Interview with Markus Stockhausen
What first drew you to the trumpet and when did you realize that trumpet playing was what you wanted to do professionally?
As a young boy, I always felt drawn to the trumpet whenever I watched rehearsals of my father’s music with orchestras. When, at the age of 12 years, I had the chance to choose a second instrument in school (after piano lessons which started at the age of 6), I tried the trumpet and immediately loved it.
Where have you studied and who were your teachers?
My first and primary teacher was Robert Platt. I studied with him in Köln, Germany from 1970 to 1980. I have also studied with Carmine Caruso for one month in 1978. In Paris, I studied with Pierre Thibaud for two years, from 1978 to 1980, I had about 10 long afternoon sessions. Other teachers were Konradin Groth in Berlin (3 months in 1982/83) and Thomas Steven in Los Angeles (1 month in 1982).
What was your first full time professional job as a trumpet player and how did you get it?
Right after high school my father accepted me into his ensemble to perform his work SIRIUS in Washington D.C., Venice, Paris (at the Saint Chapelle !!), Toulouse, Aix en Prevence, Osaka Japan etc.. Later, in 1981, I performed in his opera DONNERSTAG aus LICHT at the Scala di Milano, and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, just to name a few important places. Since I was 17, I have performed all over Germany with my first jazz quintet called KEY, plus many other projects, and I also played classical music. I never had steady employment anywhere, but a rich career touring all over the world, as a jazz musician, classical soloist with orchestras, and as a member of my father’s ensemble.
Which musicians, teachers, conductors or trumpet players have influenced and taught you the most?
My father Karlheinz Stockhausen probably was the most influential teacher over the many years, I closely worked with him for 25 years; the above mentioned trumpet teachers; a flutist and chamber music teacher named Mrs. Cecilie Lamerichs from Köln, – she had excellent ears, a deep understanding of music and coached me preparing several competitions, better than any trumpet teacher ever did; also my piano teacher Wolfgang Hoyer, who had a wide view on music and is still a friend of mine.
Trumpet players who influenced me strongly were Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Manfred Schoof, Palle Mikkelborg, Kenny Wheeler, Art Farmer – all jazz players, but also Maurice André and Timofei Dokshitzer.
What is your daily practice routine?
I had a 45 min. classical routine, with mouthpiece warm-up, then soft slurs, scales, tonging, chord studies etc., technical books like Clarke, Arban, Collins, musical etude books like the Charlier, Verne Reynolds intervall studies etc., also a daily routine of Carmine Caruso max. 30 min. (see my „Basic Caruso“, free download on my website); I learned the Stamp warm-ups when I met James Stamp briefly in 1979 for 3 lessons in Switzerland – but currently, I warm-up on my mouthpiece about 3 minutes with glissandi, starting on any comfortable note, then a bit higher and very low, then I play on the trumpet a few soft notes with breath attacks at first, some bending. Then, rather soon after, I open the full register and start to play what I need or wish to play. The muscles have good memory and once the embouchure is set you don’t have to do the daily routines every day, you can go to creative music making right away (in my experience).
Nowadays I practice 2 sessions of 45 – 60 minutes every day, when necessary more.
You spend a lot of time on the road performing and teaching. What do you do to stay in shape?
I start the day drinking water, then go outside and run (not hard), combined with gymnastics for 10-15 min, then do some yoga exercises 10 min. and then meditate. This routine keeps me going. I try to balance all stress, which comes inevitably by travelling a lot, with quiet times at home or with nature. Mediation is a very effective way for me to recoup my energies.
Sometimes, even short moments of deep relaxation letting the prana flow through the body, help me to gather strength before concerts. I avoid alcohol, with small exceptions, and I eat mostly vegetarian (sometimes fish).
How important do you consider a rest or break when you are doing a recording?
Never play until you are really tired. Smaller sessions with breaks in between are effective. But also the spirit of the moment is decisive. When everybody is in a good mood you can do much more than you believed you can.
In Jazz we usually do 2-3 versions of one piece and then have a short break in order to concentrate on the mood of the next piece. Also, you might go into the control room and listen, selecting the best version/s.
I usually say… „Go with the flow.“
How do you approach a new piece?
