With the help of a generous summer research grant from Goucher College, I was finally able to attend the International Trumpet-making Workshop (ITW) in Bloomington, Indiana this summer (August 2017). I’ve wanted to attend ever since I starting playing the natural trumpet nearly twenty years ago and was thrilled to have the opportunity. What follows is a summary of my experiences building a trumpet using seventeenth-century methods along with a few photos. For a more thorough and detailed explanation of the work involved, don’t miss the workshop guidebook, Making a Natural Trumpet, published by ITW and the professional videos that outline all of the steps involved.
The week-long workshop began on Monday with several demonstrations by the directors, Robert Barclay, Richard Seraphinoff, and Michael Münkwitz. Workshop participants were each given a copy of the guidebook and a box of tools to use for the week. Once we settled into our workstations around the tables in Rick Seraphinoff’s home workshop, we got to work creating tubing from flat sheets of brass that would eventually become a natural trumpet modeled after an instrument made in 1632 by Nuremberg trumpet-maker Hanns Hainlein.
Tuesday is known among ITW veterans as “Bell Day,” and is the most physically-demanding part of the workshop. We literally hammer trumpet bells into shape for most of the day. ITW supplies earplugs for use during the hammering, which are real lifesavers!
Once the bell has been created and shaped properly, we get to work scraping away the fire scale left behind from the repeated annealing and hammering of the brass. It’s a lot of slow work, but such a great feeling to scrape away the layers of dark soot to reveal the gleaming brass beneath. Once the scraping is completed, the bell section is polished with sandpaper. The inside of the bell is not scraped or polished, which is why natural trumpet bells are usually dark inside, where the fire scale remains.
On Wednesday we work on bending two of the shorter tubes that we made on Monday to create the front and back bows of the trumpet. This process is demonstrated in a video made by ITW. We also begin work on creating the ferrules (tube connectors), the decorative ball for the middle of the trumpet, and the garland that wraps around the end of the bell. Thursday is reserved for finishing up all of the parts and decorating the garland and ferrules through hand engraving. Throughout the workshop, directors Barclay, Münkwitz, and Seraphinoff supervise and assist with all the work being done so that any mistakes can be corrected and to ensure that safety procedures are employed. When all of the parts are ready, the ferrules are installed, the tube openings are reamed out slightly and the trumpet is assembled.
It’s a uniquely proud moment when the trumpet is finally finished. We are given a selection of colored cords to choose from and I was thrilled that there was just enough of the red and gold braid to use for my trumpet. Mouthpieces and cases are also available for sale at the workshop to complete the instrument.
On Friday, the final day of the workshop, we make the tuning bits for the trumpet and add any final touches needed. Everyone is usually finished by lunchtime, when we all get together and play our trumpets for the first time in the lovely wooded area outside of Rick Seraphinoff’s workshop.
It’s hard to describe the sense of satisfaction you experience after making something with your own hands, especially when you have no prior experience with metal work and hand tools. It would be dishonest to claim that I made the trumpet all by myself – Bob Barclay came to my rescue numerous times (Thank you, Bob!) – but it still blows my mind that I actually built a working natural trumpet in four days.
An audiobook that I listened to on long drive from Indiana back to Maryland, Deep Work by Cal Newport, provided valuable perspective. Newport’s description of “the increasingly bewildering psychic landscape of our daily work” (page 65), resonated with me profoundly, especially with regard to digital distractions and involuntary task switching. In the book’s third chapter, “Deep Work is Meaningful,” Newport makes the case that craftsmanship is the model for a type of deep work that affords a high degree of personal satisfaction and intrinsic meaning, including this pertinent quote from Matthew Crawford’s book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: “The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy” (page 74). Indeed. There’s nothing quiet about hammering and scraping brass, but the sense of accomplishment is sublime when all is said and done.