The Storyteller – by James M. Stephenson
for Trumpet,Violin, Piano, and offstage trumpet. (both the offstage trumpet and the violin can be optional.)
I first heard Adolph “Bud” Herseth live at roughly the age of 9 or 10. My parents bought box seats (with chairs that swiveled!) for a concert at Orchestra Hall, Chicago. I’m almost positive that the CSO was playing Pictures at an Exhibition, but it might have been Pines, or something else with a huge trumpet part. I’d love to tell you – in Hollywood fashion – that I looked up at my parents at concert’s end, with tears in my eyes, and exclaimed “That’s my instrument! I need a trumpet now!” That wouldn’t be entirely true, but obviously the concert left an indelible impression, because trumpet did become my instrument shortly thereafter.
I do remember distinctly, perhaps when I was 12, one day, when I was practicing out of the famed Arban’s book, getting really bored, and looking for something else to practice. I thought to myself: “well, if I’m to be principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony some day, I better learn how HE does it.” So I put the Arban book down and found all of the recordings of “Pictures” that we had in the house (I think we had three: perhaps a Reiner, a Solti, and a relatively obscure one in my mind at the time (Kubelik?) where Bud accented the notes more than other versions – anyway, I digress).The point is: that is the moment I consciously decided that he would be my role model.A few years later, while at the Interlochen Arts Academy – I began digesting every recording I could get my hands on: the rich Bruckner recordings with Barenboim, the Reiner Concerto for Orchestra (I still can’t hear that excerpt without expecting a slightly missed Bb near the end of the solo), the Mahler 5’s, the Kije where he apparently ran up the stairs for the offstage solo just before the red light went on, etc…
But it was one piece in particular – and probably not the one you’d expect – that brought me literally to tears nearly every time I played it – over and over – in my dorm room up at Interlochen.That was Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale” with Reiner. If you don’t know it, go get it.The lyrical solo (it happens twice) is some of the most beautiful playing you will ever hear. I was all of about 15 years old, and I was erasing all of my rock n’ roll tapes (yes, tapes!) to record everything of Bud’s I could get my hands on. Ah, the power of music.
Later, in 1993, I had the fortunate opportunity to play a round of golf with Bud. He came down to my favorite course (an hour away), and we played. Of course, his trumpet advice to me was to practice.We were there to play golf, and I didn’t want to force him to talk trumpet too much. At the end of the round, he offered to give me a trumpet lesson. I never took him up on it; I was having chop issues (probably the beginning of my path to becoming a composer) and didn’t want to waste his time.Truth be told, I think he had already given me all the lessons I would ever need, in all of those recordings, when he made me cry, telling his stories through his trumpet.
Bud Herseth died on April 13, 2013. I don’t play trumpet anymore, but I had a chance to do something for Bud, to compose a piece in his memory.
I was already commissioned to write a new work for that year’s ITG (International Trumpet Guild) conference, but I hadn’t started yet, when the news of Bud’s passing came.Through many phone calls, texts, emails, etc, Rich Stoelzel and I finally arrived at a point where we could announce that Chris Martin – the current principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony – would premiere a new work written, dedicated to Bud, and could open up Barbara Butler’s recital (Barb was one of Chris’s teachers when he went to Eastman). Chris was fantastic. Everyone was fantastic and so giving. Chris immediately was on board with this, agreeing to drive over to Grand Rapids right after a CSO concert to present the piece, and to drive home immediately afterward to play yet another CSO concert.
Furthermore, we decided to turn the piece into a fundraiser in Bud’s name, where all monies raised would go toward a scholarship in Bud’s name with the Chicago Civic Orchestra, a favorite teaching outlet of his. As of this writing, nearly $2500 was raised, all from trumpet players and other musicians who had been touched by Bud.
“The Storyteller” comes from an article written about Bud – an article I recall reading while a teenager. It described how Bud didn’t just play the trumpet, he told a story with every note he played. I endeavored, through the course of this piece, to tell the story of Bud the best I could.There are subtle references to many of the famous orchestral trumpet excerpts that I listened to him play the most. Of course, the aforementioned tear-jerker is saved for the end, with a solo offstage trumpet hearkening – as if Bud himself – one last time.
I especially wish to thank Rich and Val Stoelzel along with GVSU, Chris Martin, Barbara Butler, and all else who played a pivotal role in making this piece a possibility, all in an effort to pay tribute to perhaps the best orchestral trumpet player the world has ever known.
Jim Stephenson — June 1, 2013 Cover photo © Mark S. Cox Photography