Interview with Bella Tromba

We are so excited to continue last month’s theme of interviews with inspiring women-led ensembles and feature the London-based trumpet quartet Bella Tromba.

Portrait shoot. East Dulwich. Sunday 5 June 2016.

Bella Tromba hold a unique position in the UK’s chamber music scene, offering a pioneering performance style and a commitment to programming outstanding brass repertoire.

Bella Tromba have presented recitals at Cheltenham Music Festival, South Bank’s Purcell Room and recorded for BBC Radio. Opening night concerts at the St David’s Cathedral Festival, Cambridge Music Festival and Wymondham Abbey Music Festival were performed to sell out audiences and they have been featured on the cover of Classical Music Magazine and Brass Herald. 

London based freelance trumpet players; the members of Bella Tromba perform for the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia as well as leading West End shows and championship section brass bands. Known for their diversity of programming The Guardian described Bella Tromba as “a glamorous all-trumpet girl band, dedicated to exploring and expanding the instrument’s potential”. The support of the SPNM, Ralph Vaughan-Williams Trust and the Britten-Pears Foundation has ensured a wealth of repertoire for this distinctive ensemble.

Winners of the Park Lane Group Young Artist Award, Bella Tromba have been active in the performance of new works. Commissioned and premiered composers include by Paul Edlin (Purcell Room), Howard Skempton (Cheltenham Music Festival) and John Reeman (Dartington Festival). They performed Telos 135 for four trumpets and timpani by Peter Maxwell Davies in the presence of the composer at Canterbury Christ Church University and recorded Peter Longworth’s Colori di Roma following performances in Poland and Canada.

Bella Tromba created an illuminating live electronic dance set that fused Classical Mozart with beat led tracks and sub bass frequencies for the Beautiful Days Festival.

Bella Tromba performed as Guest Artists at the International Women’s Brass Conference in Toronto, Canada and have given recitals and conservatoire level master classes in Europe. Bella Tromba are Live Music Now Fellows and in this capacity they initiated and developed outreach projects in Special Needs School, Day Care Centres, Pupil Referal Units and hospitals. Their work has been formally recognised by HRH The Prince of Wales.

Bella Tromba perform on Denis Wick Ltd mouthpieces and mutes. Bella Tromba are have been chosen as Selected Artists by Making Music and are recipients of the Dorothy Parkinson Memorial Prize and the Dartington International Summer School Scholarship.

Interview


1. It is so inspiring that Bella Tromba has been an active trumpet quartet performing a wide range of music for over 10 years. With your own diverse backgrounds and a variety of children’s performance and engagements, the group seems like such a fun group to be a part of. Tell us about your experiences! How did the group get started?

Vickie: Bella Tromba was founded in 2004 when four female trumpet students were waiting to do their orchestral auditions at the Royal Academy of Music. There was a lightbulb moment and we thought let’s get together and play through some quartets. Under the guidance of the late James Watson we continued to play together and before we knew it we were an established ensemble!

Jo: If I am honest I didn’t have a clue that anything would come of it but the more we played together the more we enjoyed it and we had a lot of encouragement from our professors. Jim (Watson) even pulled the Academy Principal into our rehearsal room so he could listen to us and he took it so seriously that my mind started ticking over and I thought maybe we could enter a few competitions and do some recitals.

Becca: I got started with Bella Tromba about four years ago. I had been playing with Vickie in a big band and she invited me along to play with the group. It was very nice to be a part of an ensemble that are excited by all types of music. They focused not just on playing the music but on how to introduce audiences to new music and engage with people.

Emma: I joined the group in 2012. I was at Trinity Music College and I heard that the girls had been in touch with the Head of Brass to ask if anyone played Bass Trumpet. He said to me, ‘Emma, you now play the Bass Trumpet’!

When you play bass trumpet in an orchestra there are a lot of bars rest but in a chamber group you can really say exactly what you want and you get tunes!

 

2. What have you done as a group/individually to get to where you are today? Any secrets for success?

Becca: I always have a goal that I am fighting towards. Sometimes the goal changes and that can be a good thing. I think knowing yourself as a person and what you want to be as a musician is important. You should keep your individuality alive whatever situation you are in.

I think it’s very important an ensemble connects on a personal level as well as a musical level. Although we are four very different people we are a tight group of friends and we respect and take on board each other’s comments and musical ideas.

