Jeff Purtle a brass clinician and trumpet player from Greenville, South Carolina. He is the founder of Purtle.com, a site that provides online trumpet lessons through brass playing article and sound files.
(This interview was conducted in February 2011)
Firstly, tell us about your site. What is your mission and what do you wish to achieve from it?
My goal has always been to change the brass playing world with techniques that are proven to work.
Purtle.com has existed since 1999 to show brass players how to play correctly. I wanted to preserve Claude Gordon’s teachings so that what he taught would not be lost or misinterpreted. I originally posted sound files of Claude’s lectures and wrote some articles to summarize my ten years with him. Those ten years were filled with private lessons, a pedagogy course taught by Claude, and several years being on staff and demonstrating at his annual brass camp. This has been the biggest influence in my thirty plus years of teaching and playing.
In 2004 I began teaching online lessons. In 2009 I added a store to make the CG related books easier to purchase. And, in 2010 I did the first Purtle.com Brass Camp, with live streaming video for those that couldn’t attend in person. This way of playing can change the world for brass players and I want it to reach all parts of the globe. My desire is that this knowledge will unleash the potential of brass players to become great players.
You teach online trumpet lessons over live video chat using a webcam. How effective is this source of medium? Is this the way to go?
Online brass lessons are similar to my other lessons. I see students every week and can instantly stop them and demonstrate and explain. I also do crash course lessons with students that fly to me from various parts of the world. But, the advantage of doing it online is I can walk them through the process of development on a weekly basis and make adjustments along the way that fit for their speed of development. There is also a sense of accountability that is there when the student knows they have to play for me each week. Online students get the same advantages as being in person plus more flexibility with scheduling or travel.
Distance communication and technology have been intriguing to me for over 30 years. I was first licensed as an Amateur Radio operator in 1980 and did Morse Code and later voice with with people from all parts of the world. I later experimented with slow scan and fast scan television.
My Junior High math teacher introduced me to computers and a DEC mainframe computer at the time. In 1982 my parents bought me an Apple IIe and I used it for two-way teletype and receiving weather satellite images. I didn’t do much with computers in college and then bought my first MacIntosh in 1992 and everything changed. I remember my first time on the internet before the web. Then, shortly after I used CuSeeMe to do video chat. I knew someday I could use this technology and in 2004 began to teach students from all parts of the world.
The idea of doing an entire live conference and concerts online was the next step. 2010 was the right time to start as all the issues of location, people, hardware, software and the internet came together perfectly. The technology is just another way to accomplish my goal of delivering useful content to brass players worldwide.
Do you have a teaching style for students? Is there any practice routine that you ensure your students follow?
I use the brass playing philosophy of Claude Gordon, who received it from Herbert L. Clarke. I focus on the same seven items that they focused on that make for correct technique that is in common with all virtuosos. My private lessons involve applying these seven items to each student to correct and improve all their habits. The practice routines I assign are how I do that. My innovation as a teacher is what unleashes the student’s potential to become the best player possible. I firmly believe anything is possible if you have the knowledge and a smart plan.
You were a student of the renowned Claude Gordon. Share with us one of the most memorable experience you had with him.
Claude had a almost a sixth sense to be able to tell how you felt and what to assign in the routines to accomplish his goals for you. One time I was questioning why he didn’t have me working on range. I was playing lots of demanding jobs at the time and I didn’t want to loose what I had gained. He had removed the “range study” portion of my practice routine and was concentrating more heavily on other things, so I thought. We were about 6 months or more into a series of handwritten tonguing exercises that he wrote for me.
Then, all of a sudden I started noticing some new things with the way my tongue felt inside my mouth while playing. My high notes became even easier. I then came to the lesson and asked him about it. At that point I knew that this man had lots of wisdom with how long to keep me on an exercise even when I thought I was done with it. It also taught me that he could see the big picture of the entire practice routine really well. My goal is to have that kind of awareness with each of my students.
Would you be able to speak about Claude Gordon’s unique teaching approach?
I have written several longer articles about the seven items. However, these are the most unique and controversial: Unique tongue level for each note, K Tongue Modified single tonguing, dispelling the myth of diaphragmatic breathing, and not getting side tracked with many of the fads and gimmicks of brass playing. It is all very practical and focused on thinking when you practice and having a plan to improve all skills .
