An Interview with Craig Mulcahy

May 14th, 2013 by David Farmer

Craig MulcahyChances are, if you’ve been to see a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra in the last eight years, you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Craig Mulcahy lead the trombone section. Mulcahy has been a member of the NSO since 2005 and its principal trombonist since 2010. He has brought his very own richness, color, and distinctive sound to the orchestra.

As the artist featured for the month of May, Mulcahy sat down with Edwards Instruments for an interview to meet the man behind the trombone.

We first spent some time talking about his job with the National Symphony. One of the country’s most prestigious orchestras, it was founded in 1931 and performs at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts located in Washington, D.C. Since its founding, the orchestra has had seven conductors. A unique aspect about Mulcahy’s time with the NSO is that he’s worked under four of those seven conductors, and in his words, “they couldn’t have been more different.” One of the main things he has learned in working for a variety of conductors is how important it is to be flexible in order to do the job well.

“You need to remember how to be the team player in all of this [changing conductors]. Although there may be times when you are the soloist, you’re still under the direction of the conductor, and it’s your job to make good musical decisions. The different conductors all have varying degrees of input about how you play solo passages. For instance, in a performance of Mahler 3, there are a lot of nuances (that every principal trombonist works on) that I wanted to bring to the performance, but the conductor wouldn’t take many of them. I ended up having to be flexible and adjust by following the conductor rather than trying to lead from the back of the orchestra. I think flexibility like this, on an artistic and not just technical level, is critical to being successful in the principal chair.”

Mulcahy went on to discuss his appreciation for the new director of National Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach:

“He will let the performers do whatever they want (within reason). He gives musicians absolute freedom in their solos and expressive lines, and makes you feel like you’re more of a valuable part of the orchestra.”

Mulcahy mentioned how much he appreciates Eschenbach’s unique take on standards of the orchestral repertoire, particularly on a recent tour to South America.

“He gives us a new, fresh personality which is taking the orchestra in an exciting direction, especially on real war horses of the repertoire, like Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. It had only been two years since the last time the NSO performed the piece when Eschenbach conducted it on tour to South America, and it was really just a completely different piece. I’ve been playing that piece for a long time and those were the most exciting performances; it felt brand new.”

Along with being the principal trombonist of the NSO, Mulcahy maintains a demanding schedule as a husband, father, and adjunct professor of trombone at Catholic University of America, George Mason University, and the University of Maryland. At Maryland, Mulcahy teaches alongside National Symphony colleagues Matthew Guilford, bass trombone, and Barry Hearn, assistant principal. We asked him what it was like to manage such a schedule:

“It’s busy, but rewarding. Matt, Barry, and I are building a tremendous trombone studio at UMD that we’re very proud of. Our students have been competitive and successful in a number of international auditions and competitions. At home I enjoy the challenge of finding a balance between spending time with my family and trombone. It’s not always easy, but I can usually get done what I need to get done. Sometimes, my daughter requests to come downstairs to watch me practice. That’s usually followed up by a request to play my trombone, which she loves to do.”

After talking awhile about Mulcahy’s schedule, we spent some time discussing about what sort of hobbies he enjoys, whenever there is a bit of free time. Besides posting slide-cam duets of Bordogni etudes or videos of his sister Holly (a professional violinist) playing trombone excerpts, he also enjoys hiking and working on his 1968 Toyota Land Cruiser. As a native of Colorado, it’s no surprise that Mulcahy is an avid hiking enthusiast.

“I absolutely love hiking. In the summer, I frequently play with the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and when I’m not playing, I’m hiking. Being from Colorado originally, I need to get my mountain fix, and Jackson Hole is perfect for that.”

Finally, we ended our interview talking about his trombone and a little about his relationship with his former teacher, Joseph Alessi. Mulcahy is currently playing the Edwards T396-A, which was designed for the New York Philharmonic Principal Trombonist.

