Solo and Orchestral Trumpeter and Educator

Thoughts on music, trumpet playing, and education from Eric M. Berlin, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Massachusetts and Principal Trumpet of the Albany Symphony and Boston Philharmonic Orchestras.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Practice Space - Physical Space

The majority of my Sunday was spent making a good practice space for myself in the basement of our new home. I cannot stress enough the importance to me of a good space to play.

In the late 1990's and early 2000's I spent countless hours practicing in an amazing church in Brighton, MA. A good relationship with the clergy and organist scored a key and security code which allowed me to practice late into the night whenever I could.

It was in this space that the most dramatic improvements I have ever made in my playing happened. What I found in those magical days was not only a space which made me sound good, but a place where I could truly remove myself from all distractions and focus entirely on the task at hand. Practicing at home or in my office has always been difficult with the constant reminder of and ease of access to the rest of life. There are always emails to answer, laundry, dishes, and the worst distraction of all, the television.

In discussing "practice space" I want to first describe the physical characteristics of my optimal practice space and in a later post, discuss the equally important mental space one must inhabit to make the best use of that physical space.

For a trumpeter, I recommend the following features for your practice space

1) Find a large a space if possible. Let's face it, nobody likes to practice in a small room.
  • It is for your own protection: As trumpeters, we produce a lot of sound. Mike Keough, a former UMASS student, during a semester abroad, did research on noise levels at the Royal Academy of Music in London. This was due to the European Union's new standards for workplace noise levels. Upon his return, he gave a fantastic presentation to the entire student body on the result of his findings. Trumpet and trombone rank as the loudest acoustic instruments and cause the most damage to our hearing. The most interesting thing to me was that the person suffering from a lead trumpet the most was the player him/herself, not the bassoonist in front.
  • A larger room helps you hear your sound more realistically. The physics of the trumpet do not allow us to accurately hear our own sound directly. We must wait until the sound is reflected back to us to hear it. (or better yet, record ourselves - more on that later) In most small rooms engineered for practicing, the environment is acoustically dead. I spent many hours in these rooms and didn't realize that I was playing louder and working harder to get the sound I wanted to reflect back to me to no avail. (To avoid this pain when you need to use one of these rooms, I recommend using ear plugs and tune in completely to the sound in your own head. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish!) In contrast, the church in Brighton had a 4 second reverb that allows one to play arpegios and hear them ring as a vertical chord. Nice way to find out if you play in tune with yourself!
2) Find an isolated room. If you can find a room which is physically removed from the distraction of other people and distractions of your own making, all the better. This is often unrealistic physically, but can often be accomplished in other ways. While at the New England Conservatory of Music, we would often hang a jacket over the door window to shield us from the prying eyes of those looking for a friend to talk to. It doesn't hurt to leave the laptop and smart phone behind as well.

3) Find a good sounding space. Not everyone can find a church with 4 second reverb to practice in. (Doc Severinsen is a big fan of stairwells too!) However, small rooms, carpeting, acoustic tile and low ceilings can all deaden the sound. Although harder surfaces will make the space louder, it helps give a more accurate picture. If a space forces you to play harder to get the sound you want, you will ingrain bad habits and possibly injure yourself.

4) Equip it with the right equipment
  • Mirror
  • Metronome
  • Tuner
  • Chromatic Drone
  • Amplified speakers or headphones
  • Recorder!!!
With all of this said, making an absolutely perfect practice space in one's home is difficult. All we can do is the best we can. As for my own space, I laid claim to one quarter of my basement for my dedicated practice space. (Thanks to my wonderful wife!) Finishing the space was not difficult as 3/4 of the basement walls are concrete. The fourth wall still had exposed fiberglass insulation. My first step was to enclose the insulation and make a hard reflecting surface. With plastic sheeting and a staple gun, I laid a vapor barrier to further insulate and protect the new wall I was about to install. To create a better reflecting surface, I used furniture quality plywood sheets which I cut to fit. Regular plywood would have been okay, but for $5/sheet difference, I felt the smoother surface would not only look better, but may reflect better. Once these sheets were attached to the walls, the experience of playing became MUCH easier.

