Interview with Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s Bradley Saunders

imageInterview with Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s Bradley Saunders

We had our Education and Public Programs Coordinator, Anna Friedland, connect with our Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) Bradley Saunders. Saunders is a new member of MSO and resident of Mariposa County. He has had a life-long love for Yosemite and the surrounding area. We are grateful to have someone with so much passion for music contribute his time, talent, and energy into our community.

1. What is your music background? Who were some of your most important influences and teachers?

I started playing music when I was about 5 years old when my mom brought home a chime-like children’s instrument that came with a book that you could play standard folk songs like “Grand Ol’ Flag,” “Ol’ Susanna,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” etc. That was when I figured out that I have a music bug. When I was in fifth grade, I had the opportunity to play in the band and I chose the flute because I could tuck it in my backpack but very quickly found out that it wasn’t really what I wanted to play. When I joined the sixth grade band the next year, I decided I wanted to switch to the clarinet. The band teacher said I could practice at home and get ready. So I went home excited and told my parents that I was going to play the clarinet that year! They were a little bit upset that I wanted to give up the flute since she had to rent one for a year. Eventually she gave in and went to the music rental place and exchanged instruments. When she got home I was so excited. She said she had gotten a killer deal on this instrument since it was used and sorta beat up but playable… When I finally pulled out the case I noticed it was a little big for a clarinet case. To my surprise, she had gotten a cornet instead of a clarinet. “What’s the difference?” She said… So there it was…

I tried playing a little bit but wasn’t really interested so I went to the back of the band and banged on the bass drums all year.

Toward the end of High School, I got turned on to Maynard Ferguson and like a lot of trumpet players, I was inspired. That’s about the time I pulled out this old beaten up (and I mean really beat up) cornet and started to practice. It was a bit tricky getting used to playing a step up, but in no time at all I could pop a double high G and was playing in local bands.

My first year of college, I started as a music major taking trumpet voice lessons and focusing on perfecting my craft in jazz. It was that September that the World Trade Center was attacked. I decided that this was my chance to be patriotic (like a lot of 20 year olds at the time) and so I enlisted into the U.S. Navy. That May I left and put away the trumpet for what I thought would be the last time.

After a year, I was itching to play again. That was also about the time I walked into a pawnshop and saw a rather old, but in perfect condition, Bach Stradivarius trumpet and with the paycheck that the Navy was giving me, I went ahead and bought it.

A couple months later I deployed to the gulf and started a new adventure on a ship as an electrician during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. I put down the trumpet for about seven months during this time. When we got back, the ship went into the shipyard for a few months so I decided to maybe see if there was anyone in town who gave lessons. I decided to seek help from the local university in San Diego. They gave me the name Calvin Price who played in the city symphony (who also just so happened to play in most of the big orchestral soundtracks coming out of LA). I took a few lessons from him and at $80 a lesson found myself soon broke. I eventually found another fellow by the name of Dirk Komen. I told Dirk that when I got out of the navy I wanted to try my hand at orchestral trumpet playing so he got me up to par and soon I was playing gigs all over the city. I played in several musicals and brass quartets and when Easter came along, I played about three different services.

Right before the ship went on its third deployment, I found out that I was being transferred to Everett, Washington. After I arrived in Washington, I met this fellow named Charlie Butler, who was the former principal trumpet player of the Seattle Symphony. He wasn’t really playing anymore except for the occasional video game score or community band. I made friends with him and found out that he was now restoring Bach Stradivarius Trumpets to their original (and better) condition. For a small cost, he restored my Bach Strad to prime condition and that is what I play today.

When I got out of the navy, I decided to study trumpet performance and music education at Southern Oregon University. I played principal trumpet in all of the large ensembles and lead trumpet in the Jazz band. Lotsa fun!

In college, I met some very outstanding music directors and quickly made friends with them. One was Kirby Shaw, who most of us who have sung in choirs know from being one of the biggest name in choral arranging. Kirby ran a community group in Ashland and inviting me to sing with him. The group sang vocal jazz, country, pop, a cappella, spirituals, you name it! I also got a chance to learn all about how to sing in different styles. Kirby sings professionally in sessions coming out of LA twice a year so he takes sight singing to a whole new level. It was really a joy to be held to such a high standard.

