- Dave Monette
HOW DID ENERGETICS OF PERFORMANCE EVOLVE FROM MY WORK AS AN INSTRUMENT MAKER?
Monette trumpets were born out of my frustration with how young the modern trumpet was in its evolution.
During my last year of high school, 1973-1974, I was playing four nights a week in a local club where I grew up in western Michigan. The band was a six piece horn band, playing cover tunes of Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, etc. We had so much fun!
Playing as much as I did back then helped me realize something that I found profoundly troubling. No matter what trumpet or mouthpiece I played, there were inherent inconsistencies built in to the equipment that made playing much more difficult than I thought it should be. Even though I had pretty good "high chops," every trumpet I tried felt stuffy and played flat in the upper register. And the higher and louder I played, the more difficult everything felt. I had to adjust and tighten up in my body to try and force the instrument to play in-tune. I found this to be physically painful! I was certain the problem was in the equipment. I knew it. There had to be an easier way.
By the time I was 19, I was out of school and had played full time professionally for a year. With that experience, I finally decided to give up playing trumpet out of frustration with the equipment!
Fast forward to 1981. I had started playing again, and was working as an instrument repairman at Wills Music Store in Salem, Oregon. By October of that year, I had made the first Monette leadpipes for use on Bach trumpets. This was not yet a serious endeavor... I was mostly just playing around.
Out of the blue, Doc Severinsen from the Tonight Show called the store one day and asked me to come to LA the next day to show him what I was up to. Crazy! I was a bit dumbfounded, to say the least! Years later Doc told me "a psychic" had told him a young man from the Pacific Northwest was going to improve his instruments. Decades later now, I am quite sure HE was the psychic!
Once I got to his house up on Mulholland Terrace, he had me play his favorite horns... then he played for me. He asked me what I thought, and I said respectfully that I thought he could sound better than he did. He did not hesitate for a moment in asking me what we could do about that!
I had him try a Monette leadpipe on one of his favorite horns... and he liked it. He played it on the Tonight Show that night - with me wide eyed and in tow checking out the scene! We masking taped the leadpipe to the side of his trumpet, with the tuning slide straddling the instrument and new leadpipe. That was so much fun! After another day of work at his house, he sent me home with three of his NY Bach trumpets to rebuild with Monette leadpipes.
That was the first of several trips and many great hangs in LA and elsewhere working with Doc. It was the start of a four year musical collaboration that was pivotal for me in learning about sound concept, resonance... and the Energetics of Performance. How incredibly fortunate that my first well known customer was arguably the best player on the planet! Thank you, Doc!
The next big development for me was completing the first two Monette trumpets, which occurred on May 22, 1983. I was thrilled with how they turned out. And I already had a waiting list for more orders from top players in the classical and jazz worlds.
The first five Monettes went to three players: Charlie Gorham, the co-founder of the International Trumpet Guild and Professor of Trumpet at Indiana University, and the principal trumpet players from the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, Charlie Schlueter and Bud Herseth. This was an exciting time!
Even though it turned out Monette trumpets sounded better and were easier to play than anything else made to date, some of the pattern intonation problems I found in non-Monette instruments still haunted me. This was so frustrating... I still hadn't figured it out. Process, not product, right?
With more R&D needed, Monette trumpets still took off! Wynton received his first Monette in 1984, and from there many others got on my waiting list. I moved the shop to downtown Chicago, two blocks from Orchestra Hall and the Art Institute. My parents actually met on the steps of the Art Institute. So this location - and my ongoing work with Bud Herseth at the hall right there on Michigan Avenue - seemed a lovely synchronicity.
Dr. Frank Hanson took delivery of an early Monette C trumpet and ended up writing his doctoral dissertation at Ohio State on how my instruments were revolutionizing the trumpet world.
His dissertation documents through scientific analysis how Monette instruments produce a more complete - and complex - harmonic structure, and a wider dynamic range and faster response than the most popular industry standard production trumpet at the time. This is shown in dozens of two and three dimensional spectral analysis graphs depicting sound, amplitude and response at all dynamics and registers.
Then to cap off the research, Frank interviewed the principal trumpet players from the Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles orchestras - three of my first clients - for their subjective impressions of their new Monette instruments. Frank's paper was - and still is - a tangible and gratifying validation for my work.
It took two years from the time the first Monette trumpets were completed for me to realize that the answer to my ongoing intonation frustrations was not in the instrument - it was in the mouthpiece!
