All posts by Jason McNally

Hollywood Epic Brass Trumpet Guild Concert

The 2016 International Trumpet Guild Conference gets underway Tuesday, May 31st.

Some of the best studio brass players in Hollywood, and hence, the world, are performing in a concert Friday, June 3rd at Garden Grove United Methodist Church.  The address is:

12741 Main St.

Garden Grove, CA 92840

The concert is at 8pm and will feature the Garden Grove Methodist and Grace First Presbyterian Church choirs.  The concert is comprised of new arrangements for brass/choir by Kevin Kaska.

I have spent the last couple months accompanying the Grace First Sanctuary Choir’s rehearsals on these pieces.  They are hymn arrangements and medleys and are really well done.   It promises to be a very uplifting program.

This is the first International Trumpet Guild conference in southern California in 20 years.  A large crowd is expected, and tickets are available at the door.

Trumpet Sounds from the Sky?

Lately, there’s been featured in the news some reports of strange trumpet-like sounds heard all around the world.  These sounds have been heard in many different countries by people who say the sound is coming from the sky. Eerie, strange in pitch and seemingly random, it definitely will raise the hair on the back of your neck.

These kind of reports sound like the stuff of science fiction or end-time prophecies.  People are often quick to point to an alien invasion, or the end of the world.  However, NASA has said that what we are hearing could simply be earth’s “background noise”.  At this point, no one knows for sure.  Below is the link to a news article, which includes video of the sounds.  Judge for yourself.—just-5723668



RIP Rolf Smedvig

It came as a shock to the brass world that Rolf Smedvig, trumpeter of the Empire Brass died last Monday.  He died suddenly and was only 62 years old.  His career was an impressive one, including spans as principal trumpet of orchestras, as a conductor, soloist, and in his most famous role as Empire Brass founding member.

I remember growing up, the Empire Brass was the “other” brass quintet on the scene, next to the Canadian Brass. My dad’s quintet would frequently perform Canadian Brass arrangements and I went with them to hear the group live in Philadelphia.  The Empire Brass seemed to be doing “edgier” stuff and I only heard a handful of recordings.  But I remember being impressed by their virtuosity and the power in their sound.  Now, of course, they are a bedrock group in the brass world.  Recently, I got chance to hear some of their album they recorded with organist, Michael Murray.  Great stuff.

Rolf will be sorely missed I’m sure.  Here is a link to the New York Times article on his death.

New York Times – Rolf Smedvig


ITG 2016

I know we’re only in 2015, but I’m excited about next year’s International Trumpet Guild Conference.  It seems the location hasn’t been widely announced yet, but I heard through the grapevine (from someone on the artistic advisory committee) that it will be in Anaheim, CA.  I’m excited!  There are sure to be plenty of great concerts/workshops and the conference brings together two of my favorite things: trumpet and organ.  Playing weekly in nearby Long Beach, I know that there are many great pipe organs in Orange County.  I’m anxious to see where the events will be held, and I’m even more excited to attend some great trumpet and organ recitals!

As a side note, I’ve been told there will be plenty of great jazz trumpeters at the conference in 2016 – and about 1/2 of all the events will be jazz oriented.

In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Colombus, OH, here is some information about this year’s (2015) conference:

Minimalism and Piano

Continuing the discussion of modern classical music:

Growing up, minimalism was sort of made fun of, at least in the amateur musical circles of which I was a part.  As the years have passed though, I think we’ve seen the importance of the ideas and the music.  I was exposed to some Philip Glass during high school (Einstein on the Beach), and then John Adams in my undergraduate study (China Gates).  I started to really get interested when I re-watched The Truman Show and discovered that Philip Glass had done the wonderfully lyrical score.

Although I’ve mentioned Philip Glass and John Adams, other composers use minimalist elements and ideas such as:  Arvo Part, Steve Reich, and John Tavener.  Anyone who hears the choral music of Arvo Part more than once will instantly recognize the unique voice he has through his music.

I can’t say I have a great knowledge of minimalism , but I have grown to like the pieces I’ve heard and played.  Being a pianist, I have naturally gravitated to minimalistic pieces for that instrument. Specifically, I’ve played some of Philip Glass’s pieces titled Metamorphosis.  I find them to be conducive to the imagination in almost a stream of consciousness kind of way.  Yes, it’s repetitive, but that’s the point.  The pieces gradually transform, the harmonies gently shifting.  There is a mysterious quality, and people have called the music hypnotic, but I don’t really like that term.  The music itself never stops, like the human mind.  Even when we sleep, our subconscious is active, reflecting, reconsidering our conscious experiences.  So, to me, the music is like a conscious rendering or interpretation of the subconscious state.

Below are a few clips.  The first one is Philip Glass playing and discussing one of his Metamorphosis pieces.  The next clip is Phrygian Gates by John Adams.  The final clip is part of the score to The Truman Show.  This clip shows the more lyrical side of this music.



