Alison Balsom in Tim Lihoreau's Wednesday Web Chat

From addressing gender stereotypes in music, to working out how to remove a mouthpiece when it's stuck in a trumpet (!), Alison Balsom answered a huge range of questions in our Wednesday Web Chat with Tim Lihoreau.

Alison Balsom, Photograph by Sheila Rock

As the first brass player to take part in our weekly Wednesday Web Chat with Tim Lihoreau, Alison Balsom unsurprisingly received a whole host of questions from aspiring trumpet players. She put her technical expertise to good use, as well as sharing her plans for working at the Globe Theatre, and her new album releases in 2013.

Tim Lihoreau: Good morning, Alison!

Good morning!

Dave Tilley: Do you play flugel? And if so what make, mouthpiece etc.

Hi, Yes I do - I have a Bach and I use a mouthpiece as close as possible to my trumpet mouthpiece - a 1 1/4C fl.

Simone Samuel: Hi Alison, It could be great if you would come and play some concerts in Denmark! Is it something you would consider?

Hi, Yes of course - I think Denmark is a beautiful and very civilised place to be! I find there is a lot of competition to play in Scandinavia though with all those fantastic trumpet soloists from there!

Laura Griffin: Any tips on improving note range? of course practice but have still always had trouble with a top G. And any ideas on removal of stuck mouthpiece? Got jammed at rehearsal Monday and playing in concert tonight... no one nearby with an extractor.

The secret to high notes is playing low notes as well! i.e. arpeggios that start in the middle and go down then up - it means you're using your good technique and support whilst having the physical exertion of the high notes... Re: getting the mouthpiece out, I always get my Dad to help me with this! Try running hot water on the lead pipe then tapping that bit with a piece of wood - good luck!

Laura Griffin: Thanks, I'll give it a try! My dad went straight for the pliers, not a good idea! Will get onto more arpeggios too. Do you have a favourite solo piece?

Favourite solo piece... hmmm I'm just learning Bramwell Tovey's Songs from the Paradise Saloon for a tour with the LA Phil later this year. I'm really enjoying learning it. P.S. Stay away from the pliers as you don't want to bend anything!

Sarah Perez: Hi Alison, my question is did you ever deal with anyone who was sexist towards females playing the trumpet? If so, how did you deal with it? It really bums me out when I know that I wasn't given the chance to play because I'm a girl.

You know? I have always played this question down as it's important to me to be rated as a player not as a woman player so for me to focus on this too much has been detrimental, but to be honest, I have come up against people who are sexist many many times - more often behind my back and I find out later than to my face. This is a sad fact that really only occurs because of other people's own issue. You MUST use it to spur you on to achieve what you want to - I think it may be one of many reasons why I became a soloist - to beat the system!! Saying that - all my teachers were male and could not have been more supportive, or less bothered about my gender. Good luck!

Michael Clift: Really enjoyed your concert at The Dorking Halls on 12 January this year. How does it feel like when playing in a venue that is hardly international compared to the many exotic places you have been to?

It makes absolutely no difference (apart form the weather of course! Dorking was particularly rainy and freezing this year!) - It was still with a wonderful orchestra - an appreciative audience and my own very critical standards - also I had friends at that concert and that is always a lovely feeling for me. There's no such thing as a 'low key' concert especially in this age of everything potentially appearing on youtube!

Tim Lihoreau: I'm keen to know about The Globe. Is it true you are venturing onto the Shakespearean stage? And will a bearded Stephen Fry be involved?

This is the most ambitious project I've ever taken on, and I'm crazily excited about it... When I approached the Globe and commissioned a performance of all my trumpet arrangements and the original music by Purcell and Handel for trumpet, I expected it to be one or two semi-staged performances. Now it is 16 fully staged performances with a world class orchestra on stage, the incredible full company of Globe actors, and a world class playwright (Samuel Adamson) has written a script that is likely to create a true rennaissance for the importance of the trumpet. It's such a gorgeous setting both visually and acoustically for the trumpet. I'm still fundraising to pay the musicians though - I'm paying them myself at this point as I agreed that all extra costs would be raised by me - so if anyone would like to host an evening at one of the performances do get in touch - the tickets are selling very fast, but still some evenings left to host!

Tim Lihoreau: Wow, Alison, the Globe project sounds truly magical. And I realise this is an OBVIOUS question, but you are thinking ahead to all that in the calm before the storm of a VERY busy period, too. You are on the road a lot, is that fair to say. (One to come in Santa Domingo in March, then a VERY busy April.) Is this fun? Or tough? Or both. Tim

It goes in waves... For me this is a lovely way to work. It means you can really focus on music and performing and enjoy all that travelling the world has to offer, but then you can hibernate when you get home. It's fun AND tough. That said I am being paid to go to the Carribean on Saturday - life is not that bad. And for my big US tour in April - which really will be quite exhausting, I will have my 3 year old with me to keep me company and entertained.

Luis Eguia: I'm from México and i just love your music… I can't wait to hear your new album.

Thanks very much - latest release is Sound the Trumpet, but I have plans for five possible albums this year - it's going to be busy!

Anne Kristin Fosli: Will you come to Norway and play? I admire your playing and the last CD Sound the trumpet in particular.

Thank you. I would love to - I have never been to Norway...

Dave Tilley: How do you memorise a piece? I'm very much no music, no play.

You have to really get inside that piece. Teach yourself to sing it without the music first. Learn a phrase at a time. My brilliant pianist Tom Poster and I discussed this at length and believe there are four ways of memorising. If you have them all nailed you will never have a memory lapse. They are: Visually (what it looks like on the page), aurally (just knowing the tune to sing really well), dexterally (is that a word? - that feeling when your fingers just do it without you thinking), and structurally (knowing this is the 'A' section, leads to this middle bit that leads to the 'B' section and so on). If you know it in all these ways you will never have a problem. Severe lack of sleep though will rock this theory.

Johnny Nutseed: My name is Johnny and I am an massive fan of all the classics! I know that people when they are young always take up hobbies like rugby, computer games, cooking or lasers. What made you want to play the Baroque Trumpet instrument rather than dedicate your time to being a famous astronaut or something like that? Or did you try it and not enjoy it so much as the baroque trumpet?

Ha! When I was seven I wanted to be a part time astronaut/jockey/pro trumpeter. (Part time so I had time to do them all) In fact, I just had some lovely inspiring teachers at school when I was very young, and also a very close group of friends who started in my local band at the same time as me... we used band practice as the way to catch up with the gossip. Then the music became the soundtrack to our lives, and then doing anything else just seemed meaningless in comparison.

Tim Lihoreau: Alison, I will sign us off, I think with a note to say a huge THANK YOU for getting round to so many fab answers. (In fact, apologies to anyone who didn't manage to get their question through - we were a little overloaded this morning!) Best of luck with all of this year's projects - and in particular the Globe. I hope you'll pop in nearer the time, and we will talk again.

Got a musical question? Don't forget to come back next Wednesday at 9am for another classical music web chat.

Alison Balsom

Alison Balsom Trumpeter Artist Alison Balsom

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