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In the Pit: David Washburn - Trumpeter on the Go

BRAVO 44 Interview

By Diane Eisenman

The story of how David Washburn found the trumpet has become a family legend.

David’s father, an engineering professor, played cornet. He eventually gave that cornet to a friend. One evening, while the Washburns were visiting this friend, someone brought out the cornet. Little David gave it a go. After one lesson, his father’s friend exclaimed: “You’d better get him a trumpet!”

Born in Pasadena, raised in Long Beach, David has played a major role in the classical music scene throughout his career, participating in orchestras as far flung as Hong Kong and performing solos throughout the world.

In 1993 he won a joint position with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and the Los Angeles Opera (LAO) Orchestra. Today he is LAO’s Associate Principal Trumpet and LACO’s Principal Trumpet. Summers are spent with the California Philharmonic and various music festivals.

Heads up, movie buffs: David is very active in recording studios for such films as Avatar and last year’s Star Wars: Episode VI – The Force Awakens. Indeed, he’s been part of the John Williams Orchestra for over 20 years.

Always looking to share his love and knowledge of the trumpet, David is a member of the faculty at University of California Irvine, Azusa Pacific University, and Biola University. Previous teaching positions include Chapman, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, and Redlands University.

David himself has been the beneficiary of many masters before him: Joan LaRue with the Long Beach Public School system, John Clyman at University of Southern California where he received his Bachelor of Music, and Robert Nagel at the New England Conservatory of Music where he received his Master of Music.

When it’s time to prepare for a new opera, David has to plan out which of his 12 trumpets will give the best sound to each passage. He often uses three different trumpets during a single opera, plus several mutes to give a variety of color to the sounds.

The trumpets vary in size, pitch range, and valve systems, while the mutes vary in length, material, and shape. Furthermore, before he even practices the notes, David must transpose much of his music to the appropriate key, depending on which trumpet he is using.

Besides orchestras, David has had many opportunities to perform as a soloist. This year he performed the Bach Cantata #51 with LACO. And this month he tours with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #2.

Fun fact: He has performed the Brandenburg Concertos over a hundred times!

For you aspiring trumpeters, being in this profession means keeping those lips in peak condition. David practices literally every single day, even when on vacation, even when that vacation sees him kicking back on his 38-foot “motor home on water” in Catalina with his four kids, one of whom, a son, plays trumpet. Another plays flute. A third son is a singer who’s already been in several LAO productions. A fourth, his daughter, has inherited her dad’s love of the ocean with her plans to pursue marine biology.

Anything involving the water--diving, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, just walking on the beach--has been a Washburn family pastime since David was a kid. So in one way or another, all four of his children are truly cut from his cloth.

When I ask him what he loves about the trumpet, he says he enjoys the soothing sound of the brass in a chorale, and he loves playing hero themes. With the bold sound of the trumpet, he must be aware not to get carried away and cover up the singers’ voices.

Summing up the trumpet’s role in opera, he says, “We are the icing on the cake.”

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Author: Thomas Lady
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