Modern Classical Music

I once had a music history professor that said unless the classical world embraces modern classical music in a bigger way, there’s a good chance traditional classical music will die out.  I’m not sure I agree, but his point was that there has to constantly be new things and new ideas to explore for any field to remain relevant.

There are scores and scores of fantastic new “classical” music being written these days in the choral, instrumental, organ/piano, and orchestral genres.  I will do a series of short, related blog posts on these different genres of contemporary classical music.

The first area I’ll highlight is choral music:

Almost all of us know some of the popular choral composers writing today- Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, among others.  And there are those that are content with performing a short range of these contemporary composers to balance out their repertoire of Thomas Tallis and Palestrina motets.  The problem I have with this is I get bored with hearing the same composers over and over at concerts.  It’s like taking a course on English literature and spending the entire semester on one Canterbury tale.  Yeah, it’s great stuff, but there is so much more out there.  Several of the popular contemporary choral composers write in common tonal language and I find myself wishing for more diversity.

A wonderful young composer of choral pieces (and organ, which I’ll get to in my next post) is Carson Cooman.  He is in his mid thirties, but already has a tremendously varied output in many genres, including choral.  He is a contemporary classical music aficionado himself, so he has a passion in his composing, and it comes across well.  I find it hard to pinpoint his musical influences, which for me, means that he has absorbed much and made his music something new altogether- a unique tonal language and musical voice.

Below is a recording of a somewhat simple piece by Cooman: Bless the Lord, O My Soul.  This piece was written in 2010 and uses this common sacred text to great effect.


Mark O’Connor and the Suzuki Method

Mark O’Connor is making headlines for a series of highly critical articles and blog posts against the founder of the Suzuki method.  I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about the situation.  As I ponder it longer, though, I’ve realized that the overall effect of his criticism is a negative one and detrimental to worldwide musical education.

Basically, Mark asserts that Mr. Suzuki was a fraud, and not a great violinist as many believe.  He also attacks the method itself as being impersonal and actually ruining students’ love for music.  I don’t really find the claims on Mr. Suzuki himself to be all that relevant.  We should be looking solely at the actual pedagogy and the net effects of the Suzuki method.

Millions of students have been introduced to music through the Suzuki method (primarily) on violin and piano.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of the actual teaching method, there is no denying the positive influences it has had on young people.  It provides an accessible way for very young students to get involved in music, usually in a group setting.  There is obviously not an emphasis on personal creativity and expression at that early stage, but that is not really the point of this method. The point is that people get exposed to music, many of whom, otherwise, would never have a chance to be involved in this art form.

No teaching method is perfect, and no teaching method works for everyone.  Not every principal trumpet player used the Arban method.  There are many paths that can lead to the same place (all roads lead to Rome)…so we should be less critical of other methods and appreciate them for the uniqueness they possess and the positive values they offer.

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals

I could say a lot about this “hymnal appreciation” article from, but I think it speaks for itself.  Many of the “reasons” have been obvious to me for most of my life, but this author articulates them more clearly than I could.  My favorite: “Hymnals give congregational singing back to the people.”  Give it a read.

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals

To March or Not to March?

Marching Band.  People seem to either love it or hate it.  Many musicians say it’s unmusical. Orchestral players sneer at it.  And yet, almost every college and university has a marching band.  The same is true for high schools.  Those in the bands often love it and are willing to devote to it a huge amount of time and energy.

First the musical argument:  Ok, we know that the band directors and drum majors basically say one thing – play louder!  It’s hard to teach musicality when there are three dynamic levels: loud, louder, and blow-your-brains-out.  Orchestral standards are often rearranged and sometimes butchered in an attempt to do a familiar piece.  Not much listening is involved since everyone is usually playing all the time while marching on a field 30 yards away from the other sections.  However, maybe many of these students have no regular involvement with anything that resembles good music.  This could be their only exposure to music that’s not rock, rap, or death metal.

Second, the participation argument: Not many cons here.  Most bands are proud, tight-knit groups that enjoy spending time playing music together.  Regular weekend football games and competitions are great ways for students to interact outside of the classroom and collaborate.

Lastly, the time argument:  Band camp is usually a rough two weeks before school starts of nothing but marching and playing.  But hey, it’s summer and most kids are probably not doing much of anything anyway.  Once the school year starts, students often spend early mornings and school nights rehearsing, even leaving school early to travel to other schools.  However, when it comes down to it, the amount of school missed is probably not as significant as we would think.  Marching band members tend to be pretty good managers of time and as a general rule do well in their other classes.


Conclusion: If the interest is there, marching band is a great thing for kids to be involved in.  And while I only did it for two of my four years of high school, I look back on it now with fond memories.  Band ten hut!