“I played on an Edwards for the first time while I was attending the University of Northern Colorado. It was during a trip to the Eastern Trombone Workshop in ‘93 when I played one at their exhibit. I bought one the following year. Before that, I played on a Conn 88H that had a nice sound, but didn’t hold together well at high volumes. During my first three years as an Edwards Artist, I’ve been fortunate enough to perform recitals and give master classes at numerous schools and festivals, including being the featured artist at the 2011 Beijing International Trombone Festival.”

On Mulcahy’s website, www.craigmulcahy.com, you can read about how studying with Joseph Alessi at Juilliard has catapulted his career into the direction it has taken now. During our interview, Mulcahy took some time to talk about his teacher.

“Studying with Joe at Juilliard was great because he would hold everyone to the highest standard. This is kind of easy to say, because every teacher has this in mind, but Joe simply wouldn’t accept anything less than the best effort from his students. He always had a good way of knowing not only what you were capable of, but also how focused and motivated you were. If you slacked off, he knew right away (and frankly, sometimes that was the case with me). There was an intensity to his teaching that brought out my best. He lit a fire under my rear and motivated me like none other. These days, I only see Joe every once in a while, usually when the New York Philharmonic comes to Washington to perform at the Kennedy Center, or when the NSO travels to New York to play at Carnegie Hall. I value the time we get to spend together, talking about anything, trombone-related or not.

“When I think about my time at Juilliard, one of the most important things that I got from Alessi was a sense of awareness on the trombone; about how to analyze how things were sounding in a more real-time environment. It allowed me to become my own teacher, which is something that I encourage with all of my students. At some point they have to ‘leave the nest’ and develop their own sense of awareness. I think it’s important that they don’t wait until somebody has to tell them they’re flat or sharp, or if an articulation is fuzzy, but that they develop the ability to actually hear it for themselves.”

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Customer Feedback from Bill

May 10th, 2013 by Christan Griego

I love receiving emails from satisfied customers.

Bill:

I wanted to let you know that the Alessi T-396A I bought from you at ETW this past March is the best horn I have ever played on and I am starting to reap the benefits.

Sometimes with a purchase this large there is a fear of buyer’s remorse. Not so here, every penny is worth it!

Thanks for making such a great instrument!!

William (Bill) McDowell

Me:

Thank you for the kind email.  Can I use this on our blog?  I’d love to share….   If not I’m happy with just keeping it inside…

Bill:

No problem, in addition some of those benefits were:

  • My attacks are more punctuated.
  • My legatos are a lot smoother.
  • And for reasons I can’t explain, the horn seems to know what I want it to do.

What Apple, Samsung and RIM have done for the cell phone, Edwards has done the same for the trombone, they made it better.

I just call it the smartbone.

Thanks again,

Bill

Thanks, Bill!

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My Nightmare Trip to Edwards

May 9th, 2013 by Christan Griego

Elkhorn TripIt’s taken me eighteen years to finally be able to put this story to ink (even if it’s only digital). The year was 1995 and I’d had a tragic accident with my Holton TR158. The outer slide fell off when I was coming out of a practice room while on crutches. The slide was damaged terribly and needed new outer tubes. My Professor, Don Lucas, told me, “well, maybe it’s time for that Edwards you’ve been wanting to buy for so long.”

I paid my way through college by teaching private students and brass masterclasses in the high schools of Lubbock, Texas. I was not flush with cash, so I had to get creative in order to scrape together enough dollars to be able to afford the upcoming purchase. Not only was I going to get an Edwards, I was going to fly into Midway airport in Chicago and travel to the factory to be fit by Jonathan Winkle. Don worked it out so that our visit would coincide with Joseph Alessi’s visit to the factory during the summer. Chris Branagan was also going to buy a horn.

