 16 notes, the notes of the harmonic series, with the same tones as in 1667. This is the music you would have heard in the time of a Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli—all the composers of that time.”

The natural trumpet is not made to be as loud as its modern counterpart, Cline says. It’s more mellifluous, closer to a cornet than a trumpet and it blends well with strings. “The natural trumpet can ‘get up and go’ and be rambunctious, but it has a certain sweetness and richness that is otherwise lost. It’s not as brassy as today’s trumpet, which has gotten louder and brighter of necessity, as it has to be heard over a loud group or a mega-orchestra with 90 or a hundred musicians. In the old days things were not as loud.”

The thrill of period performance, Cline says with excitement, is that bringing instruments to life is not unlike reviving a disappearing species. “In England, the people who preserve instruments are not called archivists, they’re called instrument keepers. I think of them as resembling zoo keepers—keeping the instruments alive. And that’s what we’re doing here at Humboldt State, too.”