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Like most of the trumpet players in the world, we began our trumpet playing in a school band. When my teacher took me to play in an orchestra, I started to find out that there were a lot of differences between playing in an orchestra and a band. Some of the challenges in an orchestra are so unique that you will not find them in the band at all.



The first thing I noticed was that everybody tune to the concert “A” in an orchestra instead of the “Bb” in the band. Then I found out that I was surrounded by the sound of the strings instead of the pipe-organ like sound of the wind players in a band. The scariest thing of all was that there was only one player for each part for the winds. The army of trumpet players who used to play together with me was not there any more. Each wind players in the orchestra have their own score. It is uncommon to double up your parts unless it is a large scale work. So, you are the only person who is responsible for all the notes in front of you!

When I started to rehearse, I noticed that the keys of most of the songs were written in the sharp keys. This is very common in the orchestra but you seldom see that in a band. Since the trumpet is in the key of Bb, it always “carries” 2 flats with it. When it comes to play a song in the sharp keys, the Bb trumpet will need to play a key that has 2 sharps more. For example, for a song in D major (2 sharps in the key signature), the trumpet player will need to play E Major (4 sharps). That will certainly increase the difficulties in terms of fingering.

Also, for the convenience of writing the score, a lot of composers or editors wrote the trumpet part for certain keys instead of the Bb. For example, if the song was written in D Major, the composer may write the score for trumpet in D so that the composer will only need to write C Major for the D-trumpet. The common keys that one will find in a trumpet score for the orchestra are Trumpet in A, C, D, Eb, E or F. While no one will have all the trumpets of every key, it is important that a trumpet player in the orchestra be able to play in transposition. For example, for a trumpet in Bb to play a score for the trumpet in D, the player has to play a Major 3rd higher for all the notes. So, when one sees a “C”, the player has to play an “E” in order to play in the right pitch. Sometime, you will find that there are multiple keys in one single score and the player has to be very careful in the transposition. A sound concept in the relationship of the keys and ability to play in transposition is a must in order to play in an orchestra.

Intonation is another important element in trumpet playing. I remembered my teacher told me that no one single note from the trumpet is in tune! I don’t understand this until I have played in an orchestra. It is because whatever the intonation issue one has, it will be augmented when one plays in an orchestra. The mainly reason is that the mechanism of sound production by the strings and the winds are totally different. On top of that, the trumpet will get warmer as it was being played. The warmer the instrument it is, the sharper it will become (please don’t ask me the physics behind!). So, the trumpet players in the orchestra have to use the ears very carefully at all time and make necessary adjustment to the instrument accordingly in order to stay in tune.

Lastly, it is very common for the trumpet player to sit in the orchestra to count lots of empty bars that they don’t need to play. It is because the involvement of the brass in the orchestra is generally less compared to the woodwinds and strings. The trumpet players has to be able to find a way to keep the chops in shape while they are not playing so that when they pick up the ice-cold instrument after a long break, they will be able to deliver the sound that the composers and the conductors expect.

These are most of the challenges that a trumpet player will face when they start to play in an orchestra. With some guidance and coaching, one will start to be able to blend in and enjoy the production of an orchestral work as a team.


By Simon Leung



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