Flying into Midway saved us a lot of money, but it meant we were 2 1/2 hours from Edwards. Once in Elkhorn we stayed at the Americinn hotel. It’s a nice place, but there are no restaurants around the joint so we just settled in for the evening. The next day we all piled into Jonathan Winkle’s car and went to the factory. The fitting was everything we had hoped for. The sounds we were able to make were heavenly. Those horns were destined to take us into the next phase of our careers as elite orchestra musicians.

Joseph Alessi did come in during our fittings and was very complimentary, even with me playing every third and fourth position note out of tune. I did this only because the T350 was very different from the Bach 42 closed wrap I was borrowing from Chris since my Holton’s demise…

That evening we went back to the Americinn but had a problem. There was no food nearby and we had no car. Jonathan lived in Milwaukee so we were out of luck there. We had our new Edwards trombones with us, so I went downstairs to talk to the local native behind the desk. We talked about what we were doing in Elkhorn and she was amazed that we were travelling in for instruments. I asked if there was a way to go to Lake Geneva, and she offered to loan us her pickup.

I went upstairs and told Chris and Don. We decided that we had to play for her. The only duet we had was Don’s arrangement of Three Emily Dickinson Songs by Michael Hennigan. Don Lucas was wanting to premiere it later that year, but Chris and I stole that opportunity and did the world premiere at the Americinn in Elkhorn, WI. We then left our trombones as collateral and were off to Lake Geneva for dinner.

The next day, while driving to the airport, Don opened his mouth and what he said would make this trip the stuff of legend: “Guys, we gotta stop for Giordano’s deep dish pizza. It’ll change your life.” Against our better judgment, we stopped and ordered three personal deep dish pizzas. Deep dish takes longer to bake, so we thought getting the personal, smaller size would speed up the process. We kept glancing at the clock nervously, but the manager told us not to worry. After 45 minutes (45 minutes!), the order was ready. We sprinted to the car, pizzas in hand, and floored it for Midway.

If the pizza delay wasn’t enough, we hit the dreaded Chicago freeway summer construction. We couldn’t have been going more than 25 mph. To say we were nervous was an understatement. We got to the airport with 8 minutes (8 minutes!) to spare. Since this was pre-9/11, we were able to go directly to the gate. I took off in a sprint, leaving Chris and Don to be the luggage and trombone mules. I got to the gate in time to see the door closing. I told them to wait, that we are there and ready to board. “Sorry sir. The plane door is already closed. We can’t let you on.” I pleaded desperately (I was sure that after getting a loaner car from a hotel manager that getting on this plane would be easy). Chris and Don showed up just in time to see the plane pulling back from the gate. My mouth was open, but no sounds came from it.

Don and Chris had plenty of questions, but the only thing that mattered was this – there were no more flights to Lubbock that day. Midway Airport at the time was a dump and incredibly hot, so staying there the night wasn’t an option. We got on the phone and found out that Jeff Kurka was in Houston. He was planning on driving to Lubbock later that night after picking up slides from Bob Hester, who is/was our slide doctor.

We had a little time to spare – and I was starving – so I dug into the pizza while Don and Chris got us on a Houston flight. Chris was so distraught over the events that he couldn’t eat his, so he put it in the trash in disgust (the pizza had become a symbol of what was wrong in the world). That box sat there for .01 seconds before I tore into it. No food went to waste in my college years.

We got to Houston and Jeff picked us up. He owned a white Geo Prism that was hardly big enough for two people, let alone four trombone players, four trombones, eight additional slides, and luggage. Jeff’s parents had bought him a luggage rack to go on top of the car so we could make everything fit. If you are curious, the trip takes 8 hours 11 minutes according to our friends at Google.

And the trip was dark. In every way possible.

Chris was the music hall manager at Texas Tech. There was a recital happening that evening that he was responsible for. He made calls to make sure the hall was open and the recording was made, but he wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy to be sweating and stuffed into the back seat of a Geo Prism for 8 hours and 15 minutes (8 hours and 15 minutes!).

But Don was fine.

