Italian Masterworks: A conversation with trumpeter Lyle Steelman
by Mike Telin
Today we meet Lyle Steelman, the assistant principal trumpet player with The Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Steelman will make his Cleveland Orchestra debut as a soloist on Wednesday May 4 in the Sinfonia with Trumpet in D by Giuseppe Torelli. The concert is part of the Italian Masterworks Series, a collaboration between The Cleveland Orchestra and The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Mr. Steelman, a native Clevelander and graduate of the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory, has a wonderful sense of humor and is great in conversation. He also has a thoughtful side, and articulates his feelings about music, the visual arts and his position in the Cleveland Orchestra very well. We spoke to him by telephone last weekend.
Mike Telin: It’s great to talk to you again, and we have not had a chance to talk since we spoke over a year ago about The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, of which you are an alumni.
Lyle Steelman: That’s right.
MT: And now you will be soloing with the Orchestra in the Giuseppe Torelli Sinfonia in as part of the Italian Masterworks Series at the Cleveland Museum of Art. While I know Torelli, I didn’t know that he wrote so much music for trumpet.
LS: You know, almost all of the Baroque composers wrote for the trumpet. And while I am familiar with Torelli’s trumpet music, I have never played any of it before, so this is a first for me.
MT: So why this particular piece?
LS: Actually it was a programming decision made by the conductor.
MT: James Feddeck.
LS: Yes, that’s right, and when he asked me if I would be willing to do it, I said of course I would.
MT: What style of trumpet will you be using?
LS: I’ll be using a modern piccolo trumpet.
MT: Technically speaking, what are you finding difficult, or easy about the piece.
LS: I would say that nothing is easy; when it comes to the baroque literature for trumpet it is all challenging.
MT: How so?
LS: Usually the register is much higher than with normal trumpet playing, which is why we have to play on a piccolo trumpet which is pitched an octave higher then our normal instruments. And the reason is that when these composers were writing, the only trumpets that were available to play a melody on were the natural trumpets of that time, which had no valves. So the only way you could play a melody was to play in the extremely high register.
MT: Why is that?
LS: Well the higher you go on a brass instrument, the closer the intervals become. So if you want to play a melody you have to play in the high register.
MT: I have heard people say that during the baroque period many of the brass players played everything from the horn all the way up to the high trumpets. I’m not sure if this is true.
LS: Yes, that sounds about right. And from my understanding, there was a “high register guild” that you could become a member of, and in order to play the higher clarino parts, you had to be a member of this guild. If you were not in the guild, then you had to play the lower parts.
MT: I did not know that.
LS: Yes, so it was a very specific skill set that the clarino players had. The modern orchestral trumpet players, we have to be able to play low and high. So there is no guild for us, we have to be able to do it all. [laughing]
MT: Yes, no guild for you, just the audition.
MT: How many concertos have you played in your career?
LS: With an orchestra, not many, this will probably be about the fifth time I have soloed with an orchestra. It does not come up for me very often, but I am always excited when it does happen. And playing a solo with the Cleveland Orchestra is more then I could have ever hoped to do in my life, as a trumpet player.
I think we talked about this before, but growing up in Cleveland I was always looking up to the orchestra, and for me, they were always the best. Just to be a member of the orchestra fulfilled all of my dreams, and I never thought that I would get to play a solo.
MT: So here you are.
LS: Yeah, not bad.
MT: Well congratulations.
MT: Life could be a lot worse.
LS: Exactly. But seriously, it definitely is an honor, and something that I don’t take lightly, because not everybody gets a chance to do it.
MT: I think the concept of the Italian Masterworks Series is very interesting, not just musically but also from the visual art standpoint.
LS: Yes it is, and I am actually a member of the Art Museum and visit it a couple times a month. But I grew up around art. My father was a painter, and he would always take us to the Museum, which is something I am very thankful of.
MT: It is fascinating, I think anyway, that whole intersection of music and art, especially during the baroque period because they did go hand in hand.
LS: Exactly. I have to say that my favorite class I had when I was at Baldwin-Wallace was the art appreciation class that I took at the Art Museum. It was a B-W class but it was taught at the Museum. It was a great class that kind of brought me back to my roots of growing up with the visual arts.
MT: Is the baroque period in some way special for you?
LS: I do appreciate the visual art, although musically, it is one of my favorite periods of music.
MT: Back to baroque trumpet playing, because it is so difficult, is playing the literature something that comes later in a player’s development?
LS: I was blessed with a natural high register, so by the time I was in high school I could play just about all of the baroque literature for the high trumpet. It was always something I was able to do.
MT: That’s good for you.
LS: Yes, it’s quite helpful. And I think the reason I never thought about a solo trumpet career is that most of that literature doesn’t appeal to me as much. I can’t think of a solo trumpet piece that has as much to say as the Beethoven Violin Concerto. But the baroque trumpet literature, for me that is my favorite music for solo trumpet. This is why I am so grateful that my first opportunity to play a solo with the orchestra is a baroque concerto, because it is music that I appreciate so much.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 29, 2011
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