After hanging a mirror across from my chair, the rest of the project was merely setting up some electronic stuff in a comfortable place. My own space contains the following because I already owned these things and they work great. However, as I will describe below, it is easy enough to function well more simply and less expensively.
  • A matched pair of Rhode NT-5 small diaphragm condenser mics mounted across the room from where I sit or stand.
  • These are powered by a small M-Audio DMP-3 two channel microphone pre-amp.
  • An old Realistic powered mixer which I use to channel, balance and control volume from a metronome and drone.
  • Matrix MR-800 Quartz Metronome (This is the loudest metronome I have ever found. Even a brass quintet playing mezzo-forte can hear this!)
  • Korg Master Tune MT1200 Chromatic multi-temperament tuner - this is overkill for most purposes except for piano tuning, and it is no longer made, but I own it and it allows full chromatic tone generation.
  • Seiko ST1100 Chromatic Tuner - this is the tuner that I prefer and is always in my case. The response time is quick, but not so quick that the needle never stays still. Also produces full chromatic tone generation. In my office, I prefer the Peterson V-SAM Virtual Strobe tuner.
  • Pair of Fostex PM-1 MKII ACTIVE 6.5 inch powered monitors. These produce a large volume of sound and are helpful if playing with Smart Music or any play along system.
  • M-Audio MicroTrack II digital recorder. I have had this for many years and it records great to .WAV file.
  • Audio Techinica ATH-M40FS Studio Headphones - these are relatively inexpensive but very true sounding. I listen to playback of my practice through these to hear more objectively.
This is far beyond what most people need to practice well. In fact, I can do everything that I need with a small portable set up which I carry in my trumpet case (which I take to my practice church). It includes:
  • Matrix MR-800 Quartz Metronome - anything with a headphone jack works
  • Seiko ST1100 Chromatic Tuner - anything with a tone generator and headphone jack works
  • Sony Stereo Microphone - I have been using it since I was in college and it has held up great. It is a discontinued model similar to ECM SM957. I set it across the room with a 16 foot extension cord from Radio Shack
  • M-Audio MicroTrack II digital recorder. There are many great recorders available now. I only recommend that you insist on user variable gain control. Otherwise, you will have high dynamics lowered and soft dynamics raised on your recording negating all of the good work you do creating dynamic contrast.
  • Shure in ear monitors. These are a discontinued model similar to the Shure SE215 - use the best headphones that you own.
  • A few small cables and adapters from Radio Shack to make a small mini-mixer. To do this, insert a headphone volume control into the tuner and metronome (I have older, cheap radio shack versions of these) Then plug each of these to one of end of the 1/8 inch stereo plug to two mono splitter. By then inserting your headphones into this, you can control the volume of each the drone and tuner for practice purposes.

This small package is a complete practice recording setup. It will allow you to follow the practice routine which I will detail in upcoming posts and helped me make major improvements in my playing while practicing in my beloved church in Brighton.

So, find a good space to practice where you will be as far from distraction as you can manage and then equip your space with the ability to record and assess yourself while the instrument is not on your face.

Next post

Practice Space - Mental Space

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just published!

Hey all,

I would like to put in a plug for a great work which has just been published. I asked Evan Hause to write a piece for me and Eduardo Leandro for our 2005 ITG Recital in Bangkok. His immediate response was "Trumpet and Bongos!" It turned out to be a great piece which is on my first CD.

Available until now only directly through Evan, it is now available at the link below. Check it out!

Best wishes,


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Launching First Annual Trumpet Day at UMASS - October 1, 2011

World renowned trumpeter and educator, Vince DiMartino will be joining me and my UMASS colleague Jeffrey Holmes for a day of performances and clinics.

