Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The "Morrison Sound"

I was on the radio today for a show called "Grumpy Old Grad Students," where these two grad students asked me what it was like to be a trumpet major. It will eventually be streamed, with all my frivolous banter, here.

One question they asked me was what a trumpet player can do to make money. I said symphonies, small little pick-up brass gigs, ceremonial music, church music, funk/rock bands, jazz, solo touring recitals... (just kidding about that last one)

Then the guy asked me if this was a good season to be a trumpet player, because of all the Obama/Clinton/and especially McCain commercials that set a montage of the heroic candidate to the soundtrack of a lone trumpet supported by strings or sonorous brass. They asked me how to get those jobs, and I thought about it, and mentioned that trumpet players adore Tim Morrison, and I made the argument that perhaps Tim Morrison invented the stoic and heroic brass tone as we (and especially non-musicians) know it today. Think about, for instance, the theme to Apollo 13, or the West Wing. Without the rich low brass chords and the lone trumpet with a perfect, beautiful still sound--would these movies/shows have the sort of richness and gravity that
they do.

Perhaps Mr. Manning knows Morrison, since Morrison's classic Boston days coincide.

What's the point? Well, I am just as annoyed as any other "highbrow" musician to play cookie-cutter film music transcriptions in a summer band, and I'll roll my eyes at John Williams like the next person. But here in the main marketplace, there is a brass sound--remember the richness of the tuttis in Jurrasic Park?--that is a touchstone for non-musicians. At the risk of overstating things, these cues--through patriotic commercials, military bands, and film music (all of them to some extent "commercial" in their intent)--point to a cultural relevance of the brass sound in our days of canned electronic beats. You can't replace the resonance of a James Horner score, for instance, by using a synthesizer. People just know, and they crave the real thing.

So next time that John McCain commercial comes on, and the flag waves, no matter what your politics, listen for the brass sound. Like a political message, our product--our sounds--are being subconsciously peddled to a new generation of listeners.

This is a sound that is utterly commercial in its purposes but--in the case of Morrison, the BSO, and the London Symphony, that crop up on several albums that are "commercially" intended--it is a sound with an unimpeachable integrity as brass playing. One can make some money, then, and reach a wide audience without donning a sombrero, or a funny hat and a flugel and a catchy melody, by playing a very simple, very "American" tune very, very well.

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