Interview with Paul's Thought

Russell Gilmour – Introduction:

When were you born?

Where do you live?
London…but in the last 12 months I’ve lived in Manchester (where I did my Undergraduate Degree) and I’m originally from the Isle of Man.

Russell Gilmour – The Instrument:

What is your instrument?
Trumpet and Natural Trumpet.

What make of instrument do you use?
Frank Tomes – Natural Trumpet.

When did you start to play your instrument?
I started playing the Trumpet when I was 5 and I started the Natural Trumpet in my first term at the Royal Northern College of Music (aged 18).

What drew you to your instrument in the first place?
My older sister started having flute lessons in school when she was 8 or 9. She went into the local music shop to buy a flute and she was persuaded to join a brass band called Onchan Silver Band while she was there! A few weeks later she brought an old cornet home (on the 17th January 1993) and I had a go on it and loved it! By the way: It’s a little-known fact that Mark Cavendish (now a very successful Tour de France and Olympic cyclist) started learning the Cornet at the same time as me and my sister.

Around the same time, I also remember watching the film “Hook” (with the musical score by John Williams). I remember how excited I got every time the brass entered (but at that age I did not know why I was so excited). I watched it back hundreds of times and noticed that I always got excited in the same places. I eventually realised that it was the music that was doing it!

I think what attracted (and still attracts) me to the Trumpet is the fact that it is so close to the voice. I’ve always loved to make funny sounds with my mouth, or try to recreate regional accents etc. Playing the trumpet is as much about imitating sounds as anything else and I think that is why I have always found it a fulfilling instrument to play. Playing the trumpet also attracts a certain kind of person – trumpeters are often good joke tellers and real ‘characters’!!

There are several reasons I started to play the Natural Trumpet when I was 18. My A Level music teacher on the Isle of Man is married to a trumpet player who went to the Royal College of Music and we had a barbecue at their house shortly after the A level results had been published in 2006. He showed me some of his trumpets (that was the first time I had seen even a piccolo trumpet) and I had a go on his Natural Trumpet (although very quietly as his one year old son was asleep in the room next-door). I’d played French Horn for a time before this (as well as the trumpet) and I liked the fact that the Natural Trumpet had the best of both worlds: in being an eight foot instrument and not being too low for me. That September, I went to the RNCM. Just before Christmas, David Staff led an “Introduction to Historical Instruments” which really broadened by horizons. It came to the end of the class where all of the new trumpet players had to try the Natural Trumpet (without holes) in front of the whole trumpet department. I was one of the only people to get a recognisable tune out of the instrument (and some others had even had lessons on this instrument before).

Do you play any other instruments?
I sing lots and play the Piano a bit. Brass-wise: I play Cornetto (Zink), Keyed Trumpet and basically any instrument I can get my hands on!

Russell Gilmour – The Person
What did you want to be when you grew up as a child?

As a really young kid I used to say “A dinosaur” and then later “a steam train driver” (I got to drive the steam trains several times when I worked on the Groudle Glen Railway before I went to University); but, as far back as I can remember, my dream has been to be a trumpet player – but there were a few moments along the way where I doubted this and wanted to be an architect, photographer or work for Apple Inc.

What is your day job?
Playing (and studying) the trumpet. I’m also a qualified teacher too, but I don’t do that much teaching at the moment.

If you could have any other job in the world what would it be?
I can honestly say, more of what I am doing now.

Do you have a family?
My close family are: my sister, my mum, my dad and my nan.

Russell Gilmour – The Musician:

What is an average day for you like?
Busy! It varies a lot, but it’s always busy.

How much do you need to practice your instrument?
This also varies between not at all and a lot. It depends what I have got on. Playing any brass instrument is a very physical thing and just like an athlete, you know how much you need to do to be in good shape. In terms of learning what to play, I can do the majority of this by listening to a recording of it, or by singing the part through in my head. I find that knowing what I need to play (“auralisation”) makes the right notes come out in the right order. This kind of practice often happens without having a trumpet in my hands.

What musical education did you have?
A mixture really. I was very lucky to get free music lessons in school – thanks to the Isle of Man Department of Education and Music Service. I had a very inspiring teacher. He is a trombone player called Steve Wortley (who has now retired). He trained a staggering number of brass players on the Isle of Man and many of his ex-students are now students at conservatoires or professionals. His incredible musicianship and talent rubbed off on his students. I was also in a lot of youth and amateur groups including a Youth Symphony Orchestra, Wind Orchestra, Swing Band and Brass Band – all of which contributed to my musical training.

