Thomas Stevens

Updating Vacchiano's Rules

  • For Trumpeters Only

Some background information on updating The Rules

In response to some private and thoughtful emailed comments I have received from former Vacchiano students, I would submit the following regarding my “Vacchiano Rules” project.

Just as in the case of most former Vacchiano students, I always (erroneously) had assumed that my Vacchiano experience was the Vacchiano experience, especially as regards The Rules. In reality, the most important lesson I learned from my so-called “research” was that Vacchiano’s approach to the teaching of The Rules was not always the same but had evolved (devolved?) during the course of his long and enduring career. Furthermore, indicia suggest that he was far more thorough in his presentation of the well-known strictures during his earlier teaching years than he was in later years, and further, that by the time he had reached the end of his teaching career he was hardly referencing The Rules at all.

Following a discussion with William Vacchiano (Denver, 1973) regarding the idea of upgrading of the Rules, during the years that followed I spoke with some of the most prominent former students from his early teaching years (e.g. mid-1930s to mid-1950s: Broiles, Ghitalla, Joe Alessi II, et al.). In addition, I also observed, albeit second-hand, the experiences of eleven students I had sent to study with Vacchiano (e.g. mid-1960s to mid-1970s: Ron Romm, Don Green, et al.). And, of course, I already had personal experience with “Vacc’s” teaching during the time period of my own student days (late-1950s to mid-1960s). In brief, Broiles questioned the wisdom of "speaking for Vacchiano," and Ghitalla hated The Rules in general; however, Alessi II, who spent a good  deal of his life as a music educator, thought a rules update was a great idea. Vacchiano himself thought it would be, and I quote here verbatim, “a fool’s errand.”

The more I learned about the so-called Rules, it seemed the less I knew. It became obvious that any serious presentation or updating would require an objective and comprehensive knowledge of these strictures of record, their origins, and Vacchiano’s treatment of them over the years, all of which cumulatively proved to be a rather daunting task. Moreover, what became very apparent was that Vacchiano’s so-called Rules were simply a patchwork of 19th century performance practices drawn from various sources, the most dominant of which being the performer solfege training at the Paris Conservatory during the early part of the 20th century. In Paris, the strictures were designed as fundamentals of musicianship intended to be later applied to instrumentalists’ standard repertoire. The person who brought those concepts for trumpet players in the U.S. was Georges Mager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra-an individual whose personal history and contributions represent a side story that is not only interesting in terms of trumpet lore, but by Parisian standards as well.

Ultimately, my upgrades to the Rules have been rooted in personal experiences and ongoing casual discussions (since the 1970s) with some prominent world-class musicians who also have/had enjoyed distinguished careers as teachers of music ( Michael Tilson Thomas, Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Boulez, Sir André Previn, et al.).

For more on this subject, refer to my Facebook page, ThomasStevensMusic, or YouTube: Thomas Stevens Trumpet, or Gossamer Wings Music.