It seems that every year or two we play a big John Williams concert. As the principal trumpet, the week always sets off the full array of alarm bells and sirens. Such a programme requires thoughtful preparation, a practice plan that will prepare you physically for what you have to do, and a heck of a lot of confidence that you’ve got what it takes to nail it, right through the end of the concert.
Having done more than a few of these shows, that confidence comes more easily than it used to for me. The practice plan, unsurprisingly, involves building volume and intensity in the weeks before, and not needing to overpractice and pick up debilitating fatigue on the days when the rehearsals of such a monster programme will provide the intensity and workload required to have the goods at the end of the week.
The planning, however, is an interesting challenge, and is very programme-specific. We’ll have four players on this show, some pieces having three parts and some four. I’m not shy about having an assistant on a show like this. On the three-trumpet pieces I mark, both in my part and a copy, passages I’d like the assistant to double (usually passages where all three trumpets are in unison, or in octaves I’ll make sure there are two players in each octave), and passages where I’ll lay out entirely (usually accompaniment passages or long notes). I’m also not shy about strategically splitting up passages to make sure it all sounds super strong. Pieces that we do over and over, like the classic Star Wars suite, I’ve got figured out. Others that I’ve never played before require a bit more guesswork, and sometimes some changes at the first rehearsal.
One particularly clever bit of programming has gone into this concert: the suite from Robin Hood, by Erich Korngold. Not only is it wonderful film music, but we’re playing it on a regular series concert the week prior. Pops concerts in general get less rehearsal time than classical concerts, even though the music could often use a full rehearsal schedule. This particular programme will effectively get more rehearsal because of the time we will already have spent on Robin Hood.
In a lot of ways a week like this is an extreme challenge, but mentally it’s actually quite straightforward. There aren’t many real changes of gear, I’m pretty much in charge most of the time that I’m playing. Being such a consistently prominent voice lets me focus mostly on executing my part very well, and trusting that my colleagues will follow me. Of course the usual concerns of ensemble and intonation never really go away, but when you’re driving the bus it’s a lot easier to know you’re on track.