Some people like to interpret others music, some to improvise but for me music creation is a part of myself as a musician. I don’t think Silent Night is a piece that trumpets should always be tacet in! I like to arrange other people’s music and give it a new personality.

Vickie: I remember my Granddad taking me to watch Mahler 5 with the Halle orchestra age 8 and being captivated and wide awake!

Moving from the North of England to London I found that playing in a brass band had helped me enormously. The sense of community within a brass band is so important.  Helping each other to learn the notes and learn a new piece together and listening to each other are skills that have moved across to the quartet.

Playing with a group of friends is more fun than by yourself and you can experience adventures across the world with them by your side. Most musicians I meet have a real drive towards making music as fun as they can, they live and breathe music.

Jo: Loved music more than anything else! It’s a gift to be nurtured and cared for. I feel very blessed to be a trumpet player. Whatever struggle you are going through cling on to that and it will see you through!

Emma: Just owning a bass trumpet, spending time learning the repertoire and being a part of Bella Tromba has helped me to become known as a bass trumpet player.

 

 3. What do you love about being a female brass player?

Vickie: In this day and age the male stereotype is diminishing so we don’t notice the divide as much as we did in the past. I have really enjoyed working with young female musicians, inspiring young players to continue and even to consider it as a career. Being a musician is the most fun and diverse career and I would say go for it! You get to experience so much as a chamber group, traveling playing repertoire that is close to your heart and performing in different venues.

Jo: Just being myself and enjoying my playing!

Becca: I don’t know what it’s like to be a male brass player! I have never really thought about it!

Emma: I don’t think it matters that I am a girl. I don’t notice a difference and I don’t feel that I have a role as a female player.

 

4. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician? Do you have any advice for young female musicians?

Jo: Performing at the International Women’s Brass Conference with Bella Tromba in 2010 was a life changing experience for me. I suddenly understood how I had been shaped by learning in a predominantly male environment. Everyone at IWBC was so friendly, welcoming and entrepreneurial. I understood that the reason I had invested so much time and energy in Bella Tromba was because it was a place where I could be myself and thrive.

I do have a tendency to want to bond with younger female brass players and support them because I wish someone had done that for me. My new role models are Emma and Becca though. They just don’t see a difference in male and female players, they weren’t brought up being singled out for being a girl. Their experience has been radically different from mine and so their aspirations are inspiring for me.

Becca: I don’t think about having a specific role as a female musician, I think things are different now. My advice to female musicians would be to be self-aware and confident even if you are not outgoing or a proper lad. Confidence will drive you forward. Just be your own person and everyone will respect you for who you are.

Emma: There are a lot more male brass player and in any job, we should be striving towards equality. I teach a lot of girls and boys. I grew up in Cornwall and men and women both play brass instruments

 

5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger musicians?

Becca: Learning something that you think you will never use can still be very useful. Even if it isn’t the direction you want to be heading in just be open to learning.

Vickie: If I could tell my younger self something it would be that it is OK not to want to be an orchestral player. I knew it wasn’t the path I wanted to go down even though the Guildhall School of Music wanted to push me in that direction.

Jo: So much! But you never stop learning and every new experience shapes you so it’s ok to go through battles or make mistakes. I would just want younger players to enjoy their playing. If they really do have a burn that means they can’t imagine doing anything else but playing then go all out and be strong, you’ll make it through and it is worth it.

Emma: Practice! Just have fun, I still have fun every day.

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6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.

Jo: Ensemble playing, learning repertoire you feel a connection with, watching concerts and seeing musicians you admire at work is a wonderful place to start. All that will charge you with ideas and motivation.

And hymn tunes, I love hymn tunes! They are great for breathing, sound, transposition, swopping between instruments, playing musically… just about anything!

I find Paul Archibald’s Breathe books and the Clarke studies a really good way to start my practice.

Emma: If you want to be a bass trumpet player you really need to know the orchestral repertoire. Obviously, all the Wagner and Rite of Spring but also more contemporary stuff like Schoenberg.

Vickie: I have never stopped practicing the Arban!

Becca: Social media is such a useful resource! No matter what network you belong to, there are musicians all over the world that you can connect with. YouTube is great for discovering new music, exploring different genres and even collaborations. Bella Tromba have started to upload ‘play along’ videos. We want to become part of a worldwide community of musicians.

For more about Bella Tromba, check them out here!

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