After college I played on several recordings for private clients and continued playing in musicals around southern Oregon and have also sung on a variety of sessions. Recently I have branched off to record several personal projects just for fun.

2. I’ve read that you have experience singing in choirs. How would you compare and contrast a symphony orchestra with a choir?

This is a really good question. The main difference is that in orchestras (and bands for that matter) you are required to be able to play your part and read the chart while everyone else reads their chart. Music can happen almost instantaneously with very little effort if all are at even just a basic level. In the choir, it is completely opposite. Most people can read words but beyond that, not much more when you hand them a piece of sheet music. This is why most choir directors will encourage lots of sectionals and home practice.  I have even had choir directors sing the parts on a tape or CD and give them out to everyone so they can know exactly what to sing. After that, it is up to the director to work on phrasing and make the choir sound musical. It’s very much the same.

3. Why did you join the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra? Why do you think people join orchestras? What is this community/collaborative experience like? Do you ever play/perform solo trumpet works? 

This community has a really great vibe with the music program. Most small towns don’t have symphony orchestras that play regularly without being attached to a local community college or university. We have it very nice here. We have a very beautiful auditorium and a very nice place to rehearse. I have been blessed to have made contact with fellow musicians around the area and we have made plans to do some big projects in the future. It all starts with one person with a big idea and then several to get together to make it happen.

I have played several trumpet solos throughout the years. Most trumpet players who study in liberal arts colleges have to play the usual trumpet solos such as the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Eb, etc., which I have played all of these… Since I am a jazz musician, I like to play a little more contemporary stuff. My favorite all-time piece to play is this arrangement I found of Oh Holy Night, which allows me to show off on flugelhorn and trumpet. It has a written “Double A” at the peak of the piece and is very entertaining. I’d like to maybe play a solo or two with the orchestra in the future…

4. Do you consider the trumpet, a part of your “voice?” What is the role(s) of a trumpet in an orchestra?

Absolutely! I play the trumpet exactly how I sing. Or maybe I sing exactly how I play trumpet? I feel like it is important to listen to music and listen to everything everyone is doing and try to emulate it. After a few years of playing, I have come up with a sound that is very distinct and no one else that I know of sounds like me.

5. How often do you rehearse on your own? Do you have preferred times of the day? Does your practice require a lot of discipline? Do you have a ritual?

Generally throughout the week, I will practice at least an hour a day. The trumpet is a very demanding instrument on the cheek and lip muscles, so it’s very hard to have enough endurance to play without putting them to constant use. Usually I will play through the music I am working on and then I have some etudes and other things I will play through as well. I try to do my practicing in the middle of the afternoon about 3 to 7 because the trumpet is one of those really loud instruments and I don’t want to cops called on me when the neighbors are trying to sleep. It’s also one of the magic times where I am fully alert.

6. What do you enjoy playing the most (it can be as specific as some moments in a piece of music, or as broad as a composer’s body of work)?

My most favorite thing to play is the lead trumpet part during the shout chorus of Frank Sinatra type big band pieces.

7. Do you write music too? Do you have any musical goals?

I mostly arrange music however, I have also written several elementary musicals by commission.  Most of my arrangements are for choir.

My goals are to someday write a full two act musical for a college or high school.

8. What is your favorite piece in the upcoming concert? Why?

Sleigh Ride. It’s one of my all time favorite pieces and it also allows me to do the “horse whiney” at the end, which is something that you only get to do in Sleigh Ride.

9. What should we look for (or pay attention to) in the upcoming Mariposa Symphony Orchestra Concert?

Pay attention to the trumpets… Like always! Just kidding. We have a very talented string section this season as well as the rest of them. I am very thrilled to be part of an orchestra with such a talented group.

To hear some of Saunder’s music, you are welcome to visit his YouTube page.

Do not miss the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s festive holiday concert. They will be performing Prokofiev’s beloved classic “Peter and the Wolf” as well as other great holiday music.

wolf3Saturday, December 20th at 7:00 PM

Fiester Auditorium at Mariposa High School

Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students at the Mariposa County Arts Council’s office at 5009 Highway 140 in Mariposa (top floor of Chocolate Soup) adjacent to the Mariposa Art Park. For more information call 209.966.3155. Tickets are also available at the Mariposa Visitors Center across from Miners Roadhouse – call 209.966.7081.

To read the concert notes, please visit the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra page.