On Wednesday 24 April I was at the Conway Hall in London for the second Music Up Close lecture-recital of a series being run by sound collective and its enterprising maestro Tom Hammond. I wasn’t necessarily the target audience as the sessions are aimed at people who have an interest in music but little knowledge base about the subject, but I enjoyed it greatly nonetheless. The sessions each focus on an aspect of music – in this case Baroque music through the prism of the trumpet – in a friendly environment in which questions are welcomed at any point and everyone goes away better informed.
This edition was led by the extraordinary natural trumpet player Adrian Woodward, who introduced himself less formally as ‘Woody’. He had a number of instruments to demonstrate, including audience participation in playing garden hoses fitted with a plastic mouthpiece. Woody demonstrated the natural trumpet – which he fascinatingly contrasted with the modern trumpet in two renditions of Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March. He also showed us the cornetto, a wooden instrument with a brass mouthpiece which was on its last legs in the Baroque, but which was for me the revelation of the evening. Woody played us some Bach cornetto music, simple but captivatingly beautiful, to round off the lecture.
Woody had earlier spoken of the limitation of the natural trumpet to the harmonic series, with its – to our modern ears – out of tune notes higher in the register. He also let us in on a secret of modern-day natural trumpeters: a series of fingerholes which enable the player to ease these recalcitrant tones back in line. This was also a new one on me. As a professional musician I may not have been the main audience for this event, but even for me there was new information and insights.
Woody did well to keep the session moving, despite the great difficulties involved in moving rapidly between speaking and playing. He was helped by contributions from conductor Jonathan Tilbrook and co-ordinator Tom Hammond, which added fresh angles to the discussion. Woody’s parting shot was to remind us that, for Baroque composers, the trumpet wasn’t all about loud, high, flashy playing, but a beauty of sound that came from imitating the human voice, and he demonstrated this admirably.
The series continues on Wednesdays for the next four weeks and are highly recommended. Music Up Close is a marvellous addition to the London music scene, filling a gap by being approachable and friendly – avoiding jargon carefully – but offering fascinating insights into the music of past and how it is performed today.
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