The great athletes and musicians have something to teach us about preparation. But, probably not what you think.
Yes, they work hard and practice, practice, practice. They have a “day of performance” routine to get enough rest and usually are careful not to eat too much before the event. But as the clock ticks down to the big moment, mindset can be key. Whether competing in a race or playing in a symphony orchestra, “attitude” counts.
For the solo trumpet player who begins Mahler’s Symphony #5, mental outlook is crucial. He plays alone for over 20 seconds and dominates the sound when joined by the orchestra for the next 20. If it goes badly, even the musically uneducated know it. The 70 minute performance has been set on the wrong road and sometimes never recovers. How did the greatest orchestral trumpet player of the 20th century get into the proper frame of mind for this? Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the Chicago Symphony’s principal trumpet from 1948 to 2001, did something very simple.
According to longtime Chicago Symphony violinist Arnold Brostoff, it amounted to writing a bit on his sheet music. Brostoff happened to be looking at Herseth’s music stand during a break in a Chicago Symphony rehearsal of that piece just as his colleague stepped away for a few moments. What he saw at the head of the solo trumpet passage were two letters, “TP,” in Herseth’s handwriting. There is no musical notation matching those letters, so Brostoff was puzzled.
Herseth returned shortly thereafter and Brostoff asked him what it meant.
The answer? “Think positive.”
If you’d like to see and hear Herseth facing this musical challenge, click on the link: Mahler Symphony #5.
The first photo is the Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations 2008, Donington Park, England by Mark. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Thanks, Tom. Hope you’re still listening to Mahler!
Sorry – Herseth was a very good trumpet player and I know that for many Americans, he is a quasi divine, infallible figure – but I think in this video, he slightly botches that trumpet solo. Most of the triplet upbeats are not well articulated. The first entry actually sounds like he plays 4 notes there, the fourth entry sounds like only 2 notes, although it is hard to tell.
Yes, Mahler actually writes in the score that the triplets should not be played in time, but slightly accelerando, “in the manner of military fanfares” – one can get a good idea of what he meant by listening to his piano roll recording – but that doesn’t mean that half the notes are swallowed. Also, I think the sound of the trumpet is way too thin. Mahler certainly had an instrument in mind that had a much softer, rounder tone, especially in piano in the lower register, much more subdues and melancholic. This is not a trumpet concerto, it’s a funeral march.
I think this is much better:
I’m happy to let the listeners decide. The point of the piece, of course, was not this particular performance, however one might evaluate it, but rather, Herseth’s attitude.