The basic schedule is below with more information available on the UMass Trumpet Studio website at

October 1, 2011

10:00 am Eric Berlin Recital
11:00 am Exhibit and Lunch hour
12:30 pm Clinic by Jeff Holmes
3:00 pm Clinic by Vince DiMartino
4:30 pm District Solo Clinic with Eric Berlin featuring the UMASS trumpet studio
5:30 pm Exhibits and Dinner
8:00 pm Evening concert featuring Vince DiMartino and Jeff Holmes

This event is hosted by the new student run Pioneer Valley Trumpet Guild. Many thanks to Steve Shires Trumpets for their support.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections on 2010-11 season

After settling back in to my home routine after a fantastic summer in Boulder, I am beginning the annual process of documenting the past academic year, known here at UMASS as the Annual Faculty Report. Upon reflection, it really has been a banner year!

As the host of the 2007 International Trumpet Guild Conference, I infused it with my own personality by featuring new music of my favorite composers and commissioning new works specifically for the opening concert with the US Coast Guard Band. Composer James Stephenson and I both had the privilege to study with former BSO Principal Trumpet, Charles Schlueter at the New England Conservatory of Music. What better way to honor my musical father, than to ask Jim to write a piece for us. The resulting work, Duo Fantastique is colorful and flashy work that plays with the audience’s expectations (in particular an audience of all trumpeters!) while giving Charlie and me a chance to have a real ball!

Stephen Paulus wrote his Concerto for Two Trumpets and Orchestra for Doc Severinsen and Manny Laureano in 2003. Unique in its use of stereophonic phasing and composite lines which team the duo against the orchestra and a powerful Elegy in the middle, I was determined to find a way to perform it. For the opening concert at ITG, Stephen wrote a new orchestration for wind ensemble, which I premiered with former Boston Brass lead trumpet, Richard Kelley.

In December of 2010, with these two wonderful works, we began a new recording project with the UMASS Wind Ensemble. Thanks to Charlie and Rich as well as James Patrick Miller on the podium and the wonderful UMASS students for a job well done!

Also to be included on the disc is a new work to be written for the project by my UMASS colleague Jeffrey Holmes and Evan Hause’s Concerto for Trumpet The Hause Concerto was commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra for me in 2001 and I performed its 2004 band orchestration at the 2004 ITG Conference at Denver University. I am really looking forward to getting these works out there!

Shortly on the heels of this performance, I was able to perform the Paulus Concerto again with my colleague Terry Everson with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Terry and I were delighted to be able move from the back of the orchestra where we normally reside and enjoy the unobstructed view of Jordan Hall from next to the conductor’s podium! What a real treat it was to play together up front and get a nice Boston Globe review in the process! Stephen was able to attend and it was a great opportunity to actually hang after so much contact on the telephone!

In addition to the Paulus, BMOP never fails to stimulate my hunger for new American Music. I eagerly await recordings of some smaller works which were all new to me by Milton Babbit, George Rochberg, George Pearl, and Wayne Peterson. One of the nicest works that we premiered was a delightful Puckish new work by Martin Brody. It has a great piccolo trumpet solo which I must put on a sightreading list some time!

The Albany Symphony Orchestra presented a wealth of new American music for an audience who must be applauded for their support of the adventurous programming that has brought us numerous ASCAP and other awards. We recorded magnificent works by our two resident composers, John Corigliano and George Tsontakis. For a disc featuring the music of John Corigliano, we recorded Conjurer, a truly magical journey with Dame Evelyn Glennie as percussion soloist and Vocalise where the breathtakingly beautiful voice of Hila Plitman melds with antiphonal trumpets and electronic effects to give us a glimpse into the future of classical music.

Of particular interest to me was the clarinet concerto written for David Krakauer by George Tsontakis. We recorded Anasa as the first work on a new disc of George’s music to which we will add a new trumpet concerto which we will premier and record in March 2012. David was simply spectacular and the piece was a deep and powerful work that was the perfect vehicle to show off his unmatched virtuosity. As George and I work on the trumpet concerto, I imagine that I will be begging for mercy!