What was your first paid performance?
Well, a few possible answers here. I remember the day I realised I might be able to make money from playing. I was about eleven and everyone in our band was given £2 (yes, just £2) for playing at a ceremony on Tynwald Day (the Isle of Man’s National Holiday). I was so chuffed to get that pair of pound coins and it made me realise that there could be something in this.

My first paid gig in Manchester was in Manchester Cathedral doing 2nd trumpet in the Messiah with Manchester Baroque.

My first paid performance in London was in Westminster Abbey in December 2009. I played Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Samson with Anna Sandstrøm (Soprano) in a Christmas evensong service which celebrated the music and poetry of those buried inside Westminster Abbey.

How often do you perform?
Regularly. At least once a week I will have a concert of some description. Some weeks there will be three or four concerts and others there will be none, but in the time between I am always keeping myself busy.

What are you currently working on?
Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto (on the Natural Trumpet) for a Concert on the 24th of June at the Royal College of Music.

I’m currently doing a lot of arranging, just because it is something I love doing and I’m hoping to record an album with my brilliant Brass Quintet.

I’m working on writing a tutor for the Natural Trumpet with my ex-teacher and colleague David Staff.

I’ve just been loaned some coiled natural trumpets, so I’m experimenting with them.

Also, I am doing some written work for my Masters course.

How much travelling do you do?
This varies. Last December was incredible – all over Europe doing a Tour of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. However, it’s relatively easy for a Trumpet player to keep busy in December’s “D Major” trail. The rest of the year I work mostly within the UK. Last year I was lucky enough to play in Canada, Italy, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Spain and France.

What is your favourite style of music?
I love playing Bach. The only way to understand my taste in music is to delve deep into my iTunes library! It is an eclectic mix of musical styles. I love listening to music from all over the world and I love listening to CDs with soul and character and most importantly “a story”. Somehow the music means more to me if it reminds me of being somewhere else or how I came to hear it for the first time. I don’t like to limit myself to saying that one style is my favourite really as I will listen to anything and get a massive of enjoyment out of it.

Do you mainly play your favourite style of music, or something else?
I am very fortunate in that I do get to play a lot of Bach’s music and I am also lucky that I still play in other styles from time to time. I play in a function band – which is really good fun – and it’s so nice not to have to read music for it – basically I just stand in a horn section and make up riffs and licks that fit with the piece we’re playing. It’s a lot of fun, especially as the others in the horn section are great musicians to be around – and so the musical ideas come thick and fast.

Out of all the places you have performed, which was your favourite?
The Winspear Center in Edmonton Canada. Also the Chapelle de la Trinite in Lyon, France. Both amazing for different reasons.

Where would you like to perform?
The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and actually – probably more: the Thomaskirke in Leipzig. (Bach’s church).

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with on a musical project?
David Attenborough. He has a wonderful voice and says things in such a rhetorically beautiful way.

What is the best bit about being a musician?
Undoubtedly, the music. The people are also excellent – usually live wires as well!

What is the worst bit about being a musician?
The waiting around. I once heard someone say they had spend twenty-five years as a musician: five of them playing and the rest of them waiting.

Russell Gilmour – Extra bits:
If you won £10million on the lottery, what would you do first?
Well, similar to the words of “Jackie” in the film “Waking Ned” – “Well, I’d take what I needed and treat my friends with the rest!” – I would design and self-build a house, complete with a recording studio / hall and then I’d spend about half of what was left on putting on some amazing concerts with great colleagues.

What was the last book you read?
Stephen Fry’s – “The Fry Chronicles” and Kristian Steenstrup “Teaching Brass” (both excellent).

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
To be able to fly, so that I never have to be seasick again (coming from an Island, this is a slight problem).

What would the title of your autobiography be?
“That’s the story of my life!” (or something equally punning, perhaps involving trumpets). Either way, I don’t envisage massive queues forming at the bookshops!

If you had one tip to give to an aspiring musician – what would it be?
Well, firstly: these are two great pieces of advice I was given…
1. My trumpet teacher’s trumpet teacher, Bernard Brown said this: “Whenever you hear someone playing the trumpet: stop and listen. It does not matter whether it is good or bad, there will always be something to learn”.

2. Walter Reiter said something which has stuck in my mind: “There is no such thing as playing well. You either play expressively or you play badly”.

…and my own addition to this advice would be:
Aspire to be what your colleagues would call “a great colleague” and what they (and the composer) would call “a great musician”.

on Twitter at @trumpetruss

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Russell Gilmour
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