In fact, he decided to stop for a recruiting opportunity. AAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!

Chris and I were furious. Jeff was Switzerland. But Don won. We stopped at a high school student’s house so Don could convince him to come to TTU in the fall. Just this past year I was amazed to find out the student was Bruce Faske who will be performing at this upcoming years Alessi Seminar.

The trip seemed like it would never end. It stuck with me for a long time, but I’ve never been able to put it down in ink until now. In spite of all the craziness of that trip, I did learn a lot:

  • The instruments here are amazing.
  • The people in Wisconsin are great and will help you if you ask.
  • The new Hampton Inn is closer to food so you won’t have to test your “skills” or do a world premiere of a piece to get a ride.
  • Chicago style pizza will change your life. Maybe not enough to make a 3 hour trip into an 18 hour trip, but it’s pretty good.

The T350 I bought that day had a 384CF bell, rose single radius tuning slide, tenor bass crook slide, and a T2 custom silver leadpipe. This trombone sits next to my CNC and I play it every day when I’m making mouthpieces. It’s been modified a bit since, though.

If you were to ask, “would you do it again?”, my answer would be yes. And I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s taken me eighteen years to be able to say this.

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Announcing “Artist of the Month”

May 2nd, 2013 by Joshua Brown

Craig MulcahyWhen we first published our site years ago, the artist page (yep, there was just one back then) received plenty of traffic. It contained very little information other than our artists’ horn specs, but that didn’t stop many of us from visiting every few days or weeks. Some used the information it contained to figure out trends. For others, it just satisfied a curiosity.

Over time, we added bios and the periodic artist feature or interview. We got busy building horns and the latter fell by the wayside, but we’re working to fix that. David Farmer, one of the new guys on the Edwards team, is going to interview an artist every month. We think it’ll be a great way to learn more about the people that play our horns. From time to time, we’ll even ask you to submit questions you’d like answered.

Our first artist interview is with Craig Mulcahy, principal trombonist of the National Symphony Orchestra. We’ll be posting his interview (and possibly a video) on our blog soon. We announce our posts on our Facebook page, so feel free to follow us there.

For those of you that want to see our old artist page, The Wayback Machine has you covered. And for the record, that site design (with the bold red font on the baby blue music motif background) was launched before most of us worked for Edwards. Just so you know…

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David Taylor is Not Complacent

April 5th, 2013 by Joshua Brown

Dave TaylorDavid Taylor’s versatility as a musician is apparent when you look at his gig calendar. He’ll be covering many parts of the globe in the next few months, so if shows up in your area, be sure to go hear him perform. You’ll never play your Bordognis the same way again.

Before we get to the gigs, check out this entertaining interview Dave recently had with Michael Davis. Dave tells some great stories in a way that only he can tell them.

Onto the gigs…

Today and tomorrow (April 5 & 6), Dave will be playing with the New York Philharmonic on their CONTACT series.

On April 12, will be in Buffalo for A Musical Feast where he’ll perform his new piece, Song and Dance for Bass Trombone and Piano. ArtVoice did a feature on Dave where he talks about the new work.

After that, Dave is heading to Klagenfurt, Austria on April 17-21 to premiere Three Songs and a Dance, his new concerto for string orchestra. He’ll also present a masterclass, perform a duet with Dietmar Kublock (Vienna Philharmonic), and perform a solo piece on a concert.

Dave will then take part in the Charles Mingus 91st Birthday Celebration on April 22.

On May 5, Dave will perform with the International Street Cannibals at St. Marks Church in NYC.

The following week, Dave will head to Los Angeles to perform with Daniel Schnyder, Kenny Drew Jr., and the Pacific Orchestra.

Finally, Dave will perform with the Mark Morris Dance Co. in Ojai, CA on June 8-16.

