I once met someone who said she liked to transpose. I didn’t know what to say. I never “liked” it – just did it out of necessity. In the orchestral trumpet world it cannot be passed over. You have to learn it. And one of the best ways is through duets – you share the struggle. And if the music is good, then you also share the enjoyment.
Yet there is a lot more to it than a simple, archaic technique that some might equate with hazing rituals. First of all, the perception of the workload is different. If you saw a Strauss tone poem or a Bruckner symphony all written out for C trumpet, you would think, “wow, that’s really high and long” (well, it is of course) but when the notes are written for F trumpet, the visual image is of a fourth lower. It makes it seem more reachable and the sound you produce is actually fuller.
The next aspect is more subtle. It has to do with tone centering and ear training. One of Vacchiano’s students told me he never played anything in a lesson on the written pitch. If he was assigned an etude to be transposed to D trumpet and brought it in that way, Vacchiano would tell him to now play it for E-flat trumpet instead. Of course, you quickly realize that you had better prepare any given etude in all the keys you can think of.
Vacchiano once told me, “I don’t ask much of my students. I just want them to be able to play any song in any key”. This constantly casting around for transposing music came to Vacchiano through Schlossberg who considered it a very important part of the player’s education.
I believe it has a hidden benefit too. When you are always playing a pitch other than the one you see written on the page, you become much more conscious (in an unconscious way) of where your tone is centering. That results in a better honed and more positive tone production – and the good result of that is the cascading beneficial effect on everything you play.
So there is much more going on in the learning of transposition than just a matter of deciphering orchestral trumpet parts. Every trumpet player should be well-schooled in the art whether they are playing orchestra, band, commercial, pop or jazz. Every aspect of trumpet playing is improved through the discipline of transposition practice. Every lesson assignment should have some transposition included.
Back to the duet business. There are two duet books with moving transpositions available from Balquhidder Music. Gordon Mathie’s Telemann duets and Bob Haley’s Bach Two-Part Inventions. I would peg these as Intermediate and Advanced levels.
The two together would normally sell for $23.95. But now, while supplies last, they are paired together for $16. And if those two books are the only items in your particular order, half of the normal postage cost (for US addresses) will be refunded to you after sale.