Alpha, being the first letter of the Greek alphabet, has connotations of beginnings, the very first stages of development. I first picked up a trumpet when I was nine years old. I don’t ever remember harbouring any particular desire to play the trumpet before then, although I do clearly remember being told a year previously that if I didn’t persist with the Tuesday lunchtime recorder choir that I hated, I wouldn’t ever be able to do anything musical.
I guess after a year or so of Tune A Day and New Horizons For The Young Brass Player, playing very simple tunes like Three Blind Mice and so on, I must have shown some promise (if not a work ethic) because Mr Holford wrote a list of new books for me. Proper trumpet books, about technique and breathing. One of them was the Arban Cornet Method.
The Arban is legendary. It has never been out of print since its publication in 1864. It contains hundreds of exercises and studies within its 257 pages, and it weighs a ton. Many a folding music stand has fallen victim to the Arban’s density. My own copy has, at some point, been rebound with Gaffer tape and is covered in scribbles; dates, reminders, tips and Mr Holford’s signature self-portrait, a bespectacled face above tricky sections I needed to concentrate on.
I was first assigned an exercise from the Arban on the 15th June 1987, and the book still lives on my music stand and forms part of my practice regime. And I still draw little bespectacled faces over bits I can’t play.