The biggest event in the history of the Albany Symphony Orchestra happened on May 10, 2011. The ASO made its Carnegie Hall debut as part of the Spring for Music Festival. This festival showcased the innovative programming of the 7 winning orchestras. Our program was quintessentially ASO, titled "Spirituals Reimagined". Centered around the civil war and civil rights movement, it began with George Tsontakis’s 1994 “Let the River be Unbroken” and then to a series of contemporary settings of African American Spirituals with Nathan DeSchon Meyers, baritone. These settings were done by nine American composers including John Harbison and George Tsontakis, and several lesser known young composers who may become the recognized greats in the coming decades. I want to thank Stephen Dankner especially, for giving me the license to really take some liberty with his “Wade in de Water” as we closed the first half. The second half was devoted to the complete original version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This concert was a brilliant example of the dedication of the entire orchestra to the music of our time which makes me so proud to be a part of it.

NY Times Review

Streaming Audio - entire concert

Reading the above, one might assume that I never play anything but new music! However, the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra gives me a healthy dose of the meat and potatoes of the orchestral canon. The highlight of its season for me was the October concert. It was a program right out of an audition book with American in Paris, La Mer, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. I cannot imagine much more variety for a principal trumpet to do! It was great to hear Stephen Drury play the Ravel (and to see him still wearing his youthful leather pants!) and as always, conductor Benjamin Zander delivered the program to the audience with his unmatched and infectious enthusiasm for these incredible works. Another highlight of the BPO’s season was a fantastic soloist, Ilya Kaler, presenting Szymanowsky’s Second Violin Concerto. This was a new work to me and Ilya gave an incredible performance.

Also a wonderful source of nourishment for my standard orchestra fare hunger is the Colorado Music Festival. It is also a great opportunity for me to switch roles and enjoy learning from my dear friend and colleague, Jeffrey Work and his wonderful synthesis of Charles Schlueter, Armando Ghitalla and Maurice Andre as he sits in the hot seat. This was my sixth season in Boulder where I often feel humbled to sit among my rockstar colleagues. I spend every moment that I am not immersed in warmth of the orchestra’s powerful and refined sound in the mountains. Aside from listening to Jeff on Mahler 6 and his perfect Arbanesque rendition off the cornet solo in the Bal of Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique, may favorite concert was with Norwegian violinist Hennig Kraggerud. As I told him after the first concert, I have never been so interested in the Mendelssohn Concerto. This warhorse has been nearly played to death, but somehow his modest simplicity, attention to detail and absolute clarity made this a completely new experience for me. And then… he followed it up with the Sibelius Concerto. Amazing! I promptly logged onto Amazon, purchased every recording that he has made.

For my chamber music fix, I have a wonderful quintet, which although we play fewer concerts than in years past, still play some really wonderful stuff together. We work often at Marsh Chapel at Boston University which has the best choir in Boston under the direction of Scott Allen Jarrett. This past Christmas, we began a new relationship with Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. Video The music director, Julian Wachner is the closest I have ever gotten to Leonard Bernstein. As very young men, we played various church services together, and I never tired of his improvisational talents on the organ. Julian is an incredible composer, organist, conductor and general musical genius, we had a great time playing his very difficult, but amazingly effective new hymn settings. We look forward to doing it again!

On top of my performing career, my life as an educator has been equally rich this year! Whether they are serving as leaders and ambassadors for arts organizations, educational groups, service fraternities and sororities, on a local or national level, I am extraordinarily proud of each of my students at UMASS. Solid as soloists and section players in our ensembles, they all bring their A game.

This year, quite a few have achieved national and international recognition. John Mange and Adam Mejeur won International Trumpet Guild Scholarships and 4 students made it through the rigorous first round to perform live in the semi-final round of the National Trumpet Competition. Andrew Stetson MM ’10, Nate Wilson – MM ’12, Micah Maurio – MM ’12, and Steven Felix BM ’12 all performed brilliantly. Steven Felix placed second in the Undergraduate Division and Micah Maurio placed third in the Jazz Competition. Congratulations to all of my students for a fabulous year!

Amazingly enough, the coming year looks as exciting, if not more so! So, with this inaugural post, I begin this blog. Thoughts about trumpet playing, new music, old music and more will appear here in the future. Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you soon.