Toby Oft Featured in BSO Video Series

February 26th, 2013 by Joshua Brown

One of our newest artists, Toby Oft, was recently interviewed for the Boston Symphony’s It’s your BSO series. If you’re inclined to watch (and why wouldn’t you be?), you’ll learn about the rebuilding of the BSO low brass section, conductors and entrances, Symphony Hall, and coffee. We’re looking forward to hearing from Stephen Lange and James Markey next.

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Brian Allen Moving Right Along

May 8th, 2012 by Brian Allen

Pretty amazing spring for a trombonist in Mexico. Played Vive Latino (biggest rock festival in Latin America) and recorded a new album for RareNoise Records with Brainkiller. Played all over the country with Brainkiller, A Love Electric and legendary percussionist Cyro Baptista. Beautiful festivals and venues in Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Chiapas, Durango, Tobasco, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Puebla, Morelia, Aguascalientes and Mexico City. A solo concert. A short US West Coast run. Tomorrow, opening for Peter Brotzmann in the world-renowned Aural Festival.

Thursday, I head to Europe for a week of teaching and playing:

  • Friday, May 11
    Workshop
    Luzern Conservatory, Switzerland
  • Monday, May 14
    Porgy & Bess with Christian Radovan (trombone), Alois Eberl (trombone, accordion) and Se-Lien Chuang (bass recorder)
    Vienna, Austria
  • Tuesday, May 15
    Workshop
    JIM Institute for Jazz and Improvised Music at Anton Bruckner University, Linz Austria
  • Thursday, May 17
    Workshop
    Prague Conservatory, Czech Republic
  • Friday, May 18
    Jazzdock with Mark Aanderud (piano) and Tomáš Hobzek (drums)
    Prague, Czech Republic

Thank to Edwards for sponsoring these workshops.

Here are a few videos of Brainkiller at Vive Latino.

Please join us at facebook.com/brainkillermusic and me at facebook.com/nellanairb.

Horowitz Reviews Taylor

April 5th, 2012 by Joshua Brown

Joe Horowitz’s review of Dave Taylor’s performance of “Schubert Uncorked” with the PostClassical Ensemble is an entertaining read. Here are some of our favorite lines:

“Following a wayward trombonist at the piano is a lot simpler than chasing him with an ensemble in tow.”

“The sheer virtuosity of Taylor’s command of Schubert acrobatic showpiece was never in doubt – he can play it, and beautifully. But Taylor’s virtuosity is divinely wed to an idiosyncratic musical personality wholly his own. A lot of head-shaking and head-scratching followed that dress rehearsal.”

“None of us had anticipated the shock of “Doppelganger” in this context – it was Taylor’s first opportunity to open up and blast us full force. In the audience, bodies bobbed as if electrocuted. Watching the response of the musicians onstage was a rare pleasure: I have never seen members of an orchestra react as vividly, or visibly, to a soloist’s entrance as on this occasion.”

Not that we need extra incentive to hear Dave play, but Joe’s writing really makes us wish we had been in the audience.

Edwards Featured in Milwaukee Paper

March 18th, 2012 by Joshua Brown

Ginseng, toilet paper, rat poison, and high-end trombones. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong. But they’re all manufactured in Wisconsin.

A few weeks ago, Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed Christan for a story on the high level of brass manufacturing in Wisconsin (Elite trombonists lead parade to local custom instrument-makers). Christan was described as “a 39-year-old with a soul patch and a rapid-fire speech pattern sprinkled with musicians’ slang.” Sounds about right.

Romell’s article also discussed Gary Greenhoe’s role in Edwards’ history and his current job as owner of Greenhoe Trombones. It’s worth a read. Also, you can watch a video featuring Christan’s rapid-fire speech and soul patch.

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Marshall Gilkes Releases Sound Stories

March 5th, 2012 by Joshua Brown

Marshall Gilkes’ Sound Stories will be available on March 6. In addition to Marshall, the CD features Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; and Eric Doob, drums. Let’s all buy the CD and support Marshall so he’ll keep recording great music!

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