From Voice to Trumpet to Voice to Trumpet

After a full career as a scientist and amateur musician (singer, trumpeter, musical director, choral conductor, musical theatre, opera and oratorio soloist) I turned my hobby into my profession and began a research project studying an observed connection between trumpet playing and focusing the singing voice. This research really took off when I tackled the natural (valveless) trumpet as used in the Baroque period. What an experience!!! - I went from being a very good trumpet player to sounding as though I had never played before - as I describe it now I went tone-deaf on the trumpet - This phenomenon and its significance is discussed and explained in the ensuing articles.

Ever since its first incarnation some 3000 years ago as an animal horn (with the pointed end cut off to create a primitive mouthpeice) the trumpet has been used to announce and mark significant events and even, according to legend, cause them. Advances in metallurgy allowed the manufacture of more refined and repeatable versions of the basic shape, and, importantly for the definining of the instruments natural harmonic sequence, the production of long lead sections of carefully controlled taper and a designed mouthpiece. Nevertheless the instrument, being apparently able to reliably produce only the sequence 5th/tonic/3rd/5th/b7th/8ve, remained primarily a ceremonial and communication device until the 16th century. The devising of a slide mechanism gave the ability to generate the 'missing harmonics' from this series but the instrument remained of limited use within the developing field of instrumental ensembles. It is significant to me that the ability to negotiate the next octave of the instrument generating 2nd/3rd/4th/5th/6th/b7th/7th/8ve/2nd co-incided with the development of vocal techniques allowing singers to negotiate the demanding melismas of Baroque song and sustain a pure upper register. While keyboards and stringed and keyed/finger-holed instruments could easily play the florid lines of baroque music it was not a given for the trumpet or horn, but the existence of an extensive repertoire of sonatas, concerti and obbligati for the trumpet is testament to the skills which must have been developed which both prompted and allowed the most famous composers of the day to feature the instrument so prominently.

In subsquent pages I expand on this thesis and describe how as a singer and a trumpeter the challenge of mastering the natural trumpet lead to the devising of 'Calisthenics for the Singing Voice' and the discovery of a feed back loop between trumpet and voice development. Using the arching tongue technique rquired to control the trumpet I took my voice (as well as that of my pupils) right up into the high counter-tenor range and even bordering on the sopranist and well into the high soprano range for female voices. (This was a revelation as I was well into my 6th decade believing that I had no falsetto!) The next surprise was the realisation that I was playing both modern and natural trumpets higher and with more security than ever before. The trumpet and the vocal work were now mutually reinforcing each other, not only in terms of range, but also in terms of control of the melodic line (eg placing of notes and words and rubato) Interestingly one of my male voice students who had played trumpet at school and occasionally tootled away for his own amusement reported after doing a lot of high male voice work that he could now effortlessly play a top Bb - a note he had never before got near to. Click below for more essays giving information and explanations of this central role of the tongue in the control of these two instruments.