Meet the MSO Brass Section

Written by Kate Candy Colbert
Trumpets, trombones, and the tuba are the foundation of the orchestral brass section. They have one thing in common…they can play loudly!! The brass section adds drama, depth, and excitement to orchestral music. Ask a brass player if they like playing the opening melodic lines in Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony and they will give a thumbs up! The brass section really enjoyed playing Scheherazade in September as it has magnificent brass parts to play!

The Trumpets

MSO has two regular trumpet players. Matthew Verrill (Principal) and Sarah Robertson-Bickers. When an orchestra score requires additional trumpets, MSO calls on a list of competent players to join the section!

Matthew Verrill – Principal Trumpet

Sarah Robertson-Bickers

I asked Matthew a few questions to learn more about being a trumpet player.

Q. Do trumpets come in different sizes or keys?

Trumpets come in all manner of keys from piccolo in C (2 feet long) to bass in B flat (9 feet!), but over 90% of standard orchestral repertoire is performed on the C or Bb trumpet right in the middle of those extremes.

Q. Can the trumpet play quietly?

A smaller aperture between the lips is the main requirement to be able to play quietly. (Trumpets can also use a mute that sits in the bell of the instrument).

Q. The trumpet sound can project a long distance. How do you practice at home and not upset the neighbours?

I don’t really do much practice at home as my dog will immediately start howling, which is maybe even more annoying for the neighbours!

Q. Do you have to be quite fit to play a brass instrument?

Physical fitness likely makes a brass instrument easier to play.

Q. Can anyone play a trumpet or are there special requirements?

I think anyone who has some front teeth, two lips and at least one hand could be able to play without much trouble – we like that people think it’s difficult but it’s not really!

Thanks Matthew!

Additional trumpet players for 2022 are Angus Zeng, and Analina Namoa.

From left to right, Analina, Matthew, Sarah, and Angus in our Scheherazade concert.

It is always interesting to learn something new about MSO players! I asked Matthew, Sarah and Angus to answer three questions.

Q. When did you first play in MSO?

Matthew: 2003.
Sarah: 2018.
Angus: 2021, in the Star Navigator Opera which was amazing!

Q. What is your favourite piece of music to play in an orchestra?

M: Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 and Mahler 5th symphony.
S: I enjoy works which show off the Brass section such as music by Mahler and Tchaikovsky. Recently we played Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov which was a challenging but exciting piece to play.
A: Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia.

Q. Tell us why you love your instrument!

M: I love the trumpet because it suits almost every style of music from ancient to modern, probably due to the massive range of dynamics and tone colours it can produce.
S: The trumpet is such a versatile and fun instrument, it fits in many different ensembles and across all genres of music. In orchestral music it can play an important role on rhythm and supporting a rich sound, and it’s dominant nature means it often has a starring role in those exciting punchy moments, or powerful emotional melodies.
A: Orchestral trumpet is one of those things where you sometimes have to wait entire minutes to play just a couple of notes. However, those couple of notes really complete the orchestral texture, sometimes floating atop the music and sometimes piercing through the strings, woodwind and lower brass.

Sam Uatahausi a trumpeter who is on our MSO list of players “I love playing the trumpet because of it’s biblical character and fanfare like qualities”.

The Trombones

Paul Cho, MSO’s principal trombone player, shared the following interesting facts!

The valves on the trumpet lengthen the instrument to change the pitch but trombones don’t have the luxury of this technology. So, we need to move to lengthen our slides to change notes. This gives us the ability to play any pitch with the slide, giving us the ability to play in tune and out of tune at our will.

There are so many types of trombones. Ranging from soprano, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass. Usually in an orchestra we would mainly have tenor and bass trombone with the alto played by the principal occasionally. The original trombones, called the Sacbut was invented around 15th century.

Brass has been the material of choice in brass construction for centuries. Brass is a copper and zinc alloy that is easy to work with. The trombone is made of brass but can be silver plated or have bronze in the metal which can change the feel and the sound of the instrument. I am a big nerd around this!

If you are thinking of being a trombone player, you would want to have a relaxed and confident personality. The trombone is such a powerful and versatile instrument, so I always try to keep cool and share the awesome sound of the instrument. Do you know the trombone can play louder than a trumpet?

Tom Chester

Robert Latimer – Bass Trombone

Well, I decided to ask the trombone players the same three questions as the trumpet players.

Q. When did your first play in MSO?

Paul: In 2017.
Tom: I can’t remember the exact year I started playing in MSO. I have been depping (filling in) the 1st horn position for a number of years. This year I was honoured to conduct the orchestra for the Symphonic Journey programme in which the secret that I also play trombone got out! I have been playing in the trombone section with Paul and Bob ever since!
Robert: In 2002 when we did Saturday concerts in the Papatoetoe Town Hall and then the same concert on Sunday in All Saints Church in Howick.

Q. What is your favourite piece of music to play in an orchestra?

P: I love all movie music but my favourite piece of music is Firebird by Stravinsky.
T: My favourite piece to play is Saint Saëns Symphony No.3. It’s always a spectacle and it feels like the organ is making your soul vibrate. At one point in the Finale, the strings play the theme and the brass play fanfare figures. Then the roles get reversed and the brass get the theme…we show the strings who’s boss! Which they often forget.
R: Bruckner Symphony No. 4.

Q. Tell us why you love your instrument!

P: I believe the trombone is what carries the weight of sound in an orchestra. The trombone can be so serious even being called a ‘voice of God’ by some composers. But, trombones can be so comical with the slide and glissando!
T: I’m very fortunate to be able to play two brass instruments but they have very different personalities. You have to treat the horn like a princess, one wrong step and she makes you look a fool! Trombone on the other hand is a bit more boisterous and easy going. After Scheherazade, the Maestro commented that the low brass ‘seemed to be enjoying ourselves’. In other words we got a bit too excited!
R: I play Bass Trombone in the MSO and I love it because playing the low notes in the trombone section just feels good!

Tavite Tonga (trombone) first played in MSO in 2019, after he was awarded the Greenbank MSO Youth Scholarship at the end of 2018. Tavite played in our Seascapes 2020 concert, Houstoun Plays The Egyptian concert in 2021 and in this year’s Symphonic Journey!

Symphonic Journey 2022 at Te Tuhi Art Gallery, Pakuranga

Trombones – from left to right, Tavite and Robert.

The Tuba - The King of the Brass Section!

Sean Murphy

Sean brings to the orchestra that unique bass sound we love to hear. He is passionate about the Tuba and is a very valued member of the brass section. Did you know that a Tuba weighs between 9-13kg depending on the combination of metals used. Sean carries his tuba in his own instrument backpack which is a good idea!

Because the tuba is so big having proper body posture and instrument positioning are two of the most important elements for performing the tuba comfortably and playing well.

The tuba requires more lung capacity than a trumpet but not as much as the flute!

Photos by Randy Weaver (exception Symphonic Journey photo by Kate Candy Colbert)