Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) Preview Week
Q&A with Aaron Shragge
Curator of FONT 2013 Program at the Village Zendo
Click here for the full 2013 FONT Program
How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play any other instruments before the trumpet?
The was something about the sound of the trumpet that sparked my interest around the time I was eleven years old. I had already played the violin and then briefly the accordion but without very much dedication or success.
The moment when I decided I was going to become a trumpet player was much later in high school when I had a transcendent experience improvising. The feeling I had while improvising on the horn seemed to instantly liberate me from all my worries and give my life new meaning and direction.
I also feel like really being a trumpet player is never becoming a trumpet player. It’s never arriving at any fixed destination. It’s to relentlessly and fearlessly grow towards what is limitless by continually bowing to the practice of an instrument that has an endless number lessons to teach us.
If so, did those instruments inform how you played the trumpet?
I find what most informs my trumpet playing is the practice of the Japanese Flute, the Shakuhachi and North Indian Vocals. Playing the Shakuhachi for the last nine years has changed the way I breath as well as the way I hear sound and space. From learning North Indian Vocals over the last seven years I’ve developed a greater awareness of my throat, which allows me to open my trumpet sound in different ways. The singing has also revolutionized the way I hear intonation and the space between each pitch. It’s from learning these musical traditions away from the trumpet that lead me to develop a custom horn with a seven position slide as well as valves, built by Josh Landress.
Were there recording in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?
On of the recording that sticks out the most is Jon Hassell’s album Facsinoma. I remember hearing it at a record store in L.A and not realizing that what I was hearing was a trumpet. His sound had so much breath and the subtlety-flexibility of a voice. Later I would make the connection that the style of Indian vocals that I was learning had been the same that Jon Hassell has studied many years before.
People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing trumpet that you wish people would realize?
I think the trumpet is as hard as we make it. Though I do feel that before I met Laurie Frink I didn’t stand a chance in every getting anywhere. I think once you find the right method/teacher it’s not as bad as everyone says. It is high maintenance but I see that as a blessing. The ritual of practicing the trumpet is what keeps me going through everything that I face in life.
I do wish more people would realize that there are an abundance of different ways the trumpet can be played. So many times whether in school or in performance situations I get the sense that people still assume the trumpet is about being loud high and fast. That is why I think FONT is so amazing and important. I think it represents a very unique all inclusive trumpet culture that not nearly enough listeners of the instrument are aware of.
If you had to identify with one of two gurus, trumpeters of otherwise, who had the greatest impact on you musical journey to date, whom would they be?
I’d say Laurie Frink, for simply proving to me that what I thought I’d never be able to do on the trumpet was possible.
Then I’d say my Indian vocal teacher Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan. I feel that I’ve learned music from him as intimately as a child learns language from their parents. He also never gives up on pushing me way past where I think I can go.
Last, I’d have to list my flute teacher Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin. He has a powerful compassionate presence that comes through his playing/teaching and it is something that I always think of when I play music.
How did you select the people you wanted to showcase in you particular curation? We’re these people you felt we’re deserving of wider recognition? We’re they people you felt shared a similar working aesthetic as you or came from someplace completely differently?
What attracted me to RPE duo is how Matt Postle’s trumpet seamlessly integrates with Radek Rudnick’s electronics. Listening to their music in a way reminds me of meditating at the Zendo. As we are on Broadway there can be some very intense city sounds that come up from the street and as you sit those sounds become a sonic landscape for seeing your mind. In a similar way Matt’s trumpet focuses the various musical textures of Radek’s soundscape. For that reason I thought they would be perfect for performing at the Village Zendo.
Douglas Detrick is the first person I talked to about bringing FONT to the Zendo and I’m extremely grateful for his guidance in the organization and curating process. I believe his music is a perfect fit for the Zendo because it maintains an incredible balance between being compositionally challenging and aesthetically pleasing to the listener. In a similar way the openness of the Zendo can be equally inviting and challenging to all those that enter the space to meditate.
Who is your favorite trumpeter today (as in today, the day you are writing this email) and what recorded song available to the public best exemplifies why this trumpeter is so badass?
It’s hard to list one, but I’d have to say Kenny Wheeler, Angel Song.There is something about the depth of his sound and the sensitivity of his musical ideas that never ceases to amaze me.
Talk a bit about the venue you chose to curate in? Why is it special to you? Why do you want people to experience that particular venue? Or was it the most hospitable venue available for what you wanted to do?
The Village Zendo has existed as a meditation center in lower Manhattan for over twenty five years. Since 2009, Village Zendo Arts has been presenting music, visual art, music film and theatre at the Zendo. In 2012, we began “Villagers and Trumpet” an ongoing series in collaboration FONT music that is inspired by a Zen parable in which villagers gain insight into their true nature through listening to a visitor play the trumpet.
People often say there is a real vibe or energy at the Zendo, which might be because there are people meditating there three times a day. Either way it’s a beautiful loft space with wonderful warm acoustics and it provides the listener with an extremely intimate way to experience creative music.
I hold the Village Zendo as a space and community close to my heart. I feel as though the community there is like my family and has allowed me to grow in ways that I never thought possible. It is for that reason that I’m all the more excited to share it with the trumpet/greater musical community.
Can you all share an anecdote about this year’s honoree Marcus Belgrave and what bearing, if any, he has had on you life as a listener, trumpet player, student of appreciator of creative music?
What I find most inspiring about Marcus Belgrave is that beyond his huge contribution to wide range of musical styles he has also dedicated himself to mentoring and educating others. In an interview with Bret Primack Marcus said some of the best advice he can give his students is to “…Look inside yourself and see wherever you want to go…and follow your dream.” I feel these are powerful words to live by not only as a human being but especially as a trumpet player.
What even besides the events you curate are you most looking forward to checking out live?
Hard to pinpoint one but I think I’ll really enjoy the diversity represented at both Smoke and Douglass Street, though I hope to be at every concert!