Slow practice, trying to understand the meaning of the piece, programing your computer (mind, cells) at a really slow speed, but perfectly. Later, to play faster is not a problem. Don’t even allow small mistakes to become habits.
Difficult passages you can play down the octave at first; you can split-up tiring passages to have some rests in between, and only later do you play them in sequence. (For example, as portrayed in „Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen“, by Bernd Alois Zimmermann)
What is your approach to teaching your students?
Every student is different. I try to sense his or her needs, be it technical, musical, equipment problems, psychological, whatever, and I help where I can. I like to play for the students, because I believe that by imitation you learn on a deeper level than with only explanations. This certainly was true in my case during my studies. Robert Platt, Manfred Schoof, Pierre Thibaud, they all played a lot for me and with me, and I loved all of it.
Do you consider it important to combine more than one genre in your studies such as jazz and natural trumpet?
Yes, certainly, including free improvisation.
What criteria do you follow when you are choosing a mouthpiece and trumpet?
The sound of course, and the resonance with the body. A heavier horn will give you a bigger and maybe darker sound with more projection, but will also tire you faster. I prefer lightweight horns, or at least the bell has to be very sensitive for me. I prefer trumpets with tuning bells, which give me more freedom in modulating the sound and are easier to play in the higher register. Of course, they are a little more difficult to center the notes.
Mouthpieces: a comfortable, not a sharp rim but rather flat, and not too big of a cup. Rather, breathing fully to have a good sound. If the backbore is too tight the sound becomes edgy and narrow. I prefer wider backbores. (A Warburton No. 10 for example).
What advice do you have for young students and for teachers?
Enjoy whatever you do. Don’t stress yourself out, especially others. Concentrate on the musical expression and the flow, above all else. Develop a proper, full breath in all 3 parts: lower abdominal, the sides of the lungs, and the upper chest, without raising the shoulders. A complete breath gives a good resonant space for the sound and makes everything easier.
The body seems to have a two-day rhythm, so don’t play too hard on a day before an important concert. The body needs time to rest and recover. When the lips are still a bit swollen from hard playing on the previous night, don’t play during the day, just warm-up before the evening performance.
Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?
Yes, when I was 22 years old, I had a big performance with my father at the radio hall of the RAI orchestra in Rome, with TV recording etc., performing „Michaels Reise um die Erde“ („Michael’s trip around the earth“ from the opera „Thursday from Light“). I suddenly became very nervous, I was less prepared than at the premiere a year ago, too confident in my actions, plus I had made a mouthpiece change just prior… My breathing felt blocked, my body was shaking and, suffice it to say, I did not play very well. Somehow, I survived.
The month after this experience, I bought three yoga books, went to a secluded place and studied yoga – asanas and breathing exercises. In the coming years these exercises helped me a lot to remain relaxed and centered. I highly recommend, to any player, to learn yoga or some other kind of relaxation technique which can be applied in your performance practice.
How should one take criticism?
Always positive. But with a calm mind, and without agitation. Try to learn from the criticism and to distinguish between negative and positive criticism. Someone might want to put you down, just bypass this energy, but others might really want to help you and make you aware of necessary improvements. We never stop learning and improving our playing and performance.
They say that everybody has a little bit of performance anxiety and the important thing is controlling it. What do you do to control it?
By not speaking too much right before a performance. Stay centered, prepare the spirit you want to be in and express while you perform. Contain your energy and release it only during the performance. Concentrate solely on the music.
Sometimes I go to special places in the afternoon before a performance, a nice park, a wood, a museum, just somewhere to relax, but this is not often possible. In this case, just meditate for sometime, relax deeply, and imagine a very fine performance. Be flexible in order to adjust to sudden surprises.
Any advice on preparing for auditions?
1. Be well prepared, this will make you confident.
2. Simulate an audition situation several times, maybe with fellow students in a suitable hall.
3. Don’t compare yourself, simply give your best and accept that nobody is perfect, just be yourself.
4. As in 3, innerly envision that everything will go well.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Mostly music that people send me or give to me while traveling. Very diverse.
Dear Markus Stockhausen, we thank you for your answers and time.