The old fashioned mouthpieces we all played back then were based on traditional designs dating from the turn of the 20th century. Back in 1900, trumpets were commonly longer in length and lower in pitch. They were often pitched in the key of low A, or made to play interchangeably between A and Bb. This is in contrast to modern trumpets, the vast majority of which are pitched in either Bb or C. When a player takes a mouthpiece that is acoustically matched to a trumpet in A and uses it on a modern Bb or C trumpet, the octaves compress, making the upper register flat and stuffy! The aftereffects of outdated mouthpiece design traditions live in the body use of brass players all over this planet to this day. More on that shortly...
My solution to the compressed octaves - which apparently no one had previously considered - was to make the mouthpiece length proportionate to the length of the instrument. I needed to make Monette mouthpieces for each key of modern instrument. BINGO!
Dr. Arthur Benade was a mentor of mine, and a dear friend to all instrumental musicians everywhere. I met him through Jerry Webster and Charlie Schlueter. Art was a big supporter as I worked to figure out the fine details of how to reinvent brass instrument mouthpieces. What an incredible connection I made through Jerry and Charlie to the man who literally wrote the book on musical acoustics!
When I was finally able to call Art and tell him I had found the holy grail of mouthpiece design by changing the pitch (length) of the mouthpiece to match the pitch (length) of the instrument, he wanted to know more. I told him this made the pitch center of the mouthpiece consistent over the full range of the instrument - soft to loud and high to low. He was silent on the phone for a bit. Then he commented with a chuckle that others "had not gotten that far yet!"
Art was a supremely kind man. I'm sure his work and loving spirit has influenced my work well beyond my conscious knowledge. Thank you for your kindness, Art!
With this radical design insight, I felt like the burden of a lifetime had been lifted. This new approach cleared up so many problems so quickly that top players I worked with - including Wynton and Charlie Schlueter - switched to Monette mouthpieces immediately. They were more than ready... and never looked back.
Monette mouthpiece development quickly led to a real growth spurt in the evolution of Monette instruments. They even allowed me to start building the mouthpieces directly into the instruments - which had never been done before! I made the first two integral mouthpiece instruments for Wynton and Charlie in 1989 - 1990. We call these special instruments RAJA's - named after an esoteric form of Yoga. It's a bit crazy to play a RAJA trumpet... because the mouthpiece doesn't feel like a mouthpiece! It just feels like you are playing the instrument. It's a bit hard to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it, but playing a RAJA is unlike playing any other kind of brass instrument!
EXPLORING THE EFFECTS OF BODY USE AND RESONANCE IN EQUIPMENT DESIGN
From around 1985 on, I was on a quest. I needed to figure out what adjustments, compensations and unnecessary patterns of holding I had subconsciously "learned" in my physical approach to playing during my trumpet primacy by playing old, antiquated, out-of-tune instruments.
In order to make the instruments live up to my dreams, I needed to base the designs on my own playing experience - with my body as aligned and neutral as possible. I needed to become conscious of the compensations I was making - without even realizing it - as I changed registers and dynamics... and then learn to let it all go.
In 1985 I started practicing - and shortly thereafter teaching -Kundalini Yoga. I also started taking Alexander Technique lessons from my dear friend John Henes. The picture on the left is John working with my now mouthpiece consultation manager, BJ Cord. The Yoga, meditation and Alexander work were game changers for me in so many ways.
Over the last thirty years, I have traveled the world to top music schools, universities and concert halls to work with musicians at all levels of ability. Even early on during these trips, I was starting to get into Energetics of Performance by teaching Yoga, meditation and breath and alignment techniques. I taught literally thousands of musicians... from Hong Kong to Helsinki. I remember teaching a clinic in Tokyo assisted by Dave Bamonte from the Israel Philharmonic that was attended by over 400 musicians!
As I became more aware and refined in my own Yoga practice and meditations, my instrument designs improved. To this day, this is still a regular occurrence.
I universally find that players I meet all over the planet still compensate for the inherent problems in old equipment that no longer exist when playing Monette equipment.
I eventually discovered that slowing down a player's habitual movement as they played helped them become more conscious of how they were still adjusting in their bodies for old problems they encountered earlier in their trumpet primacy.
But I found that even slowing players down so that they could release, realign and breathe with more ease than ever before was at best a short term fix. They would invariably sound better while I was right there with them, and then immediately retrench into old habits once their lesson or coaching session was over.
These players needed something beyond heightened awareness of how they were using their physical body as they played. They needed to experience an expansion of themselves into new levels of creative expression, set in a larger context that would allow them to understand and sustain this experience in their musical world and beyond.
To be continued...