Second Trumpet Thoughts

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by wiseone2, Dec 12, 2004.

  1. wiseone2

    wiseone2 Artitst in Residence Staff Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    Holding up every great first player is the unsung hero of the trumpet section, the second trumpet player.
    Nat Prager and Seymour Rosenfeld come to my mind immediately. The Chicago Symphony had a string of legendary second trumpets over the years.

    Second trumpet, to me, is the hardest chair to play in the section. Usually you're playing when the first is, and you don't have an assistant when the going get tough :p Prager was a great player, and he did it on the Bbtrumpet.

    I played a gig in Philly with Seymour.It was the first time I worked with him. He played first trumpet. We did that Mozart thing with the sleighbells and Posthorn, you know the one. Seymour nailed the high D lick using that Frankenhorn Bb he played all the time.

    After every concert, I say "Thank You" to the second player. They make the first guy look good.
  2. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Forte User

    Oct 11, 2004
    Farnham (a place too smal
    Wilmer - I consider this to be one of the finest posts you have ever written, on any forum - and that is saying a considerable amount.

    A good second player is very hard to find, even harder to name. The vast majority of trumpet players can name a principal trumpet or two (or three, or four, or more), but how many second players can the average trumpet player name?

    I think one of the main problems is that a vast number of people are leaving college, university, music college expecting to play first. They have spent hours practising all the tricky first parts, but have no idea what to do on the second seat. The number of them that are going to end up playing principal are very few, the number that are going to go straight into those chairs are even fewer.
    Playing second is a very specific job, your tuning needs to be exactly with the principal player, even when they go slightly off-centre. You need to follow every stylistic change, even if they change their mind in concert. You need to listen to everybody and be a bridge between the trumpets and horns or trombones, depending upon repertoire and style.

    My university tutor spent a lot of time teaching me how to play second trumpet parts and I mentally thank him every time I have to play them. His logic was that if everyone else is fighting out for principal positions, you can get the second parts and make a stunningly good job of them.
    I am told that I do, but many people say a lot of things.

    In some groups I play principal, others second (or further down the line). When I am playing principal there are certain players I will wish for below me. They are the ones who you don't have to discuss things with, it just happens. If only there were more of them.
  3. MalinTrumpet

    MalinTrumpet Pianissimo User

    Nov 7, 2004
    New York City
    2nd trumpet


    And it's so much harder to hear the second part. Anyone (well almost anyone) can hear a melody, but harmony is much more difficult. Playing second in non-harmonic pieces presents its own difficulty.

    Jim Thompson, a great 1st trumpeter, says he likes the second trumpet just a bit louder than the first. Interesting...

    How's the weather in my homeland of Brooklyn? It's gotten cold, cold here on West End Ave. Time to go back and play some warm notes.

    Larry Malin
  4. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    I know that this post is in reference to playing second in an orchestral setting, but I want to point out the importance of solid, utility, section players in just almost any small ensemble.

    One of the things that I have prided myself in over the years is my ability to hold up and support a good lead. It isn't that I never wanted to be a lead player or 1st chair player, but playing second sort of came my way by default because the fact is, I just didn't really have the range or endurance that you need to have in order to be a strong, confident lead player. In big band, I REALLY didn't have the kind of range necessary to play lead, and I am lacking as a soloist, so that left 3rd and 4th. It wasn't long before I started to realize that what I did down there on the 4th book, if I wasn't locked up tight with the lead player, it could make or break the section. It also affected how easy or hard it made the lead player's job. The same rang true for playing second to a great leader player in a Latin band.

    Off of the top of my head, I really can't list all of the things that you need to do in order to be an effective second player. Most of them I just sort of learned by doing, and I'm sure that I could do some of them better, but there are some basic principles to follow.

    Match intonation. Sorry to say, but if the lead player of the big band is riding sharp on that screamed last note, I'm going to push up to meet and support them.

    Match volume - Again, the job of the second is to support the lead so you have to play loud enough to support, but not so loud that you are forcing the lead player to play even louder. Balanced support is the key.

    Match style and phrasing - if you can get this together, it can give the whole band a focal point to play around, especially if the lead trumpet player is in lock step with the drummer. (Refers to big band)

    Most of these concepts are basic principles of section playing, but it's amazing to me how often you hear 4 individual trumpet players in a big band trumpet section rather than one section, playing as a whole.

    Also, I can't speak of these things from anything that I have learned through any college experience because I simply don't have it, but what I do have is years of gigging experience, some good, some bad.

    Great post Wilmer.

    MUSICandCHARACTER Forte User

    Jan 31, 2004
    Newburgh, Indiana
    Being classically trained, my improv stinks. I have never worked on it to any great extent. Instead, in a jazz or swing setting, I play second, or third. I let someone else do the solo work and I do the work of supporting them.

    It is a position I am fine with. I usually have more range than the solo lead player, etc., but so what? I am not a jazz/swing soloist. They call me to fill in once-in-a-while down line a bit. I am going to play with a dixieland band this weekend as a fill in. Guess what part I will be playing?

    The world needs good second players. They may not get the glory sometimes, or get to list their title as "principal." But it is important work.

    This has been a great thread on a seldom discussed topic!

  6. blutch

    blutch Pianissimo User

    Dec 25, 2004
    Oklahoma City
    I have always found playing 2nd or even 3rd in the orchestra to be extremely rewarding. Especially when the first player is a fine musician and a good friend or colleague. I have been fortunate to play 2nd to some great people who see the section as a collaboration, not just an ego-fest. Many thrilling moments in that chair for me over the years.

    Michael Anderson
    OKlahoma City University
  7. brass2002

    brass2002 New Friend

    Sep 12, 2004
    One of my teachers told me that Seymour Rosenfeld said the best second trumpet player is someone who has principal qualities and doesn't want to do it.
  8. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    I can totally see that. Unless you have a major ego, or the pay is substantially different, or unless you like that kind of pressure, what would be the point? I'm not sure that I would like being in the hot seat all of the time.
  9. SM

    SM New Friend

    Feb 22, 2005
    I sub quite a bit in an orchestra and get the opportunity to play 2nd or 3rd with a great principal player. The best compliment I've gotten from him is after he played Beethoven 5 with the regular 2nd player after just playing it with me the week before. He said "I sure like playing it better with you" I also take pride in playing 3rd when the principal player tells me that he's glad he doesn't have to worry about me and he can spend his time worrying about the 2nd player.

    My favorite gig is playing in my quintet (2nd, of course)

  10. Musician4077

    Musician4077 New Friend

    May 23, 2005
    Essexville, MI
    Though this topic may be old, I'd just like to add my own thoughts. I'm only in high school, but I know that one of my best friends is my second trumpet player. Even at this stage of the game, it's nice to have that support that he gives. If I need a break, or can't nail a part, I can always count on him to back me up. I don't know where I'd be without him. Thanks, Freshie! You're awesome.


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