Friday, September 11, 2015

How to be successful as an amateur trumpet player.

This article is based on many years observation of musicians in brass bands and amateur orchestras. It is not based on any tactics I have used personally, but it might be helpful for people who have the ambition to do a lot of advanced playing.

Over the years I have noticed that some do better than others, even though their playing standards are not that different. I had a think about a number of these people and they all have a number of characteristics in common. I have tried to distil them down to a few ideas that might help others.

If you want to have a successful "career" as an amateur trumpet player and you want to play at a high level with good amateur brass bands or good local orchestras the two key things you need to be able to do are:
  1. You need to be able to play your instrument well.
  2. You need to be able to persuade other people that you can play your instrument well.
These two are not the same thing. People fixing a band will probably never have heard you play. You will not be able to persuade them you are good player by demonstrating your playing to them.  They will only know you by reputation. Even orchestras that have auditions don't run them openly - you will still need a recommendation.  

The two ways of building a reputation are by status or advocacy. 

By status - if you have studied music at University or been a military musician then your qualifications will speak on your behalf and will form a workable reputation on their own. All you need to do is make that status widely known and playing opportunities should come to you fairly easily.

By advocacy - If you are not a music graduate then you need to be good at getting other people to advocate for you. By "advocate" I mean recommend you or speak well of you if your name comes up in conversation. If you are good at this type of networking then it is possible to get further than someone who is a better player than you.

Some things might harm your reputation. For example, it might be better not to play with groups that are known to not play well as their reputation may stick to you, even if it is not warranted. If you play in a local community orchestra that does not require a certain grade standard or a fourth section brass band that is not winning any contests then it might be difficult to shake off that image. You might want to move to a band or orchestra who have defined entry standards or that are in a higher section so you can inherit that kudos as part of your own reputation.

Some things might help your reputation. For example, playing in a solo contest, but only if you have a realistic chance of getting a good result. A bad result could hinder you. As an Australian Olympic swimming coach is reputed to have told his team "show me a silver medal and i'll show you the first of the losers".

Ways you can build influence:
  1. Give conductors confidence in your playing by sight read perfectly at every rehearsal, don't miss entries and do everything the conductor requests.
  2. Accept every offer to deputise or help out other brass bands or orchestras.
  3. Identify who is making decisions about getting into groups you want to play with and find ways of getting to now them or being recommended to them.

An important part of that advocacy is impressing conductors. For players this means being a very good sight reader and being consistent (even if your consistent is at a lower level than some other people's peak playing). You do not need to be a virtuoso. 

So, if you want to make it as a top player:
  1. Be competent on your instrument and play consistently.
  2. Learn to sight read perfectly.
  3. Do lots of networking, identify key influencers and get them to advocate for you.
This will get you playing opportunities which can snowball into a career at the top level of amateur music.