Herseth @ 100: In His Own Words

Adolph Herseth in the Grainger Ballroom, during his final season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's principal trumpet

Gregory Morton

"The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is a group of one hundred and five highly trained and experienced musicians. It is considered to be one of the finest orchestras in the world, and I feel that it is a great privilege to be a member of such an organization. . . . Now, to maintain a high standard of performance with a symphony orchestra requires a great deal of preparation, or rehearsal [and] besides the group practice, we must do a certain amount of individual practicing also. I used to think that if I ever practiced hard enough to get into a symphony, maybe I could ease up a bit. But I found that I practiced even harder after I got the job than I did before. And not entirely because I found it necessary (though I did), but because it gave me an increased incentive and stimulation. And where I had perhaps been over-optimistic about my abilities before, now I saw that I was really just beginning to become proficient. It brought to mind another old saying to the effect that the more you learn, the less you find you really know . . . that one never stops learning a trade or business or profession [and] one is a student, one is always preparing for something new, throughout the whole of a career."

Adolph Herseth address to the 1959 graduating class of Bertha High School in Minnesota, June 1959


"I don't suppose a first trumpet ever came greener, but [my first] two seasons of guest conductors were good luck for me. It was great repertory experience. . . . It takes pure physical strength to play a trumpet. Like an athlete, you try to build up your reserve to the point that in performance you don't have to dip down too deeply into the reserve, so that you get too fatigued. The longer you play, the more you find you don't know about your instrument. I suppose it's the same in any profession — there are some things you have to experience. No one can tell you. Of course, you hope your standards will go up and your understanding will also go on growing. . . . Whenever that downbeat comes, especially at the start of the fall season, when we haven't played for a month or so, I never cease to get a thrill out of the wonderful sounds around me. I've never gotten over loving this."

— Evanston Symphony Orchestra Keynotes, March 1965


Following his retirement in 2004, Herseth was interviewed by Phil Ponce for WTTW's Chicago Tonight. The program was rebroadcast in 2013.

"I listened to jazz players as well as to classical players. Obviously, your own concepts develop and are influenced by listening. I'm sure that my style and sound have certainly expanded over the years playing in this orchestra. You spend 49 years playing the type of repertoire that the CSO plays, with the caliber of conductors I've worked under, and the style will come out of your ears! . . . Every time I play a piece that I've already played a hundred times, it's still very exciting because I try not to play it the same way twice in a row.

"Let me say that if you hang around long enough you become notorious. Sometimes young players will ask me if I think it's OK for them to play in a rock band, on dance gigs, or this, or that? I say the broader the experiences you have, the better off you're going to be. It all comes together at some point or other, you know. And I say, 'Just be sure that you do your darnedest, whatever kind of gig it is.' I don't care what kind of a gig it is, solo gig, orchestra gig, quartet gig, brass ensemble, dance band, do your best. That's what counts!"

— "Adolph Herseth: In a Class by Himself" by Michael Tunnell, International Trumpet Guild Journal, February 1998


"That [CSO brass] sound was there for a long time before any of us were in the orchestra. They had some good players in this orchestra over the years, and it's not only a matter of individual concepts of playing but an overall concept that has grown over the years. [There is an] ability and willingness to cope with the great variety of music that goes by on this assembly line. The programs go by each week and you grab what you can before the next batch comes along. Versatility comes from a motivation and a love of music. . . . You have to be motivated to want to get that music to sound the best that it can. Part of motivation is keeping an open mind about musical styles, so you can adapt your own personal style."

— "The Evolution of the Chicago Symphony Brass Sound" by Harvey Phillips, The Instrumentalist, September 1989


"You know, every instrument is in a sense an attempt by man to imitate the human voice in some way — and basically that's the ultimate goal that everybody should have in mind when they play an instrument. When you play some of the very disjointed things, especially in some of the avant-garde pieces, it's rather hard to think in terms of vocal lyricism. But nevertheless it still helps your playing . . . more phrase-wise, with a better sound, a better projection of the idea — grotesque as it might be. I think that every instrumentalist can benefit greatly from listening to fine singers, especially opera or lieder where they are telling a story. And you can learn a lot listening to a great pop singer like Frank Sinatra. The guy really puts across the lyrics of a tune."

— "'Man Alive, What a Kick This Is!': An Interview with Adolph 'Bud' Herseth" by Kenneth L. Neidig, The Instrumentalist, April 1977


"Every concert used to be taped for broadcast on WFMT, and in those days, I think about 300 stations around the world used to carry them. And I would listen to them. In fact, I've got tape of — I can't tell you how many of them — audio tapes, and I would listen to them. Of course, a broadcast doesn't give you the total picture of what it sounds like live in the hall or on a stage as a player, but I would hear certain passages, and I would say to myself, 'Well, okay, okay, next time I'm going to do that a little different. I'm going to do something else because there's a better way now. This was okay, but next time I hope I get it a little more this way.' . . . I would hear a clarinet player playing a lick, and I'd think, 'My God, if I ever got a lick like that, I wish I could do that.' Or I'd hear a flute player doing something unbelievable — and this is what really keeps your musical mind open, you know? Hopefully you learn something every time.

"Nobody should try to imitate somebody else. Yeah, of course, I learned a lot hearing [Georges] Mager playing all the time in the Boston Symphony. I heard some nice things from hearing Roger Voisin, who was assistant [principal] then, and also hearing Bill Vacciano with the New York Philharmonic every Sunday. Yeah, you learn from other people, of course, but it's your own individual expression of musical thought that really counts, and, of course, in a collective sense when it's with a band, but when you are playing the lead part or a solo or important parts like that, if you try to sound like somebody else, you're steering the wrong way. I hope I can pass on to others some of the wonderful concepts and ideas I have received from other people over the years. We're all music lovers."

— Interview with Adolph Herseth by John Hagstrom, International Trumpet Guild Journal, January 2004

This article also appears here.

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