Tell us about the brass camp that you organized in 2010. How did this idea came about and how has it helped students? Do you think this framework can also be applied in an Asian context?
I first met Claude Gordon at his annual brass camp in 1984 and it changed my playing, teaching and life. Claude’s final camp was in 1993 and he died in 1996. Purtle.com Brass Camp (PbC) is a modern version of the CG Camps with use of technology not available previously. My focus was to give people something they normally couldn’t learn in college and would only learn from professional experience. The success of Harry Kim and Susan Slaughter are incomparable. The wisdom they imparted at PbC 2010 already has inspired people to start new music groups and events. The techniques taught already have resulted in several participants hitting their first Double High Cs within weeks after the camp and everyone has experienced more ease in their playing.
What also sets my camp apart is the hospitality and amount of personal contact people have with the guest artists. How often do you get to talk with players of this level? PbC 2011 will add a catered BBQ and Jam Session on the first night so that everyone quickly becomes friends, eating and playing together.
My goal is for everything to be easy to understand even if English is a second language. Clear graphics are important. We also stress the importance of playing all styles of music because it’s fun and it’s needed to make a living at music. This can definitely be applied to an Asian context and all my slides are easily translatable to any language.
It will be the 2nd brass camp this year. What can we expect from the upcoming camp?
My presentations will be more on using the practice routines to solve specific playing problems, and applying these ideas to non-trumpet players. There will be some never seen computer animations to make the points clearer.
There will be a recording session as part of Harry Kim’s lecture on marking and stylizing horn parts. Those that register early will get to play with Harry in the studio and make a CD with the others watching from the lecture hall, giving everyone the same experience.
Carl Lenthe, who is a well known trombone soloist and orchestral player, will do a solo masterclass that will be appropriate for players of any level. He will use material from his recording of Concert and Contest Collection, published by Hal Leonard. Those solos plus others will be used in the masterclass and his concert. Those that register early will be able to play in Carl’s masterclass.
Harry will also be doing an improvisation workshop on Thursday to go along with the Jam Session that night. A professional trio is being hired to accompany those that want to play at the Jam Session. The other backup musicians as fantastic, with a band complete with Latin percussion for Harry and an amazing Classical pianist accompanying Carl Lenthe.
Other guest speakers include Dr. Larry Miller, M.D. presenting about the diaphragmatic breathing fallacy and his experience as a cardiovascular surgeon and research on the topic. Dr. Keith Amstutz will talk about Col. Earl Irons and his teaching. Rich Ita, an expert on antique brass, will talk about repairs and maintenance and have his antique instruments to play and buy.
We will be doing a live interview with Arturo Sandoval over FaceTime. Philippe Schartz, who is principal trumpet for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, is planning on coming from the UK, but might also appear via FaceTime if he is in a recording session for an upcoming solo album.
Manufacturers with have tables of professional brass instruments to be played, creating something not found at any music store.
Another first this year will be Anderson University offering college credit that can be applied to a new online Masters of Music Education degree. This event is for players of all ages and levels and educators too.
How have you benefited by being a brass multi-instrumentalist?
I only perform professionally on trumpet. But, I teach all the other brass instruments and in 1998 began to practice tuba, trombone, and french horn so that I could experience things and teach better. The most significant thing I discovered early was that the tongue level worked exactly the same on tuba (and trombone and french horn) as on my trumpet. I could feel and place notes accurately on tuba in a short period of time because of that and working through the same exercises I use with my students. It convinced me how similar all the brass instruments are in regards to fundamentals. The similarities are much closer than the woodwinds, which my wife plays and teaches.
Do you have any words of advice for budding trumpeters?
Develop correct technique from day one. Don’t waste time doing anything incorrectly. That will save you a lifetime of frustration. Expose yourself to the best music and musicians possible so that you know what to sound like and what to strive for. Enjoy playing and learning. Don’t let anyone with a negative attitude take that away your joy. Being a musician is a special calling. Stay on the straight and narrow way with your playing and your life and you will be blessed. Always be thankful for your blessings!
Ending off, would you like to come to Singapore one day for a clinic?
I definitely would enjoy coming to Singapore to do a clinic and show brass players this helpful teaching.