One of the most impressive feats on trumpet is to change the color of sound. The definition of sound color is abstract, but I define it in terms of brilliant, transparent, silky, smooth, buzzy, etc. When I was a younger musician, my teachers seldom discussed this concept, but it finally clicked in my brain when I was playing second to Bob Walp on Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Houston Symphony. During our play through before the first rehearsal, while we were playing a half note with a decrescendo from forte to piano, Bob stopped me and asked that we play it again using the color change to make the decrescendo rather than a decibel level. When we played it again changing the color from brilliant to covered, the result was astonishing. Instead of a one-dimensional decrescendo, the color change added an extra layer to the sound and made the music more interesting, which fit better in the style of the concerto. This helped me understand how important color changes are when playing trumpet. This important aspect of style and character will reveal your maturity level, and mastering it will help you become a more attractive musician.
There are two things to consider when changing the color of the sound on trumpet. The first is whether the color changes during the musical line that you are playing, and the second is knowing which color is required to perform, with the correct style and sound, works by different composers. Wagner’s Parsifal provides a good example of changing color in the center of the excerpt. The beginning is silky and delicate, but as you crescendo to the high point of the phrase, the timbre should become brilliant and biting until after the climax when the timbre should return to that of the opening. It helps to understand that dynamic levels are not about decibel amounts, but are rather about color manipulation. While this excerpt spans piano to forte, try altering the color rather than playing louder. In this manner, you will capture the character more effectively. Stravinsky’s ballerina dance in Petrouchka is another example of changing the color in the middle of an excerpt. The F-Major (M7) fanfares should have a brilliant, bright color to the sound while the slurs should have a delicate, silky characteristic. Try, for practice, ignoring the dynamic contrast and focusing solely on the character and color change. When you achieve the color change, then you can determine if the slurs need to be softer, but you may find that you can play them more full and the color change will take care of the dynamic contrast.
The second part to understanding color manipulation on the trumpet is determining which color matches each composer. For example, forte in Brahms is by no means the same color as forte in Mahler or Strauss. Mahler’s forte markings sometimes require a little buzz (brassy quality) to the sound while his piano marking require a light, delicate, and pure sound. Brahms’ forte markings should not have buzz to the sound and should be weighted and rich, with a singing quality. His piano markings require great delicacy and transparency to the sound. Great musicians seemingly make these alterations with ease. Color changes will also help with obtaining the appropriate dynamic markings on certain occasions. For example, I play Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 mezzo piano because if my timbre is light, delicate, and smooth, it will sound soft enough. This timbre will not pierce through the orchestra easily and will allow you to sound soft and delicate. Conversely, loud Mahler excerpts can be played only at a true forte if you have brilliance and vibrancy to the sound.
In order to learn this technique, you much do significant listening research to be able to discern what color best fits into the orchestra. If you have the opportunity, listen to the best orchestras live and take note of how they change colors in order to convey the style and feel of a work. Recordings do not provide adequate range for determining color, unless you have a spectacular sound system and the orchestra was recorded on equally good non-compressing equipment. When color is concerned, your imagination is your only limitation. Expanding your musical horizons will exponentially add to your musical expression.
One further consideration. Color change is not to be confused with projection. Sometimes the music does require you to cut through the orchestra, but this should be done with the appropriate color and without strain. Projection is related to efficiency, sustain, and articulation, and is a discussion for another day.
This blog will mainly be used to discuss aspects of trumpet playing. Please feel free to comment on any post or email me with questions or topics.